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Saatse Boot: A Russia-Estonia Border Anomaly

In southeast Estonia, in the municipality of Värska Parish, lies a peculiar border irregularity. A small piece of Russian land called the “Saatse Boot”—so called because of its boot shaped intrusion— juts into Estonian territory as the Russian-Estonian border twists and turns through the lake and forest landscape of this region. It so happens that this piece of foreign land lies directly between two small Estonian villages—Lutepää and Sesniki—and traditionally, the only way to reach Sesniki from Lutepää, and vice-versa, is to go through Saatse Boot, that involves crossing the international border twice.

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When the Russia-Estonia border was drawn in 1945, Estonia was part of the Soviet Union so crossing borders wasn’t a big issue. But when the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, and Estonia joined the European Union, Saatse Boot became a thorn in Estonia’s bum.

Fortunately, both countries were able to resolve the issue amicably. According to the agreed terms, Estonians can continue using the road through Saatse Boot without requiring a Russian visa, provided they did not travel on foot. The road can only be driven through (riding on a donkey’s back is allowed), and one cannot stop to pick mushrooms (there are a lot of wild mushrooms in Saatse Boot) or stop to take photographs.

Despite being forbidden, many tourists dare to pose for photographs in front of the very signs disallowing such activities, leading to their arrests and detention at the nearest Russian border post. Violators are only let off after payment of fines. If a car breaks down inside the Boot, the Russian border guards will conduct an inspection. If they are satisfied that the breakdown is genuine, they will authorize the Estonian border guards to tow it back to Estonia.

Lutepää and Sesniki are situated about 1200 meters apart. The section of the road connecting this two villages through Saatse Boot is about 900 meters long. Until 2008, this was the only road available. That year, a new road was opened making it possible to reach the villages without passing through the Saatse Boot. But it’s a 15–20 km detour if going from the village of Värska, situated north of Lutepää, so villagers still use the old road through Russia.

In 2005, Russia agreed to straighten out the border and transfer the area of the boot to Estonia in exchange of some patches of Estonian land. This will put an end to this geographic oddity, but the new treaty is yet to be ratified. Until that happens, Saatse Boot will continue to attract tourists for the unique opportunity it provides of visiting a Russian territory without visa.

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The gravel road through Saatse Boot. Photo credit: estonia-paradise-of-the-north.blogspot.in

Sources: www.voxeurop.eu / ITN / Wikipedia / Atlas Obscura

2 comments:

  1. Tom Scott did a video on this where he drove through it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iGjPn8V4O9E

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  2. Actually, there is a second one, a bit further up the road. It's called "Lutepaa kolmnurk". It's smaller, but with the same rules: no walking etc. Here is a small map with the big and small one colored in light green. https://et.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saatse_saabas#/media/File:Saatse_saapa_skeem.jpg

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