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Fight against migrants: Does Ukraine need fences and ditches on border with Belarus?

Author : Anna Peshkova

Source : 112 Ukraine

"Our border with the Russian Federation is more or less guarded and defended, and the border with the Republic of Belarus is only guarded, but not defended. And guarded not by modern means of technical protection, but controlled by foot patrolmen or with the help of drones. The system must be strengthened and a real system of state border must be built", says a military expert
23:17, 23 November 2021

Ministry of National Defence of Poland

The media are filled with news about 16 000 migrants grouping near the borders of Belarus, some of which may break into the territory of Ukraine. Our country can respond to potential challenges with just human resources, because on the border with Belarus we have only threads of barbed wire stretched over poles.

But President Zelensky decided that human capital alone at the border would not be enough, and gave the task to equip it as soon as possible. The construction of the wall is called the "master plan" and "strategic goal" for the next two years. To strengthen the border not only with Belarus, but also with Russia, authorities want to allocate UAH 17 billion (637 million USD) in the budget for next year.

Is it advisable to allocate so much funds for the project, and is there any need to strengthen the borders of Ukraine, proceeding from the fact that we have already built one "wall", but never built it?

"More barriers than in the Berlin Wall era"

The total length of the Ukrainian-Belarusian border, according to various sources, is 1086-1088 km, depending on the calculation method. The Interior Ministry plans to strengthen only part of this territory - only 270 km. Most likely, this will not be a solid line, but separate 10 sections of the border, on which the main approaches of migrants are assumed. As DW was informed in the State Border Service, in the border regions with Belarus, they have already begun to pull barbed wire and metal nets. It is extremely difficult to equip the entire border, given the complex landscape and the high cost of such a project.

The director of the communication department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Andriy Shevchenko, believes that it is possible to provide a complete engineering arrangement of sections of the border (a ditch, an anti-vandal fence, observation towers and a rocky road). Traffic on the border can be monitored even from Kyiv. The total cost of such a project within the framework of "Big Construction" is approximately equal to the amount that was laid down in the Ukrainian state budget for education for the next year, and almost half of all funds allocated for medicine.

The idea of ​​building a fence with Belarus came to the minds of officials not only in Ukraine. Although the EU declared that they would not fence off Belarus with a wall, Poland, Latvia and Lithuania bordering on the country supported such an initiative.

The Lithuanian authorities, in particular, stated that the border was needed due to smuggling, and its construction just coincided with the migration crisis. The country is building a four-meter fence with barbed wire about 508 km long for 152 million euros (4.6 billion UAH).

At the end of the summer, the Lithuanian authorities complained about the lack of material for these works. Then Ukraine came to the rescue: it supplied the country with 38 tons of barbed wire, calling it "humanitarian aid". Actually, precisely because our factories that produce barbed wire are now sending it to Lithuania and Poland, there may be delays with the construction of our own barriers, - said the head of the State Border Service Serhiy Deineko himself.

Latvia plans to complete its project only by 2024. Its cost is not yet known: at the first stage, they want to lay barbed wire on 37 km.

Poland will start building the fence on December 15 and plans to finish it in the first half of 2022. The fence will cover less than half of the joint border (180 km out of 418) and will be 5 m high. The project will cost 350 million euros (UAH 10.5 billion). Officials have already shown the visualization on social media.

Since the EU has declared that it will help with financing these projects, in theory, Ukraine can also count on support.

Does Ukraine need border walls?

States do not have to build fences or minefields on their borders, as North Korea did. The territory can be simply marked with a conventional line. More often, barriers are erected either in cases of difficult relations with neighboring countries, or for economic reasons. Monastyrsky, speaking about the purpose of the barriers on the Ukrainian border, calls the prevention of illegal migration and smuggling.

Military expert, reserve colonel Oleg Zhdanov positively assesses the idea and is extremely radical in his assessments. Zhdanov is sure that migrants will strive to go to Ukraine even through swamps and impassable places. Although even Monastyrsky himself does not assume that they will advance in this way, at least in large groups.

But Oleg Starikov is sure that it is too early to talk about the migration threat, and there will be little sense from small developed areas. In addition, according to the estimates of the head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the barriers can be built in two to three years, but by that time the threat of an invasion of migrants may be irrelevant. The EU is also skeptical about the fight against migrants by such methods.

"There are more obstacles in Europe now than during the era of the Berlin Wall. But the problems of migrants will not be solved with their help," said the head of EU diplomacy, Josep Borrell.

Lithuania's decision to build a fence is also actively criticized. The ruling conservatives are reminded of how they once scolded the Hungarian "anti-immigrant fence".

Related: Covid-19 News: Mortality in Ukraine remains high, Germany struggling with rising infections level

With regard to smuggling, opponents of border barriers argue that well-calibrated economic policies can deal with it. In addition, a study by the universities of Washington and Chicago indicates that, due to artificial obstacles, statistically, the volume of legal trade between countries could fall by almost a third, writes Deutsche Welle.

Another goal pursued by the countries that create barriers on the border with Belarus is the fight against terrorism. However, studies from the University of Glasgow show that its prevention with barriers is questionable. Having studied the experience of using walls at borders, they came to the conclusion that the construction of border barriers may not reduce, but, on the contrary, increase the likelihood of terrorist attacks.

However, Ukrainian experts propose to consider strengthening the borders not from the position of fighting migrants or other challenges, but from the position of defense.

"Our border with the Russian Federation is more or less guarded and defended, and the border with the Republic of Belarus is only guarded, but not defended. And guarded not by modern means of technical protection, but controlled by foot patrolmen or with the help of drones. The system must be strengthened and a real system of state border must be built", says a military expert to 112ua.tv.

However, the defense aspect is also quite controversial. First, expensive concrete or metal walls, rather than wire fences, can slow down a military attack.

Secondly, DW refers to a study according to which strengthening borders negatively affects the psyche of citizens, because they indicate conflict. Thus, the conflict is only heating up. In addition, families separated by a fence react negatively to such measures, because their relocation requires significant additional costs.

Another factor is ecology. Environmentalists around the world trumpet that barriers are dangerous to wild animals, in particular wolves and rams, bears and lynxes, jaguars and bison. Thousands of animals migrate across the border every day, heading for feeding, overnight, winter or summer grazing. Due to barriers, they not only lose access to power sources, but can also be injured. So, on September 6, an elk got entangled in a barbed wire fence, which Lithuania is installing on the border with Belarus, and died. Back in July, the Lithuanian Hunters' Union called the area where the barbed wire was located "a cemetery for wild animals."

The construction of barriers is usually preceded by demarcation and delimitation - the determination of the state border, the conclusion of an agreement between countries and the mapping of the border. Our country has not completely passed these procedures. Oleg Starikov reminds: construction of barriers without demarcation usually does not begin.

Related: US considers sending extra weaponry and advisers to Ukraine amid potential Russian invasion

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