UKRAINIAN-RUSSIAN FRONTIER – Ukraine has strengthened frontier defenses with Russia following Moscow’s seizure of Crimea but there is no sign of a major troop buildup in a region where some say they would welcome a Russian takeover.
On the day a Ukrainian soldier became the first fatality in the confrontation on the Black Sea peninsula, at the southernmost crossing between the two countries, where Ukrainian forces dug anti-tank ditches this week, Kiev’s frontier guards were keen to play down the Russian threat and hope for the best.
“I think everything will be all right in the end,” said Sgt. Oleksy Romanenko, as he lifted a barrier to let in one of a slow trickle of cars arriving from Russia on Tuesday.
But despite President Vladimir Putin saying Moscow had no designs on regions of Ukraine beyond Crimea, tension persists.
Asked how he felt about possibly having to fight former Soviet allies who Ukraine’s president says are ready to invade, Romanenko said tersely: “We are ready to defend our country.”
Border defenses have been strengthened by an anti-tank chicane of house-high concrete blocks, placed across the two-lane M14 highway that links the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don and runs round the coast toward Crimea, 350 km (200 miles) west.
Rather than a military invasion, border guards have at this point been more concerned with halting what Kiev calls “Kremlin agents” entering via Russia — provocateurs they blame for violent street clashes in the mainly Russian-speaking eastern cities of Donetsk and Kharkiv. Their goal, Ukraine says, is to turn local people against leaders in Kiev and justify Moscow moving to “protect” ethnic Russians, as in Crimea.
Capt. Ihor Lizohub, deputy commander at the crossing, said Russians seeking entry were being asked their reasons: “Those who deliberately give false information are turned away.”