Russia has completed the building of fortified walls and dug trenches along its border with southeastern Ukraine, where pro-Russian separatist rebels have been fighting Ukrainian forces to establish an independent republic in Luhansk and Donetsk for over a year.
The walls, covering a total distance of 40 km in addition to more than 100 km of defencive trenches, aim to stop the unrest in the region spilling over the border.
“The engineering fortification of the state border is aimed at ensuring stability in the Rostov region, and preventing the illegal circulation of firearms,” a statement published by the Russian border services said.
Illegal weapons shipments have been a cause for concern for the Russian authorities since the war in eastern Ukraine began just weeks after former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych fled the country following anti-government protest in the capital Kiev.
According to the Russian government, over 60 illegal weapons shipments, including 40 firearms, 200 grenades, 100 shells and 40 landmines, have been intercepted at the border since the beginning of 2015.
Moreover, over 400 people have been arrested at the border for crossing it illegally, including incidents of rebels entering the border region with armoured vehicles. The new border defences, however, aim to prevent such incidents.
“If the mercenaries decide to try to get back into Russia from Ukraine on their armored vehicles, their entry will be blocked. This is a clear signal to the mercenaries in Donbass – they might have come here, but they are not going back. At least, they aren’t going back out alive,” Russian government spokesman Andrey Lysenko said.
Russia and Ukraine have been at loggerheads ever since last year’s power shift in Kiev led the autonomous government in Crimea, which is dominated by ethnic Russians, to declare independence from Ukraine and eventually be annexed by Russia following a referendum a month later.
Over 6,000 people have died in the fighting between pro-Russian rebels and the Ukrainian government since the rebels began their insurgency.
The Minsk 2 agreement, which was signed between the Ukrainian government and rebel leaders in the Belarusian capital on Feb. 15, secured a ceasefire in eastern Ukraine in order to allow vital humanitarian aid to reach thousands of civilians who have been cut off from social subsidies due to the conflict.
Last week, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko claimed his country is in a "real war" with Russia after two wounded Russian soldiers were captured during a battle with rebels in the country’s east.
The capture of the soldiers came just days after the release of a report published by the Russian opposition claiming at least 220 Russian soldiers were killed in the war in eastern Ukraine in the past year.
The 64-page report, called “Putin.War,” was originally drawn up by assassinated opposition leader Boris Nemtsov before being completed and published by opposition figures led by Ilya Yashin and released on May 12.
Russia, however, has denied the claims that Russian soldiers are directly involved in the fighting, but has not ruled out the possibility of volunteer fighters from Russia participating in the war.