A full-automated checkpoint on Estonia's southeastern border with Russia opened Wednesday, ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) reports. The facility can be monitored remotely by Police and Border Guard (PPA) personnel and allows crossing on foot, and is the first of its kind to be erected on the European Union's eastern frontier.
The checkpoint, at Saatse, in the Setomaa region of southeastern Estonia, was built at a cost of close to €250,000 and is intended for Estonian citizens and residents of Estonia. A biometric passport is required for use, and naturally the same crossing restrictions apply as per the rest of the border.
Rein Süld, program manager at the Ministry of the Interior's IT and development center, told AK that: "A new technological solution concerns these 'ABC' gates, which you may have seen often, but only at larger airports. We have brought this tech to the Saatse border crossing, a crossing which is not very large, but which is vital for local residents," adding that the facility is complaint with the EU's planned Entry/Exit System (EES) IT system for automated border crossing.
"The facility uses a stationary face recognition device, a mobile face regonition device and fingerprint capture devices also," Süld added.
PPA border management office chief Ave Kalmus told AK that those crossing the border need not be apprehensive about doing so alone; the entire permiter is monitored remotely from the nearby Saatse border station, which is around a three-minute journey away by car, should PPA personnel need to attend.
Setomaa is a historical and cultural area which straddles Estonia's southeastern border with Russia – a large area of land, including the Estonian town of Petseri, has been occupied by the Soviet Union since the post-war period – meaning that local residents often need to cross for family ties reasons, and even to visit cemeteries.
At the same time, numbers crossing the border have been falling in recent years – to single-figure numbers of people - a phenomenon presumably hastened by the current security situation, which meant that it was uneconomical for the checkpoint to be permanently staffed.
The project also ties in with the longer-running construction of a proper border infrastructure in the Southeast. While the border in this region had often run along trackless forest and bog areas, with signage and bollards warning the public that they were entering in the border zone, the risk of inadvertent crossing if, for instance, directed by inaccurate GPS location, was an ever-present.
The changed security situation and the forced migrant crisis along the EU's eastern border in 2021 meant the work, which had started several years before, was cast in a new light.
Most of the rest of Estonia's eastern border follows watercourses.
The new Saatse automated checkpoint has already seen use, including by one elderly gentleman who took his bicycle with him (see gallery).
Editor: Andrew Whyte, Marko Tooming
Source: Aktuaalne kaamera