Russian border guards remove markers from Estonian waters in Narva River in a new provocation

Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) of Estonia.

Following the recent hybrid operation against the Baltic States, Russia has once again stirred tensions, this time with Estonia. In a bold move, Russia’s border guard removed twenty-four buoys, crucial for demarcating shipping lanes, from the Narva River on the Estonian-Russian border in the early hours of Thursday, May 23, stated the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) of Estonia. 

“This action by Russia carried out in the shadow of the night, fits well within the broader pattern of Russia’s provocative behaviour, including on its borders with neighbours, most recently vis-à-vis Lithuania and Finland,” stated the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Estonia.

While buoys have been placed on the river for decades to prevent navigation errors, Estonia installed the markers in its waters according to the State Borders Act. The border agencies agreed on the buoys’ location in 2022. However, in 2023, Russia disagreed with the locations of approximately half of the 250 markers and removed some of those disputed on Thursday morning. Estonia installed the first 50 on May 13.

According to Eerik Purgel, head of the PPA of the East Prefecture, Estonia and Russia install buoys in the Narva River every spring, marking the shipping routes. 

“Whereas the temporary control line is permanently marked at the land border, the riverbed changes over time, which is why we recheck the marking of the shipping routes every spring. While before the beginning of the war in Ukraine, the installation of buoys largely passed by mutual agreement, then from 2023 Russia does not agree with Estonia’s positions regarding the location of the buoys. We decided to release the floating marks into the water for the summer season according to the 2022 agreement, because they are necessary to avoid navigational errors, so that our fishermen and other hobbyists do not accidentally wander into Russian waters,” Purgel said.

Prime Minister Kaja Kallas and Minister of Foreign Affairs Margus Tsahkna suggested calm.  

During the government’s weekly press conference on Thursday, Kallas said this is a border incident, and the exact circumstances are being clarified. 

“We will approach this case in a sober, balanced way, engaging with allies where necessary. We see a broader pattern of Russian actions trying to sow anxiety,” she said. 

Due to Russia’s provocative behaviour, the Foreign Minister suggested approaching the incident very calmly. Looking at Russia’s behaviour in recent years, he said the incident fits the pattern. Tsahkna said other border incidents, such as airspace violations, have occurred in recent years.

“Estonia’s response remains calm and clear-eyed. We treat this as a provocative border incident. We will communicate to the Russian Federation through our border representatives and diplomatic channels that such actions are unacceptable, demand an explanation about the removal of the buoys and their immediate return. Estonia is in close contact with Allies and partners as we continue to counter Russia’s malign activities across Europe,” according to the Statement of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

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