Weekly: Some local residents express cynicism over southeast border work

Temporary razor wire installed at Estonia's southeastern border.
Temporary razor wire installed at Estonia's southeastern border. Source: PPA

The rapid installing of razor wire on previously cordon-free sections of Estonia's southeastern border in recent days has been met with dismay from some local residents, agricultural weekly Maaleht reports, with fears of initial disruption accompanied by concerns about harm to wildlife, which may get stuck on the wire, as well as cynicism over whether the work is needed at all and is in fact a vanity project on the party of the Tallinn-based leadership, given no clear and present threat of migratory pressure on Estonia's border currently exists.

Üllar Tamm, who sits on the Setomaa rural municipal council, told Maaleht (link in Estonian) that he had recently predicted that barbed wire would only be installed where the heavy machinery involved could easily be deployed, and that when being shown round, what he called the "Tallinn bosses" would only be shown around those key areas, perhaps Potёmkin village-style.

"The places where the work is being done are, of course, the ones where Tallinn's bosses can come with helicopters and cars to take pictures of their important work," Tamm said, adding that supplies of the razor wire being installed would run out before long.

Another issue is the status of roads in the heavily forested, sparsely populated district, which Tamm said were non-existent in terms of pre-existing access roads, while agreements had been, or are being, concluded in the capital for the use of private roads in the region.

Maaleht reports that local residents are already well aware of the possibility of migrants crossing the border, as well as smugglers, and regularly provide information about suspicious movements to the authorities anyway, while since culturally Setomaa spans the border and includes the formerly Estonian town of Petseri (present-day Pechory, in the Russian Federation) and cross-border family, cultural and economic ties are strong.

The situation, thus, is nothing new, Tamm said it just: "Simply came to notice then," adding that all that was required was a demonstration that something was being done, for, again, the "bosses of Tallinn."

Tamm added that a situation similar to that recently seen on the Belarus-Poland border is unlikely to recur on the southeastern Estonian border, which, Tamm said, the authorities acknowledge and which, Kaido Koppel, head of the Police and Border Guard Board's (PPA) Southern Prefecture who is set to brief journalists at the border over the weekend, concurs with.

When asked why the locals were not contacted before the big work, Koppel said that things had all happened too fast; other local residents have voiced concerns that they had not been informed that the work was going ahead, while the transformation of the area into a virtual military zone – the project has been a joint civilian PPA and military Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) one – is causing distress, particularly to older people.

Local resident Vello Toomik, who along with Tamm belongs to a local hunting group, says the razor wire will be dangerous to wildlife, including larger animals such as elk and deer, and predators such as wolves, bears and lynxes, with the risk of some animals getting entangled or injured by the wire.

Environment Agency (Keskkonnaagentuur) wildlife department leading specialist Rauno Veeroja told Maaleht that: "We will have to wait for this winter, then we can't see how the animals will behave," adding that finishing the work as soon as possible and then inserting crossing points for wildlife which could be guarded in a different way from the rest of the border would be the best solution.

The original Maaleht piece (in Estonian) is here.

The bulk of the border reconstruction work started last weekend, and is finished on the northeastern border – mostly a waterway frontier in any case – as of Wednesday morning.

That the border itself is not fully cordoned-off in any case is partly the result of long-running political wrangling over the issue which predates the current migration crisis.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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