15:22 GMT29 October 2020
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    Last month, Ukrainian officials said that they have run out of money for the 1,900 km border 'wall' with Russia, a $200 million project initiated by former Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk in 2014. Yatsenyuk resigned last April. Now he's back, with advice for US President Donald Trump on how to build a border wall with Mexico.

    In September 2014, Ukrainian officials began work on a border 'wall' (really a glorified fence) on the country's eastern border with Russia. When completed, the layered defense system would have featured 1,900 km worth of fencing, anti-tank ditches, observation towers, signaling, communications and surveillance systems, remote control combat modules, and fortifications for border guards.

    However, last month, Kharkov Region administration officials announced that work on the barrier, nicknamed the 'European Rampart', had been halted due to a lack of funds.

    During Prime Minister Yatsenyuk's time in office, the border 'wall' became one of the costliest and most widely discussed projects, particularly after it was discovered that completed sections of the wall turned out to be little more than metal fences. Much of the money channeled into the scheme was simply thought to have been embezzled, and Ukrainian anti-corruption officials opened a criminal case into the matter last August.

    Eventually, the grand project turned into a laughing stock, with Ukrainian lawmaker Borislav Bereza calling the 'wall' a "garden wire netting [that] "wouldn't even stop a rabbit."

    Chunk of the 'wall' on Ukraine's border with Russia
    Chunk of the 'wall' on Ukraine's border with Russia

    Yatsenyuk resigned in disgrace in April 2016 amid a massive corruption scandal that first broke in February, when economy minister Aivaras Abromavicius stepped down, complaining that the Yatsenyuk government was not genuinely committed to fighting corruption. 

    Yatsenyuk had been installed as Prime Minister two years before that, in February 2014, after the Maidan coup d'etat. Former US Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt and ex-Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland appear to have had a decisive impact on his appointment. In a leaked phone call between the two during the crisis in Kiev in early 2014, Nuland famously quipped "Yats is the guy" (for the job of prime minister).

    Now, 'Yats', who disappeared from the public eye after his resignation, is back. Last week, he reportedly offered to share his 'wall' project with US President Donald Trump, who is actively seeking to build a border wall on America's southern border with Mexico. Speaking at the 5th Youth Kiev Security Forum in the Ukrainian capital last week, Yatsenyuk said that "if needed, we can hand the project over to the United States – it will be cheaper and more efficient."

    The ex-prime minister calculated that one kilometer of the American-Mexican border would cost about $10 million, which is 30-40 times more than the Ukrainian analogue.

    The wall
    The wall

    Yatsenyuk complained that funding for the Ukrainian scheme dropped off dramatically after he resigned. "But over 10% of the work was completed," he boasted, expressing confidence that the great European Rampart will be completed eventually.

    "I know that the prime minister, the government, the Interior Ministry and the State Border Service are for the completion of this project. My position is very clear: the border between Ukraine and Russia will be built," the politician stressed.

    Upon reaching the Russian audience, which has ridiculed the Ukrainian 'wall' idea from the start, the news of Yatsenyuk's advice for Trump was immediately met with grins, mockery and hearty belly laughs. In a punchy and sarcastic op-ed devoted to the story, Radio Sputnik contributor Daria Cherednik joked that in addition to the technical details, Yatsenyuk would likely try to give Trump some under-the-table 'advice' on how to embezzle funds meant for the wall.

    "After all," Cherednik noted, "this is exactly what happened" with the Ukrainian 'wall'. "Over the course of two years, Yatsenyuk, who so successfully marketed the project, 'earned' a great deal. And the result? Just over 10% completion." And the finished section "amounts to some mesh fencing, barbed wire and washed out ditches. By the way, part of the 'wall' has already been downed by wild boars, who in their search for food would rather demolish the artificial barriers than look for a way around them."

    Commentators to Cherednik's story asked what Yatsenyuk meant by the words 'share advice'. "Share as in share the kickbacks?" one user joked. Others sarcastically noted that Trump, who apparently has nothing better to do, is just dying to be given advice from the likes of Yatsenyuk, "and called up Poroshenko to ask for Yats's phone number."

    Others were more serious. "You throw them out the door, and they climb through the window with their thieving ideas," one commenter wrote. "They simply aren't capable of thinking in any other category. Or perhaps [Yatsenyuk] has got another bout of delusions of grandeur. After all, he didn't get hit by a US investigation for embezzling US aid [to Kiev]."


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    border wall, advice, embezzlement, border fence, corruption, Arseny Yatseniuk, Donald Trump, US, Ukraine
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