Russia strikes to increase its maritime borders, angering Baltic Sea nations | EUROtoday

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Russia unveiled a invoice on Tuesday that may redefine its maritime borders within the Baltic Sea, inflicting an outcry amongst Baltic and different northern European international locations and fueling geopolitical tensions.

According to a draft Russian defence ministry decision revealed on Tuesday, Moscow plans to increase its territorial waters by altering its maritime borders with Finland and Lithuania within the Baltic Sea from January 2025. The redefined coordinates would see Moscow declaring Finnish and Lithuanian areas of the ocean as Russian.

“This is an obvious escalation of tensions against NATO and the European Union that requires an appropriate firm response,” wrote Lithuania’s overseas minister, Gabrielius Landsbergis, on X.

“Russia cannot unilaterally change its borders in this way,” Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson informed the TT information company this week. Estonia and Finland echoed these sentiments.

Russia’s motives for the transfer stay unclear. The textual content of the invoice was posted on the official web site of the Registry of Laws on May 21 and subsequently eliminated.

Tactical retreat?

But Moscow denies that it had a change of coronary heart. Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova mentioned Thursday that Russia’s defence ministry is just working to “clarify” the border.

“A similar text relating to the Arctic Sea had also been put aside for years by Russia, before suddenly reappearing before the Duma in 2021,” factors out Pierre Thévenin, a specialist in maritime regulation and the Arctic and Baltic areas on the University of Tartu in Estonia.

“In the absence of the text, it is difficult to know Russia’s intentions but the legal context in this maritime region with regard to Russian regulations dates back to 1985,” factors out Lauri Mälksoo, a specialist within the historical past of Soviet and worldwide regulation on the identical college.

What Baltic Sea strategy for Sweden after NATO enlargement?

What Baltic Sea technique for Sweden after NATO enlargement? © France24

Russia could also be desiring to make clear the legacy left by the Soviet Union. After the breakup of the USSR, maritime borders within the Baltic Sea turned considerably blurred. The maritime boundary between Russia and Estonia, for instance, stays unresolved. “There was a treaty between the two countries in 2014 but it still hasn’t been ratified by Russia,” notes Mälksoo.

It begins with the baseline

The Baltic Sea area does, certainly, have gray areas in want of clarification, and Moscow could also be seeking to capitalise on this with its controversial invoice. Russian authorities say their intention is just to replace maritime borders which can be presently primarily based on geographical information which can be too previous to be dependable.

But Moscow appears intent on redrawing half of what’s often known as the baseline, the contours of a nation’s shoreline, used to calculate how far its territorial waters lengthen. “The baseline is the legal expression of the coastline and represents the end of a state’s land,” explains Thévenin.

Most of the time the baseline is straightforward sufficient to hint by following the shoreline on foot: the low-water line – the land contour at low tide – defines the baseline of a coastal state.

But the satan is within the particulars. Article 7 of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea says that when the coast is “jagged and indented, or if there is a string of islands along the coast”, a state can create a straight baseline “connecting appropriate points”.

“It is these words that are interpreted differently by Russia and Western countries,” says Thévenin.

In the Arctic area, a diplomatic battle rages round Russia’s baseline, which can or might not enable it to regulate the channels between islands. What is at stake on this battle over maritime borders – within the Arctic and maybe quickly within the Baltic Sea – is who controls these waters.

So it’s not only a query of extending Russia’s maritime borders on the expense of Lithuania or Finland. Moscow may, for instance, incorporate sure Russian islands within the Gulf of Finland comparable to Hogland, 180km west of St. Petersburg, inside its inside waters. The waters between the Russian coast and these islands would then legally type a part of Russian territory and be thought-about inside waters.

And a rustic can impose particular controls on such inside waters, Mälksoo explains, notably limiting entry for boats that should not have authorisation.

“Whatever a rustic decides, any maritime claims, and any limits a state desires to impose on its inside waters have to be consistent with the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea,” he says.

A previous incident involving Russia came after its 2014 annexation of Crimea. Moscow wanted the Kerch Strait, previously shared with Ukraine, to be considered internal Russian waters, allowing it to stop any ship traveling there without its authorisation. This led to a sharp rise in tensions with Ukraine following the seizure of Ukrainian vessels in this area in 2018.

Legal and geopolitical interest

Russia has more than a purely legal interest in clarifying the baselines of the Baltic Sea. “It’s just one in a series of incidents marking a serious escalation of tensions in the region,” notes Rinna Kullaa, a specialist in Russian foreign policy issues at the University of Tampere in Finland.

She says it’s no coincidence that the Russian bill was put forward after Finland’s decision on Tuesday to propose a law tightening controls along the border with Russia, which has been closed since last year. The Russian initiative is payback, in part.

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And there are different points at play. “It also comes at a time when Russia is seeking to exert greater control over the airspace above Kaliningrad,” says Kullaa. Moscow has been accused of jamming GPS indicators over this Russian enclave between Poland and Lithuania.

For Basil Germond, a specialist in maritime safety points at Lancaster University within the UK, Russia’s intention in introducing and withdrawing this invoice is to accentuate “political pressure in the region, to gauge NATO’s response”.

It may additionally be linked to President Vladimir Putin’s fixation with the historical past of the USSR.

“It’s not surprising that the Russian government wants to go back on the maritime limits negotiated in 1985, during the détente period,” notes Jeff Hawn, Russia specialist on the London School of Economics.

“Putin believes that Russia was tricked by the West at that time. So for him, this is also a way of saying that he wants to correct those mistakes.”

This article is a translation of the unique in French.