Ukraine bid to shut out Rus­sia with ‘wall’ fal­ters


A freshly-dug anti-tank ditch run­ning along a short stretch of me­tal fence topped with barbed wire marks the start of a new bor­der de­fense that Ukraine hopes will pro­tect it from Rus­sia.

Dubbed the “wall,” the am­bi­tious pro­ject to seal up Ukraine’s por­ous 2,000-kilo­me­ter fron­tier with its ex-Soviet neigh­bor was an­nounced in March 2014 af­ter Moscow seized the Crimea penin­sula from Kiev.

But over a year later, only a small frac­tion of the US$250mil­lion pro­ject that Kiev hopes could help with­stand a Rus­sian in­va­sion has been built.

At the Senkivka bor­der post around 200 kilo­me­ters north of Kiev, just a few hun­dred me­ters of newly built wire mesh bar­ri­ers have been erected.

Em­bla­zoned with a large tri­dent, the na­tional em­blem, the small check­point only saw a dozen or so trucks pass through it in the course of an hour, an AFP cor­re­spon­dent noted in July.

De­spite its name, the “wall” is not in­tended to be a mono­lithic con­crete bar­rier but in­stead a highly so­phis­ti­cated sys­tem, com­bin­ing de­fense mea­sures with mod­ern elec­tronic sur­veil­lance tools.

State bor­der ser­vice chief Vik­tor Nazarenko said that the work on the north­ern sec­tion of the fence is sched­uled to be com­pleted by 2018.

“In three years, this sec­tion of the bor­der will be fully equipped to make it im­pos­si­ble to cross the bor­der il­le­gally, ei­ther for sep­a­rate groups of peo­ple and ve­hi­cles or for armed forces,” he said.

The bor­der be­tween Ukraine and Rus­sia cov­ers 1,974 kilo­me­ters.

Since the start of the pro-Rus­sian in­sur­gency in east Ukraine af­ter the ouster last year of a Rus­sian-backed pres­i­dent in Kiev, Ukraine has lost con­trol of some 410 kilo­me­ters of its fron­tier in the east.

More than 7,000 peo­ple have been killed in the fight­ing.

Kiev’s pro-Western gov­ern­ment ac­cuses Rus­sia of pour­ing arms and troops across the rebel-held part of the fron­tier to fuel the con­flict and in­sists it will never be se­cure un­til its bor­der is back un­der its thumb.

The pro­ject will in­clude “some com­bat sys­tems to be able to de­stroy the en­emy’s mil­i­tary ve­hi­cles and man­power,” Nazarenko said.

“It is nec­es­sary to keep build­ing the hi-tech bor­der to pre­vent ter­ror­ists, arms and drugs com­ing in from the Rus­sian side,” Ukrainian Prime Min­is­ter Arseniy Yat­senyuk told bor­der ser­vice of­fi­cials last month.

Ukraine be­gan work on

the bar­rier in Septem­ber last year but the pro­ject has been de­layed by its enor­mous cost to the cash­strapped state.

Drained by the war in the east, the econ­omy of the coun­try of around 40 mil­lion con­tracted by nearly 7 per­cent last year and is pro­jected to do even worse in 2015.

Ini­tially es­ti­mated at US$1 bil­lion, Kiev was forced to slash the bud­get for the bor­der fence by 75 per­cent.

Even then, the fund­ing did not ar­rive on time, leav­ing some of the con­struc­tion com­pa­nies in­volved in the pro­ject out of pocket.

Bu­reau­cratic prob­lems com­mon in post-Soviet Ukraine — in this in­stance about which state body should over­see the work — have added to the set­backs, with the bor­der ser­vice even­tu­ally put in charge.

“I ask you to con­tinue to work on the Euro­pean Ram­part pro­ject,” Yat­senyuk told the bor­der of­fi­cials.

But an­a­lysts have ex­pressed doubts as to whether Ukraine can see the pro­ject through.

“In the short term, this pro­ject will be dif­fi­cult to im­ple­ment pri­mar­ily for eco­nomic rea­sons,” said Volodymyr Fe­senko of Kiev’s Penta think-tank.

“It needs huge amounts of money that right now Ukraine doesn’t have.”

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