The Implementation of Critical Strategic Initiatives to Further Secure Ukrainian and Moldovan National Borders
1.Contextual political and operational background for EUBAM
Before I start my presentation today, allow me to make the disclaimer that I speak in my professional capacity as the Head of EUBAM, and not necessarily for the wider EU institutions, EU member states or our host Governmental partners, Ukraine and Moldova.
It seems right to open my presentation by reminding this largely EU-audience why Ukraine and Moldova matter in the context of this Conference.
Successive EU enlargements have brought Moldova and Ukraine physically, commercially and politically closer to the EU. Their internal security, stability and prosperity increasingly impact on the EU’s. The EU policy towards these countries is strong, proactive and unequivocal. Moldova and Ukraine have been important EU partners within the European Neighbourhood Policy, which since its inception in 2004 has sought to avoid the emergence of new dividing lines between the enlarged EU and her neighbours, and to strengthen the prosperity, stability and security of all, based on the values of democracy, rule of law and respect of human rights. Through the Eastern Partnership and other instruments, the EU has invested and offered Moldova and Ukraine concrete support for democratic and market-oriented reforms and thus contributed to their political and economic stability. Moldova and Ukraine are currently engaged in deep reforms to fulfil their aspirations of EU integration, especially as regards the processes related to visa liberalisation and the implementation of the Association Agreements/DCFTA with the EU.
But Moldova and Ukraine’s closer ties with the EU have brought security concerns as well as trade and reform opportunities.
The outbreak of internal conflict in Ukraine and Russian annexation of Crimea introduced a new security dynamic which remains of deep EU concern. The increased availability of weapons, ammunition and explosives stolen or otherwise misappropriated from the military conflict zone in eastern Ukraine and further traded inland in Ukraine has demanded heightened internal and border control measures.
The proximity to the EU of the contentious areas of Transnistria and Gagauzia in Moldova and of the Odessa region of Ukraine – all known for their complex social and economic connections to Russian interests, political activism and in the case of Transnistria separatist inclination – are of concern for regional security.
Moldova and Ukraine also lie on the main Eastern migration route to the EU. They are potential settlement areas on this migration route, potential asylum refuge countries, and also a compelling route for terrorists and narcotics from the Caucasus and Asia.
Against this backdrop, the European Union Border Assistance Mission to Moldova and Ukraine (EUBAM) has operated for over 10 years. It was launched in 2005 following a joint request by the Presidents of the Republic Moldova and Ukraine to promote border control, customs and trade norms and practices that meet European Union standards, and to serve the needs of its two partner countries. It is an advisory, technical Mission with no executive powers, fully funded by the European Union and headquartered in Odesa (Ukraine), with six field offices in its area of operation. It is apolitical and impartial in nature: a key feature, as I shall come to later on, in contributing towards confidence building measures for a peaceful settlement of the Transnistrian conflict but also to commanding the credibility and respect of all our national partners for candour, integrity, transparency and “fair-play”. On 1 December 2015, EUBAM entered a new biennium phase. Our action plan set by Brussels requires EUBAM to design a phase-out and exit strategy. While no pre-judgement of EUBAM’s closure or reconfiguration has been taken, it is quite possible that this may be EUBAM’s last 2-year period of existence.
EUBAM has a dual identity as both a European Commission-funded project and a Mission, serving a wider range of EU and stakeholder security interests. EUBAM also has a niche-role and potential future contribution in Moldova and Ukraine’s wider Euro-integration process, especially as regards the post visa liberalization process and implementation of the Association Agreements/DCFTA. In this sense, it is a unique construct in the EU architecture of overseas Missions: what could be called a hybrid Mission: part-institutional and development-led; part security based: a cross between a development project and CDSP-look-a-like Mission. This unique construct, I would suggest, is a valuable asset in the EU’s toolbox to address similar future operational challenges elsewhere in the EU neighbourhood, including tackling stress-points in the wider European migration crisis.
EUBAM border management goals in a nutshell are to support Ukraine and Moldova “facilitate the legal and frustrate the illegal”. Our specific overall tasks are to:
- work with the authorities in Moldova and Ukraine to harmonise their border control, and customs and trade standards and procedures with those in EU Member States;
- improve cross-border cooperation between the border guard and customs agencies and with other law enforcement bodies, and facilitate international coordinated cooperation;
- assist its partners in preparing for the implementation of the requirements of the EU–Moldova and EU- Ukraine Association Agreements and the future establishment of a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA); and
- contribute to the peaceful settlement of the Transnistrian conflict through confidence-building measures and a monitoring presence at the Transnistrian segment of the Moldovan-Ukrainian border.
Having outlined the context, let me briefly familiarize you (with the help of a map), with the geographical terrain and flow of people and goods.
The Moldova-Ukraine border is 1,222 km long, out of which 955 km is green border and 267 km is blue border. 453.4 km of the Moldovan border with Ukraine, along the Central (Transnistrian) segment, is not under the control of the Moldovan Authorities, who have no physical presence there. Small parts of this border (and elsewhere outside the central segment) remain to be demarcated: 3.7 km in total to be more precise.
Internationally recognized border checks and surveillance functions along this segment are conducted only by UASBGS on the Ukrainian side of the border. There are 67 official BCPs at the Moldova-Ukraine border, including international, interstate and local ones, out of which 25 BCPs are situated at the Central segment (5 international, 8 inter-state, 12 local).
More than 11.5 million persons and 2.3 million vehicles crossed the Moldova-Ukraine border in 2015. The relatively intensive traffic flow across the Moldova-Ukraine border reflects the regional movement of goods and local trade, while the proximity of wider transport corridors connected to the regional hubs of Odesa and Illichivsk ports in Ukraine expose this border to ongoing risks of illegal border crossings and illicit trade.
The worsening economic environment and the conflict in Ukraine have had a significant impact on bilateral trade and the flow of passengers and goods at the Moldova-Ukraine border. During 2014-2015, the bilateral trade and the traffic flow of passengers and goods decreased at the Moldova-Ukraine border in comparison with previous years. To a large extent, the decreasing trend of passenger and vehicle flows was due to the prevailing public perception of insecurity in Ukraine since March 2014. As a result, many citizens restrained from travelling for business or tourism to Ukraine and especially from Moldova across the Moldova-Ukraine border to the Odessa region.
3. The challenges and threats to border security on the Ukraine-Moldova borders
Turning to the particular challenges for border security, the overall security situation at the Moldova-Ukraine border including at the Transnistrian segment was relatively calm and stable in 2014-2015. The unresolved conflict in Transnistria continues to present challenges for effective border management. Tackling corruption in Moldova and Ukraine, including in the border and customs control areas also remains a key governance challenge.
The general pattern of cross-border crime and irregular migration has not substantially changed over the past years at the Moldova-Ukraine border. The main risks for the border and customs services in Moldova and Ukraine are the smuggling of cigarettes and alcohol, irregular migration, document frauds and illegal border crossing, customs violations including non-declaration, misdescription, undervaluation and IPR frauds, vehicle-related offences and the smuggling of weapons, ammunition, explosives and drugs. Out of those, the smuggling of goods and irregular migration remain top challenges.
The potential terrorism-related border crossings and smuggling of weapons, ammunition and explosives came into sharper focus of control operations and triggered security measures on both sides of the border in 2014-2015. Despite the increased control measures, no significant cases suggesting an organized weapons trafficking across the border were reported. The number of weapon seizures at the border remained low.
The nationals of Moldova and Ukraine enjoy bilateral visa-free regime, thus the schemes of irregular migration and THB of these nationals rarely involve illegal crossing of the border, aimed to minimizing the risks of detention. The irregular migration of citizens of third countries or stateless persons is declined by 12% and the number of detained irregular migrants decreased by 42% in 2015. The general irregular migration trend of nationals of Afghanistan and Georgia persisted, as well from other CIS countries.
The overall smuggling of goods detected at the border decreased by 2% in terms of the number of cases and 2.4 times in terms of value in 2015, yet the likelihood of illegal movement of excise goods from Moldova to Ukraine stayed high. While cigarettes smuggling cases and quantities decreased by 30% and 7 times respectively in 2015 compared to the previous year, ethanol smuggling gained in sophistication and the number of cases and quantities jumped by 31% and 1.5 times respectively.
4.How the political challenges with neighbouring Russia have influenced EUBAM
No threat assessment would be complete without considering “the Russia factor”. Russian interests in both Ukraine and, to a lesser extent, Moldova have been historical and long-standing. They remain very much alive, at a social, economic and political level. In the Transnistrian region of Moldova, Russia still maintains a significant military presence and arsenal. Lt General Servatiuk has spoken about the border considerations of Ukraine’s relations with Russia. I shall speak about the consequences for EUBAM. In short, the downturn of relations between Ukraine and Russia have changed EUBAM’s operational environment, calling for a rebalancing of resources and priorities, but have not altered EUBAM’s essential goals – which remain to institutionalise best legislation and practice in integrated border management in Ukraine and Moldova and support these two countries benefit from the closer ties they have concluded with the EU through the Associated Agreements, intrinsic DCFTA and visa liberalization process. Clearly the conflict in the east of Ukraine and the unlawful annexation of Crimea by Russia heightened Ukraine’s security concerns for any area within its own country or for any of its borders, which might be vulnerable to Russian political interference or subversive activity. This preoccupation includes Ukraine’s Odesa province or oblast, where there is a significant Russian-speaking population; but also, within the Moldovan Republic, the breakaway republic of Transnistria, where the predominant language and pattern of life is Russian and Russia-oriented. Ukraine’s understandable reflex has been to strengthen its range of border security and anti-insurgent controls, including a crack-down on cross-border smuggling of firearms, explosive devices as well as excisable household items. This has changed EUBAM’s operational environment, to the extent that the EU also shared these concerns and tasked EUBAM to support Ukraine and Moldova with proportionate responses that did not contravene international best practices. EUBAM responded in a number of different ways. It scaled up its manpower along the Transnistrian segment of the Ukraine-Moldova border; it monitored ever more closely the strengthened border defence and border checks adopted by Ukraine and Moldova, using its evidential field-based observations with national partners to provide remedial advice as well as independent reporting to the EU member states and the wider international community. Such impartial reporting was to prove invaluable at times of claim and counter-claim between parties to the dispute, for example when truck-deliveries of humanitarian supplies were being transported into Transnistria from Russia. It has also been important to ensure Ukraine and Moldova do not discriminate arbitrarily against Russian citizens at border entry and exit points. EUBAM stepped up its monitoring of second-line checks, including most recently at Chisinau airport, which has seen an upsurge in visitor numbers, partly caused by the transport restrictions from Russia through Ukraine to Transnistria.
5.Threat counter-measures :ongoing efforts and assets at national and international level
EUBAM has sought in practical ways, in tandem with other EU and international partners, to support Ukraine and Moldova tackle and mitigate these border security challenges. The slide before you highlights some of the approaches used. More detail is contained in my full presentation, available on the USB stick.
New regional security challenges posed by the conflict in Ukraine have focused and refocused the tasks of the border services in both countries. The Ukrainian border services enhanced security measures at the Moldova-Ukraine border and reinforced border and customs controls were implemented under the threat of terrorism-related travel movements. Increased second line checks were established to prevent the entry of potential foreign fighters and/or weapons. Moldovan border services also increased their operational readiness during most critical periods of events in Ukraine.
EUBAM has played a role in ensuring such security enhancements are evidence-led and proportionately match the threats faced. One way of doing this has been the Common Border Security Assessment Report, drafted jointly by the Mission and the Moldovan and Ukrainian customs and border guard/police. Through systematic analysis, it provides a monthly, biannual and annual assessment of the security situation along the entire common border. Its assessments are used by partners to inform their tactical, operational and strategic decisions. The information produced from the reports also constitutes a platform for enhanced cooperation between the partners on joint border control operations.
An excellent example of this was the four-phase joint border control operation “Danubius”, launched from May until October 2015. Covering the entire Moldova-Ukraine border, it was the thirteenth joint operation under the aegis of EUBAM but was the first time that the partner services took sole charge of planning and co-ordination. It involved seven law enforcement agencies from Moldova and Ukraine, and was supported by Europol, Interpol, Frontex, OLAF, SELEC, and law enforcement agencies from five EU member states. The operation also helped strengthen professional and personal ties between responsible officials in the two countries, clarifying and improving collaboration procedures and deepening mutual trust.
As already noted, inter-agency and cross-border cooperation with international organizations, EU agencies and EU member States has been a means by which EUBAM has sought to improve internal and border security whilst still facilitating the traffic of people and goods across borders. Working Groups and Task Forces have been one way for the merging of efforts between the Ukrainian and Moldovan partners with those of key stakeholders on cross border crime. This systematic and focused concept has encouraged partners to share intelligence and develop integrated methods for dealing with common problems. It has also facilitated contacts with counterparts in EU member states and beyond, as well as the business community. The Mission has three Working Groups: on Trafficking of Human Beings and Illegal Migration; on Customs Offences, and on Intellectual Property Rights. The second of these has four Task Forces on Tobacco, Arms, Vehicles and Drugs.
As part of their Association Agreements, Moldova and Ukraine must demonstrate they are capable of cooperating with the EU on migration, asylum and border management. Evidence-led policy making remains the Mission’s preferred approach to addressing the complex and often sensitive issues of migration and asylum. Through its annual report on “Irregular Migration and Trafficking in Human Beings at the Moldova-Ukraine Border”, the Mission co-ordinates contributions from national partners, Frontex and IOM to explain the national and wider regional context of irregular migration and trafficking in human beings in both countries, as well as highlighting new trends. At a practical level, the Mission has assisted partners to apply for access to the relevant EU databases, helping them combat human trafficking by detecting forged travel documents, and facilitated capacity building on tackling irregular migration.
The Mission has made fighting tobacco-smuggling one of its flagship initiatives. Cigarette smuggling is the main focus because it represents a major economic and security challenge for both countries as well as the European Union and its Member States. To achieve more coherency, the Mission has recommended that Moldova and Ukraine adopt national anti‐tobacco strategies, and that they begin with the law‐enforcement component before drawing in other strands of work. Both Governments have accepted this. Through the Task Force on Tobacco, a number of international criminal investigations have been supported by EUBAM, leading to significant seizures of cigarettes smuggled into EU countries originating from Moldova or Ukraine.
Improvements in profiling and exchange of information have been facilitated by EUBAM’s Task Force on the smuggling of drugs. Information sharing has been forged by the Moldovan and Ukrainian partners with law enforcement agencies in Western Europe and the principal international courier companies. EUBAM has also facilitated cooperation between the Moldovan and Ukrainian authorities and law enforcement agencies of EU member states in investigations into trafficking of drugs, shedding light on the identification of the principals involved and their supply routes and distribution systems.
Smuggling of Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear substances remains a live threat, as does the trafficking of small arms, light weapons and convention ammunition, especially through Transnistria. EUBAM gives tailored support to the partner services in Ukraine and Moldova on control operations to prevent proliferation. It works closely with EUROPOL and Member States through the EUBAM-led Task Force on Arms, and has focused efforts on providing on-the-job training on weapons concealment methods and safety measures when conducting related searches at border crossing points, as well as conducting exercises on the transportation of nuclear and radioactive substances across borders.
The Pre-arrival Information Exchange System enables the two customs services to exercise more effective control and risk assessment on commercial cargoes, helping to combat the smuggling of tobacco, drugs and weapons. The system also allows a ‘virtual presence’ at the Transnistrian segment of the border, increasing transparency and allowing effective control of goods imported through this segment. In October 2015 a similar system (called PRINEX) was replicated between the customs authorities of Ukraine and Belarus.
EUBAM is an instrument for the containment and eventual settlement of the Transnistria conflict
EUBAM has been particularly active on advising on a proper balance between security and enforcement measures to prevent cross-border crime on one hand, and the facilitation of trade and traffic on the other hand. The Mission’s field presence has proved invaluable in the current security climate. From December 2014, EUBAM increased its deployment of international border guards and customs experts by 88% from 17 to 32 experts at key parts on the Transnistrian segment of the border. The Mission was thus able to provide more first-hand information about the border situation to all interested parties, thereby counterbalancing less-objective and more sensationalist information which circulated publically
The expanded presence allowed EUBAM to examine whether tightened controls such as second line checks were carried out in compliance with European norms and human rights standards. The Mission also monitored the perceived obstacles to legitimate trade and to the movement of people and goods across the Transnistrian segment of the border. Overall, EUBAM observations and analysis confirms that the crisis in Ukraine has had a relative impact on the Transnistrian external trade activity and the cross border movement of its inhabitants. EUBAM also confirmed that border checks on travellers and especially on the Russian citizens were implemented in full respect of their human rights.
With EUBAM support, the Ukrainian authorities also stepped up control over the transit of excise goods and especially tobacco to Transnistria, leading to a decline of cigarettes deliveries to Transnistria via Ukraine to zero. This has been the result of combined efforts of the State Fiscal Service of Ukraine and EUBAM. Furthermore, following a government resolution in Ukraine, from May 2015 deliveries of spirits, alcohol and tobacco products can only be delivered into Transnistria through Chisinau-controlled territory or three other designated border crossing points.
6.Border enhancement : how EUBAM has and is supporting the modernization, inter-operatibility and effectiveness of national services in Moldova and Ukraine
Enhancing border management is a high priority of both the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine. Since its inception, EUBAM has assisted partner agencies to improve the institutional basis for integrated border management in both countries, and contributed to the preparation of visa liberalization assessments. The development of border demarcation, information exchange, harmonisation of border control procedures at JOBCPs and the implementation of joint border patrolling along the Moldova-Ukraine border are key elements of this practical approach. Much has been achieved in these areas.
The Joint Moldova-Ukraine Commission on Border Demarcation, supported by EUBAM, has edged tantalisingly towards finalising physical demarcation, with just 3.73kms remaining.
The goal of establishing seven joint border crossing points on the Moldova-Ukraine state border has also been pursued vigorously. In 2012, an EUBAM-inspired pilot project at the Briceni-Rososhani border crossing point became jointly controlled and continues to operate successfully. With EUBAM support, an inter-agency Protocol on the Establishment of Joint Control at Kuchurhan-Pervomaisc Border Crossing Point on the territory of Ukraine has been signed, whilst the third and fourth joint border crossing points, at Palanca, and further west at Reni-Giurgiulesti, will have infrastructure upgrades to prepare them for joint operation, funded for by the EU.
A major milestone for the Mission came in 2011 with the signing of a bilateral agreement between Moldova and Ukraine which provides for joint patrolling of the mutual border. EUBAM’s practical assistance to these joint patrols has gradually made way to monitoring and rectification as the partner services have assumed full responsibilities.
Bilateral mechanisms for the automatic exchange of border crossing data between Moldova and Ukraine along the whole length of the joint border remain a work in progress. This would significantly improve transparency and security concerning the movement of people and vehicles across the border, including the Transnistrian segment, allowing both Moldovan and Ukrainian partners to carry out risk analysis on such movements. It would also dispense with migration procedures along the administrative boundary line on the western side of Transnistria, ensuring freedom of movement across the line. Facilitated by the Mission, an agreement was signed on 4 November 2015 to establish such a mechanism, and is currently identifying international funding with the partner services to realise this.
Finally, a word on addressing corruption and raising integrity. None of the enhancements highlighted in this presentation will fulfil their potential unless corruption is addressed. Pervasive corruption is widely recognised as an impediment to progress in both countries, and EUBAM’s partner services are not immune to its influence. EUBAM’s efforts have evolved from facilitated training for partner services on the prevention, detection and investigation of corruption to the advocacy of sustainable good governance mechanisms to be embedded within managerial decision-making processes of partner agencies. The Mission is currently working with partner agencies in both countries to develop and implement appropriate corporate ethics policies and/or enforceable Codes of Conduct covering all employees. The aim being to ensure high professional standards are achieved while partner services operate in a transparent, responsive and equitable manner while ensuring continuous compliance with the Rule of Law.
7.Conclusions : Further challenges and requirements to meet
As I earlier mentioned, EUBAM has started to design an exit-strategy. This will involve in the coming 12 months a stringent evaluation, conducted jointly with our national partners, on Ukraine and Moldova’s achievements in implementing IBM practices that approximate to EU standards but also their ability to implement, respect and draw benefit from their DCFTA membership privileges of the EU free trade area. EUBAM is not alone in supporting Ukraine and Moldova in these tasks. In the past 2 years or so, a plentitude of other EU instruments and international partners have come on-stream. This is helpful in enabling EUBAM the scope to consider within its exit strategy which other EU and international instruments will be able to take Ukraine and Moldova across the IBM implementation finishing line.