The currently ongoing modernization and overhaul along Estonia's border with Russia doesn't just mean installing equipment and clearing the border line, but also brings along changes to the State Borders Act. One of them includes declaring four small lakes in the southeast transboundary waterbodies.
Along with violations of the green border, the number of violations of the water border to Russia has gone down in recent years. This doesn't only have to do with stricter checks, but also with the fact that areas are now marked which used to be more or less freely accessible.
Vanigõ, a small lake in the municipality of Mooste in Põlva County, is an example. According to Riita Pilt, owner of a local farm, where people used to be able to drive all the way to the lake, they now had to call the local border guard station first and inform the Police and Border Guard (PPA) of their intention to do so.
Four lakes along a 132-km stretch of the border along Põlva and Võru County, lakes Kriiva, Pabra, Vanigõ, and Pattina, have been among Estonia's transboundary waterbodies for some time. This legal designation means that special rules apply.
As Egle Timmas of PPA's Piusa border guard station explains, locals were only now becoming aware of the change. "We're doing our best to make sure all of the information makes it to all of the locals," Timmas told ERR.
The formerly freely accessible lakes now have signs and border posts. The signs instruct people to call in and identify themselves, only then they can spend time at or on the lakes. Though the new and stricter rules don't mean that the waterbodies in question are closed off.
In some cases, the waterbodies are now better for swimming and fishing, as Helen Neider-Veerme, head of PPA's integrated border maintenance office, told ERR's Aktuaalne kaamera newscast at the example of Vanigõ.
"To be honest, the lake wasn't part of the original plan to clear the border, but it's there. So in the course of clearing the border, the lake was cleaned out, its sides stabilized, and the embankments fixed up," Neider-Veerme said.
The lakes are now frozen. Once the ice is thick enough to walk on, PPA will also mark the border line on the lake ice.
According to PPA there were 28 illegal border crossings in 2017, down two compared to the year before. Most of the people who crossed the border illegally were Estonian citizens, some Russian, some Latvian and Lithuanian.
In most cases, the reason for the border violation are navigation errors on the lake, or people not realizing where they are. PPA officials have said in the past that there is typically a spike in crossings in the late summer and early fall, when people spend a lot of time staring at the ground looking for berries and mushrooms and end up ignoring border markings.
PPA also dealt with 70 violations of the border regime last year, meaning cases where people entered the border zone or were on transboundary waterbodies without prior approval. This number has decreased as well, down from 89 violations in 2016.
Editor: Dario Cavegn