Sunday, May 26, 2024

Administrative Borders of Soviet Republics that have Become State Borders of Independent Countries Anything but Regular

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 24 – Except for natural boundaries like the external border of the USSR or rivers and seas, the borders of the former union republics which became independent states were not only frequently changed but were anything but the straight lines that many imagine when looking at small scale maps showing large regions.

            Except in cases where conflicts have broken out, typically on an ethnic basis, neither of these realities have attracted much attention over the last 30 years because the post-Soviet states and the leaders of the international community both insisted that the administrative borders of the union republics must become the state borders of the newly independent countries.

            Despite this and resistance to any talk of changing borders, there is growing recognition that Soviet-era borders were imposed by Moscow for its own purposes rather than being the result of any rational calculations or a reflection of the interests of the population along them (

            But there is far less discussion of just how irregular these borders often were and thus remain and what the consequences of such irregularities have been for the people living there. That makes a new article by journalists from the TengriNews agency of Kazakhstan especially useful (

            Two of its journalists visited the village of Meshchanka on the Kazakhstan side of the Kazakhstan-Russian border in Abai Oblast that is surrounded on three sides by Russian territory, is not connected by road to anywhere else, no longer has a school, post office or business, and lacks internet connectivity.

            Not surprisingly, Meshchanka, which had been a thriving center of agricultural activity in Soviet times, has been losing population ever since and now has only a handful of people left. As the article makes clear, these “last of the Mohicans” will soon leave or die as well and Meshchanka will cease to exist.

            The news agency provides a aerial photograph of the village and the Kazakhstan-Russian borders which surround it on three sides. It is not clear whether the village might have fared better had the borders been changed, but it is clear that the borders that remain in place look more like administrative ones in rural areas within a large country than state borders.

            And that is hardly surprising given that that is precisely what they were before 1991.

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