Ukraine-Russia Border Fence / European Bulwark
Ukraine’s prime minister, Arseny Yatsenyuk, laid out Project Wall in 2014 as a line of fortifications on the border with Russia 2,000 kilometers long. Originally, it was to be completed within a six-month deadline, but then the project was extended to 2018, then to 2021 and finally, to 2025. Dubbed in its early days "Project Wall" and known also as "The European Rampart," the barrier was intended to fortify a significant section of Ukraine's porous eastern frontier while both literally and symbolically separating the country from its Soviet-era hegemon. But four years on, it was not exactly the bulwark the government planned. A struggling economy forced a fourfold reduction in its budget and pushed its scheduled completion date to 2020.
Ukraine had dug out about 400 kilometers of anti-tank trenches on the border with Russia under a project codenamed Wall, Sergey Deineko, who heads the state border guard service, said 05 May 2021. "From the moment Project Wall kicked off, about 400 kilometers of anti-tank trenches, 330 kilometers of parallel roads, 70 kilometers of tangled barbed wire and a 100-kilometer long steel fence have been built," Deineko said. Originally, the project’s costs were estimated at more than 4 billion hryvnias (about $143 million). The budget was eventually slashed to 2.5 billion hryvnias (about $90 million). As of today, about 2 billion hryvnias has been shelled out. This year’s expenditures are estimated at 338 million hryvnias (about $12 million - TASS). Deineko said the fortification work was nearing completion in the Kharkov Region and was well underway in the Chernigov Region. Project and exploration endeavors are in progress in the Sumy Region, but engineering works have not begun there yet.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the the 2,000km frontier border between Ukraine and Russia has been porous. The fence was meant to halt the movement of weapons, illegal migration and act as a first line of defense. With an allocated $136m, Project Wall became a priority on the government's agenda. The plan included construction of an electronic border control system, a steel fence, a patrol road and an anti-tank trench running along the border.
Since 2014, only a fraction of planned funding had arrived. In 2017, allocated funds constituted only 22 percent of the plan. In January that year, the project halted due to lack of funds. Therefore, beyond 83km of fence and 273km of trenches, what divided Ukraine from Russia is forests and fields.
The proposed Ukrainian border wall with Russia, which later was nicknamed the ‘European Wall,’ was halted due to a lack of financing, the Ukrainian news agency, UNIAN, reported 19 January 2017 citing Yulia Svetlichnaya, a representative of the Kharkov Region administration. “There is no funding for this project, so as far as I know it has stopped on the territory of the Kharkov Region,” the agency quoted Svetlichnya. She added that the local administration now only maintains those fortifications that were built earlier. Up to 4 billion hryvnia (about $160 million) had been allocated for this project until 2018.
A corruption scandal has put the project under question. By early 2018, just 15 percent of the wall had been built and it was unlikely to be completed by the end of 2018. In August and November 2017, eight people from the border guard and local contractors from Kharkiv were detained on corruption charges. In February 2018, several servicemen of the border guard, including the deputy of the Kharkiv border detachment and the head of the office of rapid responses, were also arrested. The government of Ukraine launched the project called "The Wall." Project Stina (Wall) is not an official name. Within the scope of the project, Ukraine intended to build a wall on the border with Russia, Ukrainian Prime Minister Yatsenyuk said at a cabinet meeting on 03 September 2014. "We are starting "The Wall" project. This involves the construction of a real border between Ukraine and Russia," he said. At the meeting, Yatsenyuk said that Ukraine needed a new defense doctrine, in which "Russia must be recognized as an aggressor, the main and the only state that threatens the territorial integrity of Ukraine," UNIAN reports. Yatsenyuk did not clarify any details of the project.
Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk announced that he would fence the country’s 2,000 kilometer border with Russia, claiming that it would prevent Russian military and paramilitary personnel from infiltrating the nation’s territory. Kiev then said it needed more than $500 million and four years to complete its wall. “The ‘European Rampart’, and namely its construction and equipping the state borders with Russia, will be completed. This project should be finished within four years,” Yatsenyuk said at the time.
At first presented by PM Yatsenyuk as no less than ‘The European Rampart’; by mid-2016 it turned out to be a metal fence, which “wouldn’t even stop a rabbit.” In August 2016 the Ukrainian media reported that the country’s Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office (SAP) opened a criminal case over the embezzlement of funds allocated for the implementation of the proposed barrier, which was supposed to act as a layered defense system on the border with Russia.
Ukraine means borderland, which is an appropriate name for a country which frequently endured much of its history as a frontier for her neighbors. In the years that have passed since the Ukrainian declaration of independence, Ukraine had not fortified its borders on the east. Much of the Ukraine-Russia border is just on maps. There are no natural barriers or border fences. Ukraine’s borders with its neighbouring Soviet Republics (Russia, Belarus, Moldova) were purely administrative lines, which were not controlled and not demarcated. The Ukrainian-Russian border was one of the busiest among post-Soviet borders: 20 to 30 million persons crossed it per year. Russian and Ukrainian citizens could cross it with internal passports.
On 18 July 2014 the National Security and Defence Council presented a plan to build engineering structures at the Ukraine-Russia border. "Efforts are now under way to establish peace in these territories. Only when there is no shooting can these engineering structures be installed. The complex plan to build these reinforcements is ready and will be implemented as soon as the opportunity arises," the council's spokesman Andriy Lysenko said at a news briefing. According to him, the council instructed the government to conduct unilateral demarcation of the Ukraine-Russia border due to the threats to national security. Earlier this week, Dnipropetrovsk deputy governor Hennadiy Korban presented to the presidential administration an engineering project and a feasibility study for the construction of a 2,000-kilometer reinforced wall along the border, worth around 100 million euros.
The plan to construct a wall at the Russian-Ukrainian border by Ukrainian Prime Minister would make restoring normal relations between Moscow and Kiev impossible, the Head of Russia's Presidential Administration Sergei Ivanov said in an interview to Rossiyskaya Gazeta released 21 September 2014. "The construction of a wall, to my mind, will make impossible the very restoration of any kind of relations… I am sure there will be no wall in the end. Rhetoric is rhetoric and life is life," the official said. Ivanov also compared the Ukrainian wall with a "low-budget Mannerheim Line," referring to defensive fortifications build by Finland in 1920-1930s, supposed to deter the Soviet troops.
It was decided in April 2001 not to restore but to dismantle in the near future the defensive obstacles idling on Ukraine's borders. The dismantling was carried out in compliance with the presidential decree On the Action Program to Reform Ukraine's Border Security Force and the State Border Guard Service. Electrical warning devices, which can spot the movement of any creature the size of a hare, were installed on Ukraine's western border already in Soviet times and were now too costly for Ukraine to maintain. It is for this reason that Ukrainian border guards decided not to concentrate on the warning systems but to use other approaches in their work. In particular, the main emphasis was put on operative and search measures and contacts with the local population.
Closing the border with Russia must be high on Ukraine’s list of priorities, Interior Minister Avakov’s adviser, Anton Herashchenko, said, speaking on 30 May 2014. Very soon, the border guards and defense ministry are going to take steps to tighten the border with Russia, he said. “For 23 years of Ukraine’s independence, the border with Russia was porous: there is no fence and adequate control,” the adviser said.
Andriy Parubiy, the head of Ukraine's National Security and Defense Council, estimated 16 June 2014 there were 15,000-20,000 "armed terrorists" in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions and "more than half of them come from Russia."
Failure to properly demarcate the Ukraine-Russia border could continue to cause tensions and to reduce the effectiveness of Ukraine's desire to integrate successfully with the West and the global community at large. To influence the Russians to complete this process, one proposal would be to make border demarcation a condition for Ukraine's approval of Russia's entry into the WTO by emphasizing Ukraine's legitimate right to an established border. An established border is required to establish customs territories and regimes linked to foreign trade. A properly marked border is also required to tackle the extreme problem of contraband flow on both sides of their border with Russia.
Outside the official crossing areas, the borderlands are a porous landscape of wheat fields, oak forests and innumerable ravines and country roads, so crossing can easily escape detection. The route to the frontier from the Russian side leads across the Don Steppe, an area known in czarist times as the "Wild Field." It is a rural and agricultural panorama, where ripe winter wheat blows in the breezes, interspersed with dense forests and tiny villages. On the Russian side of the border stand new concrete buildings and proper fencing, separated by 100 yards or so of potholed asphalt from the Ukrainian side, with its sheet metal guard shacks. Afterward the road carries on, through the same countryside.
Ukraine was "surprised" by the statement that Russia's First deputy Foreign Minister Valery Loshchin made in Moscow on 24 April 2002 regarding demarcation of the Ukrainian-Russian border, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry's First Deputy State Secretary Volodymyr Yelchenko said on 26 April 2002. According to Yelchenko, it is public knowledge that demarcation is an integral part of the process of legalization of national borders. According to Yelchenko, the main efforts are presently focused on accelerating completion of the process of delimitation of the Ukrainian-Russian border, since the Ukrainian-Russian Commission on Border Delimitation is still continuing its work.
As for Loshchin's interpretation of the process of border demarcation as a network of "palisades and fences," we believe that the metaphor used by him was unfortunate and has no place in modern international law, Yelchenko said.
According to Yelchenko, demarcation is the process of marking borders on the ground. Therefore, according to him, "palisades and fences or barb wires" have nothing in common with demarcation of national borders. Yelchenko stressed that Ukraine will mark its borders in accordance with the international standards currently existing in Europe, including those used to mark the borders among the member-countries of the European Union.
In March 2011 Vladimir Putin said that consequences of the creation of the Free Trade Area with the EU would be “difficult” for Ukraine, because Russia would be forced “to be building up the border” against Ukrainian goods, with which Ukraine, he said, would not be able to enter the European market, “but it would not work well to drop them into our (Russian, ed.) market.” Ukrainian or European goods had the Russian Prime Minister so scared of that he talked about erecting a border fence.
In August 2013 Vladimir Zharikhin, deputy director of the Institute of the CIS countries, said "Ukraine's entrance in a zone of free trade with the EU means the removal of customs barriers for many goods. Bearing in mind that the Russian-Ukrainian border is virtually transparent, Russia in this situation simply has to put up a fence to protect itself and its partners in the Customs Union".
A two-meter ditch has been dug in Donetsk region along the border with Russia, Chairman of Donetsk Regional State Administration Serhiy Taruta has said on 17 March 2014. "We have dug a ditch. It is two and a half meters deep, and four meters wide," the official said. According to him, a two-meter wall has been also raised along the ditch. "It is clear that all this will not solve all problems for the protection of the state border, but should protect it significantly," Taruta said.
On March 25, 2014 the Kherson region decided to erect watchtowers and dig a trench on the border with the Republic of Crimea, which was not recognized by Ukraine. The press service of the Kherson regional council announced this to Ukrainian News. "It was also proposed to erect watchtowers and dig a continuous trench with a length of 20 kilometers on the border," the press service said. According to the regional council, border crossings with areas for vehicles awaiting inspection will be built on the border with the Crimea.
On 22 May 2014 border patrol performing duties not far from BCP “Izvaryne” (Luhansk region) noticed “Gazel” vehicle that had driven up to the state border line from the side of Russian Federation. Five men dismounted from the car and started filling the defensive ditch, supposedly, intending to cross the state border of Ukraine illegally. In order to stop illegal activity, border patrol made several fire warning shots into the air. After that, offenders quickly got into the car and disappeared into the territory of Russian Federation. In such a way, one more attempt to cross the state border illegally and, most probably, to carry forbidden military items into Ukraine failed.
By June 2014 the overall situation at the frontier remained murky; there was no evidence of a flood of men and arms crossing the border. Yet it was clear that many Russians, mostly war veterans, Cossacks or ultranationalists, had signed up to fight in Ukraine in recent weeks.
Despite the optimistic declarations of border troops chiefs about the reliability of the border, there are porous stretches in the Luhansk oblast, says head of Information Resistance NGO Dmytro Tymchuk 05 June 2014. “We have information that about 100 km of the border is practically open. We are trying to look into this.” Although the State Border Service announced it had set up 400 new checkpoints, experts say there are stretches which are not controlled, Tymchuk says. In the Luhansk oblast, unlike the Donetsk oblast where Governor Taruta was the first to propose and make them, there are no anti-vehicles trenches. Tymchuk suspects political corruption.
Ukrainian border guards abandoned a post near Luhansk in early June 2014, blowing a hole in a border that was already considered porous at best, opening the way for men, war matériel and contraband to enter the country. Since then, several other posts have been commandeered by the separatists, who also overran the border guards' headquarters in Luhansk.
A Ukrainian government official proposed Friday 13 June 2014 building a 2,000 kilometer fence between Russia and Ukraine. Topped with barbed wire and electrified, the fence would be protected by ditches and anti-personnel mines. The $130 million- project proposed by Hennadiy Korban is far from becoming a reality. But it illustrates how hostile relations between the two bordering nations have become.
As if to prove the border has holes, Denis Pushilin, head of eastern Ukraine’s breakaway Donetsk People's Republic, popped up in Moscow this week. He met with nationalist politicians, appeared at a support rally, and gave interviews to Russian state television. In one, he said the rebels now have the three tanks - but he did not say where they came from. In the interview, he made financial arguments for trying to take his region from Ukraine into Russia. He said his region pays far more in taxes to Kyiv than it gets in return.
Traffic through Russia’s so-called "closed" border goes both ways. Oleg Tsarev, a fugitive member of Ukraine's parliament, told reporters in Donetsk that he was just back from Moscow, where he opened a fund-raising office for his pro-separatist People’s Front.
Tycoon and Governor of the Dnipropetrovsk oblast Ihor Kolomojsky proposed 12 June 2014 to Pres Poroshenko to start the construction of a 1,900-km fence along Ukraine eastern border with Russia. The project was submitted to the presidential administration.
According to Ihor Kolomojsky, “The peaceful Finland was saved from Stalin by the Mannerheim line. A similar line must be erected to protect Ukraine from Putin. The wall on the Israeli border is very effective against terrorists.” The project will take 5-6 months to complete.
The fence is to be built from high-durability steel and barbed wire. The fence must be protected on both sides with deep trenches to preclude access of vehicles, civilians and animals. The space between the fence and the trench is to be mined with signal and anti-personnel mines. The fence can be electrified.
The fence was to be covered by mobile detachments of border guards and National Guard. The fence could effectively cut off terrorists, supplies and weaponry from their bases in Russia.
The materials for the 1,920-km long fence would cost about 50 million euros. The project’s total costs won’t exceed 100 mn euros. All the works are to be made by Ukrainians. A significant part of the building costs can be funded by the Dnipro-1 charity foundation. Given President Poroshenko’s blessing, the foundation can build the fence in 5-6 months, Ihor Kolomojsky says.
National Security and Defense Council (NSDC) of Ukraine decided to unilaterally define the border with Russia. NSDC Secretary Andriy Parubiy said at a briefing on 16 June 2014 that Kiev would be constructing the necessary facilities and would unilaterally demarcate the border, not only in the battle-torn areas, but throughout the whole of the Russian-Ukrainian border. The secretary said the border would be equipped at the expense of the state budget, and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko had insisted on completing the work as soon as possible.
Russia would not recognize Kiev’s decision on the unilateral demarcation of the border, which would lead to ongoing border disputes, Russian lawmaker Alexei Pushkov said 17 June 2014. "We can assume that Russia will not recognize the unilateral demarcation at least because it is contrary to all norms of the international law," Chairman of the Duma Committee on Foreign Affairs Alexei Pushkov said during a parliamentary session on Tuesday.
"Unilateral demarcation of the border does not exist. In case Kiev does not know this, a mixed commission is always created to decide on demarcation, the two sides are engaged in the process, and it becomes the subject of a separate agreement between the states,” Pushkov said. The committee chairman said a border drawn by a single side is illegal, unrecognized and has no legal force. "Therefore, unilateral demarcation of the border is a path to ongoing border disputes with Russia," Pushkov further explained.
The Ukrainian government publicized some of the President Petro Poroshenko peace plan provisions on 20 June 2014, ahead of the official announcement. The plan called for a unilateral cease-fire that would give rebels a chance to disarm or leave the country. It also includes establishing a corridor allowing separatist fighters to leave Ukraine for Russia, the creation of a 10-kilometer buffer zone along the Ukrainian-Russian border.
By mid-October 2014, a 62-kilometer long anti-tank ditch was dug along the border with Russia, as well as some 50 kilometers of fences. 750 km of control and light bars were developed, as were trenches, bunkers and checkpoints. In November, Ukraine built another 70-kilometer stretch. "We have to date equipped 135.54 kilometers of antitank ditches and 86.42 kilometers of artificial barriers," Ukraine border guard chief Viktor Nazarenko told a press conference in Kiev on 27 November 2014.
The government will allocate UAH 850 million for the construction of fortifications in Donbas. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said at a briefing in Kharkiv 26 March 2015. "Now all the efforts are made for the construction of fortifications along the line of contact in Donbas, because there is the biggest danger there. We will allocate UAH 850 million for these purposes. And then Russia must explain to the world the reasons for its crossing the border, as today it has a bridgehead in the form of illegally occupied territories," Poroshenko said. According to him, it will be a powerful line of defense, made under international standards. "And when the enemy comes to us, he will pay a very high price," he said.
The massive fortification project dubbed the ‘Great Wall of Ukraine' will be completed before the end of 2018 Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk made that promise 23 May 2015 during an inspection of the part of the fence that's planned to stretch the almost 2,000 kilometer land border with Russia. He said the government had found ways to build the construction at a cost five times cheaper than the millions of dollars originally estimated.
Arseniy Yatsenyuk, Ukrainian Prime Minister, said: "Basically, these are the Ukrainian enterprises, which do the construction work and make all the equipment, which is going to be used at the state border. This project has two goals. Fist one is security and defense from Russian saboteurs and the second one is to support our economy, to create new jobs and to develop our science research. Look, what kind of projects were fulfilled by Ukrainian firms".
Ukrainian officials say the wall will enhance national security, improve the business climate and bring Ukraine closer to NATO membership and EU integration. Meanwhile, Yatsenyuk previously claimed the fortifications would serve as Europe's de facto eastern boundary, while also helping Ukraine reassure its European partners that it is in full control of its borders.
Russia erected 40km of fortified walls, and more than 100km of defensive trenches on its border with the rebel Ukrainian regions of Lugansk and Donetsk. “The engineering fortification of the state border is aimed at ensuring stability in the Rostov region, and preventing the illegal circulation of firearms,” Russia’s border service said in a statement 25 May 2015.
The government agency said that it intercepted over 60 illegal weapons shipments across the border since the beginning of the year. In doing so, it confiscated 40 firearms, 200 grenades, 100 shells and 40 landmines. The border service said it had to arrest more than 400 people for either illegally crossing the border or approaching the secure zone next to it, and open fire on five occasions.
Ukraine planned to erect a new wall to defend against an imaginary attack from Russia. Billed as “The Sea Wall,” the new project is meant to protect the Azov Sea port of Mariupol and comes hard on the heels of the much-trumpeted “Great Wall of Ukraine,” which remained unbuilt. According to Ukraine’s State Border Service spokesman Oleh Slobodyan, the new project envisages the construction of a string of fortified structures along the seashore, politnavigator.net wrote.
“The so-called Sea Wall, already approved by the government, will consist of a number of fortifications to monitor the coastal area and in the event of a naval assault, to hold back the enemy until the arrival of our main forces. It will be built along the Azov Sea coast,” Slobodyan said. Neither the cost of the new project nor the construction deadline was immediately available, politnavigator.net wrote.
Ukraine planned to seal itself off from Russia by building a 2,000-kilometer fence at a cost of $150 million.
- BORDER MARKERS
- WEIGHT SENSORS - These sensors detect movements along the border, activating nearby cameras to focus on the area.
- DITCH - The ditch is set to block tanks and other vehicles from crossing the border illegally. It is 2-3 meters deep and about 6 meters wide.
- NIGHT-VISION CCTV CAMERAS - Cameras will be placed every 100 meters to help border-security forces monitor movements and for "potential sabotage."
- RAZOR-WIRE FENCE - The fence is over two meters tall and topped with razor wire. Some areas are said to be electrified.
- WATCHTOWERS - Watchtowers will be placed every 20 kilometers along the border to aid surveillance in the area and to shelter guards.
In March 2016, Ukraine’s National Anti-Corruption Bureau launched criminal proceedings over 16.7 million hryvnias (about $623,000) being stolen from the project’s budget. In 2017, eight suspects involved in the corruption scheme were arrested. Detectives say that a number of officials in Ukraine’s border guard service and businesses overstated the amount of work done and also used fly-by-night companies to siphon off project funds. Some accounting reports mentioned works that had never been carried out at all.
The embezzlement scandal put the entire project in question. Project Wall's construction should have been faster, wider, and better, according to Ukraine's National Anticorruption Bureau (NABU). That FBI-trained anticorruption agency -- formed in the wake of the Euromaidan protests as Kyiv set out to implement crucial reforms to secure Western aid -- found that some of the patrol roads along the wall where border guards cruise in fourwheelers, for instance, were narrower than the planned three meters and that at least $365,000 was stolen from its budget. Eight people from the Border Guard Service of Ukraine and local contractors were detained in August and November 2017 for alleged embezzlement. On July 5, NABU announced it had completed its pretrial investigation into their actions and prepared an indictment for special anticorruption prosecutors to send to court.
By 2018 the wall project covered merely a fraction of Ukraine's 2,300-kilometer eastern border with Russia. It comprised 170 kilometers of trenches; 72 kilometers of fencing; a 165-kilometer patrol road; a 19-kilometer ground strip fitted with seismic sensors to detect objects of more than 60 kilograms; and four frontier posts with 17-meter-high watchtowers equipped with security and thermal-imaging cameras. There was also a 20-kilometer section of fencing and trenches in the war-torn Luhansk region to the south.
Former Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk calls those who accuse him of orchestrating any wrongdoing "Goebbels-style" liars perpetuating "Kremlin propaganda." Yatsenyuk said "Moscow openly does not want to have a border between Ukraine and Russia. Therefore, the Kremlin is making tremendous efforts to disrupt or discredit any border project."
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