Russia’s defense ministry and Russian Railways have reached an agreement to construct a two-way electrified railway line bypassing Ukraine, Russia’s TASS news agency reported Tuesday, citing a source. The deal was said to be finalized on June 25.
According to the deal, the railway line will be constructed between Zhuravka, in the Voronezh region -- less than 20 miles from the Ukraine border -- and Millerovo, in the Rostov region in Russia. The two cities are currently about two and a half hours apart on an existing railway line that cuts through parts of eastern Ukraine.
“It’s high time to put an end to arbitrariness and extortions by Ukrainian border guards and customs officers towards Russian citizens traveling in southbound trains via Ukraine,” a source in Russian Railways told TASS in April.
The source also said that the new railway would strengthen Russia’s security as it would make it easier for authorities to crack down on unwanted persons entering Russia from a neighboring country, TASS reported.
Tuesday’s report followed recent media reports saying that the government would complete construction of the railway line in 2018.
The Russian government’s move is crucial given the ongoing rift between Moscow and Kiev. Russia has been blamed by the West for fueling the conflict in eastern Ukraine by arming pro-Russian rebels and sending troops inside Ukraine's borders.
Last week, Ukraine’s Defense Minister Stepan Poltorak said that Russian President Vladimir Putin planned to seize Ukraine despite his apparent support of the Minsk ceasefire agreement between Kiev and pro-Russian separatists.
However, Putin strongly denies Moscow’s involvement in the crisis, which has reportedly killed more than 6,300 people since the conflict began early last year.
According to UNIAN, a pro-Ukrainian English language news website, pro-Russian rebels have attacked Ukrainian forces more than 100 times since Sunday, raising concerns that the crisis in eastern Ukraine might escalate yet again.
Meanwhile, the United States has planned to send an additional 100 Humvees to Ukraine, in July, to help the country’s military fight pro-Russia rebels.
“Secretary [Ash] Carter emphasized that the United States, together with our allies, remains committed to supporting Ukraine in its effort to define its own course as a sovereign, democratic nation,” the U.S. Department of Defense said in a statement last week, announcing the aid.