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Ukraine says Russia should prepare to leave Crimea naval base

RIA Novosti

21/08/2008 10:09 MOSCOW, August 21 (RIA Novosti) - Ukraine's foreign minister has said Russia should start preparing to withdraw its Black Sea Fleet from the Sevastopol base, which it rents in Ukraine's Crimea.

Volodymyr Ohryzko said in an interview with the Russian daily Izvestia published on Thursday that Ukraine has no plans to push for an early pullout of the Black Sea Fleet.

"Ukraine is a reliable business partner. We will honor all obligations under the existing treaties." However, "Russia should start without delay making preparations for the withdrawal of its fleet in 2017."

He said Kiev had asked Moscow to agree on a withdrawal procedure, but that no response has yet been received.

"We do not understand the position of Russia, which simply refuses to discuss the issue... But let me assure you that in any event, after 2017, there will be no Russian fleet on our soil," he said.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said on Monday that Russia is ready to negotiate with Ukraine on the use of the Black Sea Fleet in the Crimea, but will not let Kiev dictate terms.

Last Friday Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko said he had presented Russia with "an urgent proposition to launch talks and draw up an agreement to regulate bilateral relations during military operations" such as those in Georgia over the past week.

Ships from Russia's Black Sea Fleet patrolled the waters off the Georgian coast during Russia's "peace enforcement" operation that began after Georgia launched an offensive in breakaway South Ossetia on August 8.

Yushchenko signed a decree last Wednesday stating that Russia was required to notify the Ukrainian authorities of all movements by naval vessels and aircraft from its Crimea-based Black Sea Fleet.

Ukraine even threatened to refuse to allow the Russian vessels to return to the Sevastopol naval base. Russia's Black Sea Fleet uses the Sevastopol base under agreements signed in 1997. Yushchenko announced earlier this year that Ukraine would not extend the lease beyond 2017.

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