Sunday, October 12, 2014
Ukraine’s Porous Border Must be Sealed
It’s about time that Kyiv began to seriously talk about building a secure border around Ukraine – thanks to Russia’s invasion. For 23 years since independence any consideration about a delimitation between Ukraine and Russia was put off due to indecision, incompetence, carelessness, criminal negligence or treason.
The frontier between Ukraine and Russia has become so porous that Russian mercenaries and troops, accompanied by artillery and tanks, penetrated it with ease, launching a brutal, bloody war to conquer and re-subjugate Ukraine.
Not only is a fortified perimeter absent, but the US has also criticized security and international monitoring of the so-called frontier region, condemning it as “grossly inadequate.” US Ambassador to the OSCE Daniel Baer last week called for a greater mandate for the OSCE to monitor the border.
“The current (OSCE) observation mission has access to about 1 km of the international border,” Baer complained.
“We call on Russia to engage immediately with Ukraine and the OSCE to implement monitoring and verification of the international border as agreed in Minsk, to include restoring Ukrainian control over its side of the border, and a heavy weapons-free buffer zone on either side of the border,” Baer said.
He also urged Russia to fulfil its other Minsk commitments – which realistically are as porous as the border is – namely to use its influence with the separatists to end truce violations, withdraw all military personnel and equipment from Ukraine and release all hostages. Putin has not lived up to any of its tenets.
Speaking to border guards at a Ukrainian State Border Guard Service Base in Kyiv last week, Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland emphasized the important role played by this military unit in defending Ukraine’s border.
“As Ambassador Pyatt said, today Ukraine is asserting its independence, securing its international borders, and reaffirming its democratic, united, European choice. And in this struggle to achieve your objectives, the objectives of the Ukrainian people, that you have struggled so hard for this year, and that some have lost their lives for, it is the State Border Guards who are on the front line of reestablishing Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Nuland said.
Indeed, while the Ukrainian regular army, the National Guard and volunteer para-military units are engaged in hand-to-hand combat with Russian regulars and mercenaries, border guards are standing watch along the frontier struggling to keep more enemy soldiers and armor from crossing into Ukraine. Unfortunately, as the ongoing war is demonstrating, the border guards are fighting a difficult if not losing battle.
Nuland went on to say that Ukraine and the US signed agreements that deepen bilateral partnership with the Ukrainian Border Guards. She said the US will provide Ukraine with $10 million in body armor, protective gear for personnel, up-armored SUVs, patrol vehicles and thermal vision devices for the border guards.
According to her, the US has been working with the Ukrainian border service for more than a decade, working on nuclear nonproliferation, stopping crime, stopping smuggling, training your border guards and maritime units. With an enemy such a Russia breathing down Ukraine’s spine, that is turning out to be fatally insufficient. More support and aid are needed to keep Ukraine independent.
“But today this partnership is even more existential. It’s about Ukraine’s survival as a sovereign state, something that is deeply in the interest of the United States,” Nuland added, correctly noting that Ukraine’s existence is at stake in Russia’s war with it and a unfortified border does not help Ukraine protect itself against Russian aggression.
“In addition, we’ll also be providing $1.4 million for the State Export Control and Border Security services, and $15 million from our Defense Threat Reduction Agency for scanners, for communications equipment, for patrol vessels, and for vehicles that support the border guards as you do your work on land, on sea, and in the air,” she said.
In a warmly touching conclusion, Nuland pledged that Washington would stand with Ukraine as it strengthens its border.
“I want to take this opportunity on behalf of the American people to thank each and every member of the Border Guard who serves so bravely for the Ukrainian people and helps them to sleep better at night. We are your partners and we’re proud to be so, and this partnership will continue,” she said.
Some pundits have ridiculed the idea of a reinforced brick and mortar border between Ukraine and Russia because a daring, mighty enemy can work around it if it sets it mind to do so. Nonetheless, a national perimeter like the Maginot Line, the Great Wall of China, or the border between North and South Korea would at least cause the enemy to pause before invading Ukraine and not roll across an unmarked, unsecured frontier like a welcome mat. Ukraine today and for the near future cannot afford to have a US-Canada-type border with Russia.
Prime Minister Arseniy Yatseniuk announced at a cabinet meeting on Wednesday, October 8, that Ukraine will spend about $83.5 million to build a wall along the 2,000 km land border with Russia.
Emphasizing that regaining control of the frontier with Russia is a key point of Ukraine’s peace plan, Yatseniuk said the government has already allocated $15.3 million for project. After all, a popular folk expression points out that strong fences make good neighbors, and that is a desired objective of the EU worrywarts.
The project, which Kyiv launched last month in a bid to “cut off Russian support for insurgents in eastern regions,” includes installing fortifications and assembling barriers, such as barbed wire and fences with motion sensors and infrared cameras, along the border with Russia. It is expected to be completed by April 2015.
Despite criticism and concern for flora and fauna, the plan is not absurd as some have said. It is a practical solution that will perhaps not ensure peace but will at least delay another Russian war with Ukraine. It would define Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty and give the people a sense of confidence and safety. The EU and the x-captive nations should contribute to the wall’s construction because, after all, it would also serve as their eastern security perimeter.