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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Yeltsin Won't Cede Land, Insists Governor

Ignoring a sharp public rebuke from Boris Yeltsin, a powerful Far Eastern governor repeated Friday that the president had agreed with him to deny China three disputed plots of land on the border.

At the same time, a Cossack group said it would move troops onto the plots to ensure -- if need be by force -- that they remain Russian.

"The president and I are of absolutely one mind on this," said Yevgeny Nazdratenko, the leader of Vladivostok's Primorsky Territory, in an interview in his office at the Federation Council on Friday.

"Frankly, they [the Chinese] are not overjoyed. But excuse me, did they really expect to be handed this land like a bouquet of roses?"

A senior Foreign Ministry source countered Nazdratenko on Friday. The source said Russia would not go back on the deal with China, and said Nazdratenko's statements were inflammatory and should be ignored, Reuters reported.

"No one wins or loses," said the source, quoted by Interfax. "We hope the Chinese side understands that we are talking about Russia's federal border and decisions are not made by local authorities but by the country's president and parliament."

On Thursday, Yeltsin -- who heads for Beijing in two weeks along with the leaders of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to sign border treaties with China -- said Nazdratenko ought to see a doctor after the governor told a Vladivostok radio station that the Kremlin had ordered a halt to surveying work on the border.

But on Friday, Nazdratenko, uncowed and upbeat, blamed the flap on an incorrect news report. He denied ever having said that Yeltsin had halted the surveying; on the contrary, he said, work has been accelerated.

Nazdratenko added, however, that Yeltsin had changed his mind about letting the independent surveyors -- a joint Russian-Chinese committee -- decide where the line ought to be drawn.

From now on, Nazdratenko said, he and Yeltsin agreed that the surveyors would not give away a single patch of Russian land along the 4,300-kilometer border -- not even the 14 square kilometers of uninhabited bogs and hills in Nazdratenko's region currently slated to go to Beijing.

"The president will not allow the demarcation to bring harm to the Russian Federation," Nazdratenko said Friday.

Leonid Smirnyagin, an expert on regional politics at the President's Analytical Center, accused Nazdratenko of "wishful thinking."

"His [recent gubernatorial] campaign was built around this sort of ultranationalism, where we can't give away 14 kilometers of Russian territory, and now he is in a difficult position," Smirnyagin said.

But at the Institute of Oriental Studies, deputy director Vladimir Maksimenko suggested that Yeltsin might have plans to adopt a harder line with the Chinese during his visit to Beijing on April 24 to 26.

Maksimenko said Yeltsin may be reasoning that he cannot afford to be perceived as giving away Russian territory this close to the June presidential election.

"The most important border Russia has is with China. It's far from a back-burner matter, and it will be decided at the highest level," Maksimenko said. "But if the land transfer does happen, Yeltsin's political opponents will certainly seize upon it."

Meanwhile, Itar-Tass reported that the Cossacks of Primorsky's Ussuri district intend to send troops into the disputed territories to prevent their transfer to China.

The agency said that Vitaly Poluyanov, the ataman of the Ussuri Cossacks -- decendents of the horsemen who defended tsarist Russia's borders -- had ordered them to picket the border, and had also decided to send troops "to hinder the work" of border surveyors and "to prevent" any movement of the border markers.

Nazdratenko has openly fought to undermine the Russian-Chinese treaty. Last spring he brought in the Cossacks by turning over to them thousands of hectares, including some of the disputed plots.

According to Nazdratenko, Yeltsin has been deceived by underlings and political opponents, among them former foreign minister Andrei Kozyrev and Vladimir Lukin, the chairman of the State Duma's foreign affairs committee.

Nazdratenko said of Lukin, "When you squint your eyes, he even looks like a Chinese."

The Russian-Chinese border has long been a touchy matter. It has never been fully surveyed and marked off -- the diplomatic term is "demarcated" -- and much of it follows river beds that migrate significantly to the north or south within a few years.

In 1969, the Soviet Union and China nearly went to war when their border troops clashed over an island that had migrated from one bank to the other.

A treaty signed in 1991 on former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev's watch -- updating treaties from 1911 and 1689 -- foresaw Russia handing China several tiny plots of land.

In return, the Soviet Union won concessions along the border with the former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan.