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Ukraine insists on Russian naval base withdrawal by 2017

RIA Novosti

30/05/2007 15:26 KIEV, May 30 (RIA Novosti) - Ukraine's defense minister reiterated Wednesday that Russia must withdraw its naval base from Ukraine's Crimea Autonomy by 2017, in compliance with a previous bilateral agreement.

Russia and Ukraine signed an agreement in 1997 stipulating that the Black Sea Fleet's main base in Sevastopol, on the Crimean Peninsula, be leased to Russia for 20 years, with the possibility of extending the term.

The annual rent of about $100 million is deducted from Ukraine's debt for Russian energy supplies. In addition to the main base, the Black Sea Fleet maintains two airfields and a ship re-supply facility on the Crimean Peninsula.

"The Black Sea fleet must leave the Crimea by 2017. Period," the Ukrainian Defense Ministry quoted Anatoly Hrytsenko as saying.

The minister said he believed that both countries must respect the provisions of the agreement, and that Russia so far had not officially raised the possibility of future talks on the extension of the base lease.

"Besides, I know that Russia is getting ready to fulfill its obligations [under the agreement], and is investing in the development of a future Black Sea Fleet base in the Caucasus," Hrytsenko said.

However, Admiral Igor Kasatonov, a former Black Sea Fleet commander, said in an interview with RIA Novosti that the loss of the Sevastopol naval base and airfields in the Crimea would seriously undermine the fleet's combat capability.

The new bases being built in Novorossiisk and Tuapse, on Russia's Black Sea coast in the Caucasus, are making slow progress and will not be able to compensate for Sevastopol's loss, either in natural conditions or in infrastructure development, if Russia has to leave the base in 2017, the admiral said.

"What has taken three centuries to establish in the Crimea will be impossible to rebuild even in 20 or 30 years," he said.

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