Ukraine prepares to close Russia border

2014-09-25 19:05
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. (File: AP)

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. (File: AP)

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Kiev - President Petro Poroshenko instructed his government on Thursday to consider temporarily closing Ukraine's porous border with Russia to help halt its "intervention" in the Westward-leaning former Soviet state's affairs.

A senior Ukrainian security source told AFP the measure was designed to seal the frontier to automobile traffic would and enter into force "soon".

The step - if and when it is adopted - underscores the extent of Ukraine's alienation from its historic master.

The radical decline in relations comes in the wake of the February ouster in Kiev of a pro-Kremlin leader and Russia's subsequent annexation of Crimea and alleged backing of a deadly insurgency in the east.

Retaliatory steps

But it also threatens to further devastate Ukraine's imploding economy by halting trade between the mutually dependent nations and increasing the likelihood that Russia will adopt retaliatory steps.

A decree published on the presidential website ordered the government "to settle... the issue of temporarily closing checkpoints on Ukraine's state border with the Russian Federation to cars, sea and pedestrian traffic."

It added that the 2 000km land frontier with Ukraine's giant north-eastern neighbour may be closed "to other forms of traffic" if necessary.

The decree said it was issued "in connection with the continued intervention of the Russian Federation in Ukraine's internal affairs".

There was no immediate reaction to Poroshenko's decision from either the Kremlin or the Russian foreign ministry.

'Very serious decision'

Both Kiev and its Western allies accuse Russia of sending elite forces and heavy weapons such as surface-to-air missiles into eastern Ukraine to help the separatist uprising that pro-Kremlin gunmen launched in April.

Russia flatly denies the charges and dismisses Nato satellite imagery purporting to show its troops in Ukraine as fabrications designed to back the military alliance's expansion toward its border.

A senior security source told AFP the instructions were originally drafted by Ukraine's National Security and Defence Council at the end of August in order to limit future cross-border travel to rail service and passenger flights.

"Air and rail traffic would be substantially easier to control than automobile and pedestrian traffic," the source said.

"It will be more difficult to sneak in various [explosives and weapons] into Ukraine," said the source.

"This is a very serious social decision, but one we were forced to adopt."

A spokesperson for Ukraine's state border service said no additional security measures had yet been taken and that cars were still allowed to pass along the dozens of border crossings linking the two countries.

Ukraine "has closed checkpoints that have long been under attack from the rebels and the Russian side of the border," spokesperson Andriy Kucherov said by telephone.

"The rest of the Ukrainian-Russian border is operating as before."

Obama blasts Russian 'aggression'

The 48-year-old Ukranian leader's decree was published only hours after US President Barack Obama delivered a hard-hitting address at the United Nations denouncing Russia's "aggression" against its much smaller neighbour.

Obama told a special session of the UN General Assembly that Russia was on the wrong side of history in Ukraine and facing still further isolation from the West.

"Russian aggression in Europe recalls the days when large nations trampled small ones in pursuit of territorial ambition," Obama said.

But he also offered to lift punishing economic sanctions against Moscow if it threw its weight behind an unravelling peace deal with Kiev designed to end fighting that has killed more than 3,200 and forced 650 000 from their homes.

Obama promised to "lift our sanctions and welcome Russia's role in addressing common challenges" if the Kremlin "changes course".

The outstretched hand to Moscow came a day after pro-Russian guerrillas brushed off the terms of a peace deal under which they would receive limited self-rule but remain part of Ukraine.

The insurgents announced plans to set up their own parliaments and elect new leaders in self-organised 2 November polls.

Ukrainian lawmakers had last week backed Poroshenko's proposal for rebel-held parts of the Russian-speaking east to hold local council elections 7 December that would help restore law and order but not pursue any independence claims.

Read more on:    un  |  nato  |  barack obama  |  petro poroshenko  |  us  |  russia  |  ukraine

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