The border closure would be a temporary measure, according to Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko, but not the turn westward. Poroshenko wants to keep Russia out of eastern Ukraine while Kyiv tries to settle with its rebellious provinces what kind of federalist structure will work to keep them from restarting the civil war. But regardless of whether a permanent settlement can be reached, Ukraine will apply for EU membership by 2020 to complete their exit from the Russian sphere of influence, Poroshenko declared:
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.
Poroshenko also said his ex-Soviet country would apply for membership of the European Union in 2020 as part of a broader political and economic reform plan.
The closure of the border will hurt Ukraine’s economy more than Russia’s, but Poroshenko might not have many options open to him. Russia may have pulled back most of its troops, but there is little doubt that they are still supporting the rebels in the east. Closing the borders won’t end that entirely, but it might make it more difficult to accomplish and force the rebels to get the best deal they can while they can.
In the west, Ukraine is already looking west, and not just economically:
The eastern provinces are not monolithically rebellious, either. The Washington Post gives readers a vignette of life in the midst of a frozen civil war, where residents have to remember which streets are whose:
Khutor and Nika move briskly on the sidewalk, but not fast enough to draw attention. They have tried to memorize the “wrong streets” — the ones where they know the pro-Russian rebels who seized this city now regularly stand guard in camouflage, AK-47s poised. But sometimes the two of them get it wrong. Like now.
A muscular dirty-blond bearing a studied look of intimidation and an arm patch with the banner of the so-called New Russia clutches his weapon firmly as they pass. Khutor, 42, and Nika, 33, lower their heads. They cease talking. In a place where even a trip to the supermarket has become a ritual of stress, the couple tighten their grips on their bags of groceries, as if pointing them out. See? Just ran out for some milk and bread. Thanks now. Got to go.
In this metropolis that had a prewar population of almost a million, but where the city center now feels like an Orwellian ghost town of propaganda posters and armed patrols, perhaps no one feels more alone than those who still harbor pro-Ukrainian sentiments. Since the separatists took total control here, human rights and Ukrainian activists say, an untold number of loyalists have been extorted, abducted, tortured and, allegedly, executed. Many have left in search of sanctuaries farther west. But a small number of them — like Khutor and Nika — are riding out the storm. …
Even those still loyal to Kiev in this city concede that a great number of their neighbors and (former) friends are supporting the pro-Russian uprising. Even more Donetsk residents are simply pragmatic, prepared to back the guys with the biggest guns if that means an end to the fighting.
But they have all effectively found themselves living in a police state. For pro-Ukrainians, it is one where their views can mean terrifying trips to “the basement” — or makeshift detention centers for suspected spies.
Poroshenko’s declaration won’t make their lives any easier, but it probably doesn’t surprise many on either side. The new regime in Kyiv has been adamant about moving their nation closer to the rest of Europe and away from Moscow, even through a civil war when it might have been easier to throw back in with Moscow. For too many in the western part of the country, remaining in Russia’s orbit is too much like the era of Soviet domination; for many in the east, Russia is not just a neighbor but a cultural and ethnic homeland, while Europe evokes too many nightmares of Nazi occupation.
Those differences may just be irreconcilable, even with an autonomous relationship with Kyiv. People like Khutor and Nika may need to think about moving westward, because when the EU issue becomes acute the civil war and the police state will likely get a lot worse, unless Poroshenko can find a way to make peace in the east.