By Pavel Polityuk and Natalia Zinets
KYIV – Ukraine should set aside money in next year’s budget to build a more than 2,500 km (1,550 mile) fence on its borders with Belarus and Russia to prevent a possible influx of illegal migrants, Interior Minister Denys Monastyrskiy said on Friday.
Monastyrskiy said Ukraine planned new military exercises in the next two weeks to prepare in case migrants tried to cross the border illegally. Ukraine is wary of becoming a new flashpoint in the migrant crisis on Belarus’s borders with the European Union, which Kyiv accuses Russia of instigating.
“Our key task is to restrain and stop a possible massive flow of illegal migrants,” Monastyrskiy told parliament.
Ukraine on Thursday said it had intercepted a group of 15 people from the Middle East who tried to enter from Belarus, the first such incident since the migrant crisis escalated.
Ukraine has deployed 15 helicopters, two planes and 44 drones to its borders in response to the crisis, in which the EU accuses Belarus of flying in migrants and pushing them to cross borders illegally into Poland and Lithuania.
Belarus and its ally Russia deny fomenting the crisis, which comes at a time when Ukraine and NATO countries have also voiced concern about Russian troop movements near Ukraine’s borders.
“We must understand that the construction of a proper state border by Ukraine along its entire length with the Russian Federation, the aggressor country, and the Republic of Belarus, is a reliable counter to this aggression,” Monastyrskiy said.
Parliament this week authorised Ukrainian border guards to use military equipment and firearms. Asked about this, Monastyrskiy said the guards should be ready to use them if necessary, but there was no need at the moment.
Relations between Kyiv and Moscow collapsed after Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula and the outbreak of fighting between Ukrainian troops and pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.