Russia remains outside the sphere of members or EU-applicants but is compelled to devise a policy of its own vis-à-vis joint borders with the EU because of a variety of reasons. Finland’s membership in 1995 implied that a joint EU-Russian border emerged, with Finland applying rather stringent EU-policies. Norway has been drawn into the same sphere due to an inclusion into Schengen acquis, and Latvia as well as Estonia have been pursuing EU-related border policies as EU applicants. Also the policies of Lithuania and Poland are of importance due to the location of Kaliningrad as a Russian exclave. Moreover, Russia ‘strategic relationship’ with the EU (and some 50 percent of foreign trade now with the EU’s enlargement) highlight the issue of joint borders and the policies to be pursued.
It appears, on a more general note, that a certain duality is also to be traced in the Russian views on political space and borders. Firstly, there is a rather strong modern legacy with emphasis on strict territorial control, one of linking the nation (identity) to the territorial state (cf. Trenin 2002). National identity is elevated above all other alternatives, and there is, consequently, little tolerance for any overlapping, loosely bordered spaces (Morozov 2002:42). Security – and the inviolability of borders – has in this context been elevated to a matter of high priority. Secondly, there are also more postmodern departures to be traced. These tend to come to the surface once Russia is confronted with the task of relating to an increasingly globalised and regionalised (this latter challenge is particularly distinct in Northern Europe and in view of the joint borders with the EU) world. Although the modern approaches pertaining to realist and geopolitical worldviews prevail, on some instances also the latter type of approaches have found their way to the political agenda.
Yet, more often than not, the Russian administration has been rather suspicious of the concepts of globalisation as well as regionalisation – and in this context porous borders. The reading has been that such developments might well endanger Russia’s internal integration and lead to divisive tendencies. It is the challenges from within rather than those from without that are seen as crucial (Trenin, 2002 :15). As shown by Andrey Makarychev (2000), there exist islands of globalization in a regionalised manner whereas the political landscape in Russia in general unfolds in a modernist and uniform manner. While the EU is primarily concerned with enlargement and regionalisation as one aspect of its external policies, the Russian worries tend to pertain to features of disintegration.
Regionalisation – if seen as gaining some subjectivity of its own - has thus been more often than not viewed negatively. This is due to fears of chaos and separatist tendencies. As such this is perhaps not that surprising taking into account Russian traditional views and the experiences of the Jeltsin period, one labeled by a considerable freedom for the regions to grasp power and the disorder that followed. Over the recent years Russia has moved towards a strengthening of ‘vertical power’ depriving the regions of influence, and region-building in a more administrative manner in the form of the seven ‘super-regions’ established by orders of President Putin.
Yet, aside from the dominant modernist approaches, also some innovative approaches pertaining to flexible borders and overlapping political space has been aired in an EU-Russia context. For example, President Jeltsin proposed a joint patrolling and handling of the border with Finland, i.e. the then only border with the EU (for the proposals merely to be rejected out of hand and this totally without any discussion on the merit or dismerits of the proposal). In a similar vein, Prime Minister Chernomyrdin made a proposal in 1998 for a ‘Baltic Schengen’ that would over-ride the exclusionary practices of the Schengen regime. If the Schengen system could be extended to Norway and Iceland (as well as Greenland and the Faroe Islands as parts of Denmark, yet being outside the Union), why could one not think also including Russia at least regionally within the sphere of the system? A Baltic Schengen would form an intermediary space that would link the EU and Russia, rather than separate them. Again the proposal was met with almost total silence.
The Russian criticism concerning the EU’s Northern Dimension can be interpreted in a similar manner. Russia has been in favor of the initiative but complained that the ND has largely failed to break down borders by giving Russian partners and equal voice and creating effective subregional spaces through processes of linking and de-bordering (Browning 2002:38; Aalto 2002: 153). As Deputy Prime Minister, Viktor Khristenko (2001), has put it, whilst the Northern Dimension can be seen as a “brave political experiment” calling for “unconventional decisions” promoting sub-regional cooperation that ultimately might develop into “a common European social and economic space”, in practice Russia has been steadily excluded from decision-making in the initiative. It may be added, however, that Russia has also refrained from putting forward initiatives of its own in order to provide further substance to the process and to deepen the ND-dialogue that calls for region-specific measures of cooperation rather than some general, all-encompassing moves pertaining to the EU-Russia relations.
As to Kaliningrad, the Russian discourses have evolved back and forth between very modernist, security-oriented departures and clearly postmodern ideas that aim for Kaliningrad-specific solutions in a regionalised context. The fear for being rolled over by the EU was, for example put aside in the Autumn 1999 by outlining a medium-term strategy for the development of Russia’s relations with the EU. The document prepared envisaged, among other things, a special arrangement for Kaliningrad by suggesting that that the region should be seen as a ‘pilot region’ in the development of EU-Russian relations, particularly with regard to other regions of North-West Russia. As observed by Christopher Browning (2002:36), the proposal has been paralleled by moves from within Kaliningrad that call for the internationalisation of the region and development of the Oblast into a linking space between the EU and Russia. The new governor, Vladimir Jegorov (2001), has been particularly active in this regard.
As to Kaliningrad applying Schengen rules, Russia proposed visa-free arrangements and the establishment of a fast train connection between Kaliningrad and mainland Russia. The line was to be operated without visas. Russia also aired the idea of skipping visas in general in the relations between the EU and Russia. These proposals had, however, relatively little impact. In the end, after heated debates, an agreement was reached between the EU and Russia which will mean that as of July 2003 Russians wishing to travel between Kaliningrad and mainland Russia (by land or rail) will have to acquire what is being termed as a Facilitated Transit Document (FTD). In essence the FTD is a visa by another name, although not a Schengen visa as it will apply only to transit through Lithuania. Kaliningrad’s borders are being treated as foreign and EU-related borders, thereby compelling Russians travelling from one part of their own country to another one to comply with procedures agreed with the EU. The EU showed flexibility in the sense that a specific (and in this sense regionalised) visa was devised for the needs of Kaliningrad, albeit the solution can also be seen to be in harmony with the EU’s more universalising aspirations.
It could be argued, against the background of Russia’s rather heavy modernist legacy and self-understanding, that there has been quite many efforts of exploring new ground. The ideas and initiatives pointing to a different direction have all been coined in relation to the challenges posed by the EU and they have been Northern-Europe specific in character. The proposals launched have not always been very well thought out or pursued systematically and consequently, but they have nonetheless been there. The EU has, for its part, put forward a regionalist framework in the form of the Northern Dimension and participation in the Barents as well as Barents co-operation but many of the ideas and initiatives that might potentially fill that frame with substance have come, so far rather unsuccessfully, from Russia.