How Russia made "undefined" borders with most its neighbours

Wednesday, 29 May 2024 —

Last week, the Baltic states were shocked by a document published by the Russian government: the Russian Ministry of Defence unveiled a draft law regarding unilateral changes to borders with Lithuania and Finland.

In fact, Russia has problems agreeing on maritime borders with almost all its neighbours.

Border delimitation is absent even with NATO member states, creating temptations for Moscow to declare maritime areas as "its own."

Read more to understand why Russia has comprehensive issues with maritime borders in the article by Bohdan Ustymenko, an international lawyer in public international maritime law – Russia's borders start nowhere: How Russia's Baltic neighbour blackmail unveiled an old issue.


First of all, it’s essential to note: the Russian Federation is not the legal successor to the Soviet Union.

There is no properly executed treaty between the Russian Federation and the Soviet Union or with all the USSR member states for handing over all rights and obligations of the Soviet Union to modern Russia (detailed in the article Russia Has Illegally Gained UN Security Council Seat. It Should Be Fixed).

However, Russia's borders with many other countries often copy Soviet-era borders.

The Russian Federation, already in its independence, joined the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea in 1997 (the USSR was not a party to this document). This treaty, sometimes called the Constitution of the Oceans, also defines the rules for delineating modern Russia's maritime borders with other coastal states in the Black and Baltic Seas, the Arctic and the Pacific Oceans.

Russia does not have maritime border agreements with all its neighbours. Moreover, several of these agreements were signed not with Russia, but with the Soviet Union, a state that stopped its existence in 1991. According to the UN Office of Legal Affairs, it is the Union, not Russia, that is a party to the maritime delimitation agreements with North Korea, Finland, Poland, Sweden, Türkiye and the United States.

Hence, the conclusion is that the maritime borders between modern Russia and these states, five of which are NATO members, are not established according to international law.

In essence, Russia has only signed maritime agreements with Lithuania (in 1997) and Norway (in 2007), as well as an agreement with Lithuania and Sweden on the common point of the borders of exclusive economic zones and the continental shelf (in 2005).

The maritime border between Estonia and Russia is still not formalised by a treaty.

And with Japan, not only does Russia not have an established border, but even the Soviet Union did not.

This raises a logical question: what should be done about all this?

Unfortunately, there is no international legal mechanism to compel Russia to conclude treaties with other coastal states on establishing maritime borders.

Therefore, leading world powers must make continuous and systematic political and diplomatic efforts to ensure that the Russian Federation concludes maritime delimitation agreements.

The recent initiative by Russia to change borders in the Baltic has highlighted the importance of making continuous and systematic political and diplomatic efforts to ensure that the Russian Federation concludes maritime delimitation agreements.

It is also worth emphasising that a maritime delimitation treaty between Russia and Estonia has not been concluded. All this poses a significant security problem for the entire Baltic region and NATO.

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