Russia reportedly aims to unilaterally redraw sea borders with Lithuania and Finland

Russia reportedly aims to unilaterally redraw sea borders with Lithuania and Finland
The sea around Lithuania's narrow Curonian Spit would be one of the areas affected by the Russian unilateral move. / Unesco
By Linas Jegelevicius in Vilnius May 22, 2024

The Russian authorities have unilaterally decided to change the country’s maritime borders with Lithuania and Finland in the Baltic Sea, according to a draft Russian government resolution quoted by The Moscow Times. Interfax later denied the news.

The Lithuanian Foreign Ministry calls the alleged move a provocation,, the website of Lithuania’s national broadcaster LRT, reported on May 22.

The document, drafted by the Russian defence ministry, reportedly states that Russia intends to declare part of the waters in the eastern part of the Gulf of Finland and the area near the towns of Baltiysk and Zelenogradsk in the Kaliningrad region to be its domestic waters.

Russia has changed the geographical coordinates of the points that define the baselines from which the width of the Russian territorial sea and the adjacent zone along the coast and islands is measured.

According to the annex to the government resolution, Russia intends to revise the areas along the Curonian Spit, Cape Taran and the Baltic Spit on its border with Lithuania.

The Lithuanian foreign ministry says that Russia’s actions are seen as a deliberate, targeted, escalatory provocation to intimidate neighbouring countries.

“This is further proof that Russia’s aggressive and revisionist policy is a threat to the security of neighbouring countries and Europe as a whole,” the statement issued on May 22 reads.

According to the ministry, a Russian envoy will be summoned on Wednesday for a detailed explanation and Lithuania’s response will be coordinated with its partners.

“Lithuania recalls and urges Russia to respect and abide by the universally recognised principles and norms of international law, as well as international and bilateral agreements on the inviolability of borders, namely the 1991 Treaty on the Foundations of Inter-State Relations, the 1997 Treaty on the Boundary of the State Border, the 1997 Treaty on the Delimitation of the Exclusive Economic Zone and the Continental Shelf in the Baltic Sea, and the 2005 Agreement on the Delimitation of the Exclusive Economic Zone and the Continental Shelf Boundaries in the Baltic Sea, as well as other agreements,” the Lithuanian foreign ministry added.

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis called Russia’s plans a hybrid operation to spread uncertainty about their intentions in the Baltic Sea.

“Another Russian hybrid operation is underway, this time attempting to spread fear, uncertainty and doubt about their intentions in the Baltic Sea. This is an obvious escalation against Nato and the EU, and must be met with an appropriately firm response,” he said in a post on X on May 22.

Finland’s foreign ministry also commented on Moscow’s alleged move on May 22.

“The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea contains provisions on the definition of maritime zones of coastal states; including their revision. We assume that Russia, as a party to the convention, will act accordingly. It should be remembered that causing confusion is also a hybrid influence. Finland will not be confused,” Foreign Minister Elina Valtonen posted on X.

The Russian Ministry of Defence is proposing to declare the 40-year-old Soviet Council of Ministers’ decree regulating borders in the Baltic Sea partly “invalid”.

The document on the revision of the borders was presented almost at the same time as Russia started tactical nuclear weapons exercises.

Indre Isokaite-Valuze, associate professor at the Faculty of Law of Vilnius University, commented that a country cannot unilaterally change maritime borders.

“The possibilities are minimal or zero,” the international maritime law expert commented to

According to Isokaite-Valuze, international treaties that define borders can only be changed by mutual consent of states, not unilaterally. As she explained, changing maritime borders requires a huge amount of work and negotiations that normally take several or even dozens of years and the involvement of various experts.

Sea borders are highly protected under international law, she adds.

“This is the sovereign space of a state, the same as on land. [...] These intentions [of Russia] are very vague and ambiguous. In any case, according to international law, it is not possible to change borders on the initiative, will, or decision of one state,” Isokaite-Valuze emphasised.

Lithuania would react if Russian ships violated its maritime space, she says: “Lithuania protects its borders, there is constant surveillance, ships are visible when entering our maritime space. [...] Just as in the case of an aircraft violating our airspace, at sea there is a demand to leave our territory immediately, and of course, there are diplomatic notes at the political level, protests.”

The Russian state-run news agency Interfax later denied that the Russian government was planning to make a unilateral change to the maritime borders. It quoted a military-diplomatic source saying that the Russian Federation has no plans to revise its territorial waters, economic zones and national borders in the Baltic Sea.

“There have been and are no plans to review the territorial waters, economic zones, continental shelf off the coast and state borders of the Russian Federation in the Baltic Sea,” the source said, reported.