Fruit smugglers 'upgrade' Russian border road

Russian road upgraded by smugglers, Smolensk Region Image copyright Rossiya 1 TV
Image caption Smugglers have created a passable route from Belarus without being challenged

Smugglers have secretly improved a country road near the Russia-Belarus border so they can drive lorries full of contraband EU fruit past Russian customs officials, it's reported.

Alexander Laznenko of the Smolensk Region Border Agency tells Tass news agency that the smugglers used heavy earth-moving equipment at night to "widen and raise the gravel track, and put in more turning and passing points" - right under the noses of the local authorities.

Earlier this month, customs officers ambushed a convoy of nine lorries there laden with 175 tonnes of Greek and Polish fruit worth 13m roubles (£154,000; $200,000), but are none the wiser about who upgraded the road through the tiny Russian village of Klimenki.

Local administration chief Sergei Listopadov said villagers have come forward to say they saw crews working on the road earlier this year. He joked to RIA Novosti news agency that he'd like to write their mysterious benefactor a "letter of thanks" for improving a road that only a horse and cart could negotiate before.

But Mr Laznenko doesn't see the funny side. He says customs officers have put the 4.5km (2.7 mile) track under constant surveillance but, as they do not have the authority to barricade or dig it up, they will have to rely on catching the smugglers out.

Russia announced a ban on food imports from the European Union last year, in retaliation for an EU trade embargo over Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea. Since then, the number of lorries crossing legally from Belarus has increased dramatically in the last year to 73,000, all of which Russian customs have to inspect for banned foodstuffs, Mr Laznenko says.

Social media users tend to agree with Mr Listopadov, though. "At least someone is maintaining our roads," one person writes, a sentiment echoed in many other comments on RIA Novosti's site. Some even suggest the smugglers should form a party to stand in next month's parliamentary elections on a "Let our lorry through, and we'll fix your potholes" platform.

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