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Abkhazia, Russia in talks on Black Sea Fleet base - minister

RIA Novosti

13/11/2008 20:14 MOSCOW, November 13 (RIA Novosti) - Russia and Abkhazia are in talks on establishing a permanent Russian naval presence in the disputed Georgian republic, the Abkhazian foreign minister said on Thursday.

Earlier in the day Vladimir Komoyedov, a Russian Communist Party lawmaker and former Black Sea Fleet commander, said that Russia was considering opening a base at Ochamchira, a seaside town in the separatist Georgian republic recognized by Russia as independent.

"This [Ochamchira] is a very comfortable place for basing naval forces. We have spoken about it on many occasions and if Russia makes a relevant decision we will be definitely interested in it. The talks on the issue are underway," Minister Sergei Shamba said.

Speaking about the possible number of warships that could be deployed in Ochamchira, Shamba said Abkhazia was ready to accept any proposal.

"The most important for us [Abkhazia] is security provision. We are ready to cooperate with Russia in all directions in this sphere," the minister said.

Russia's Black Sea Fleet uses a range of naval facilities in Ukraine's Crimea as part of a 1997 agreement, under which Ukraine agreed to lease the bases to Russia until 2017.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko announced in the summer that Ukraine would not extend the lease of the base in the Crimean city of Sevastopol beyond 2017, and urged the Russian fleet to start preparations for a withdrawal.

Although the agreement for Russia's use of the base foresees a possible extension of the lease, and Moscow has repeatedly said it wants negotiations on the issue, Ukraine reiterated its position last month that it would not permit an extension of Russia's naval presence in the country after 2017.

Tensions between Russia and Ukraine heightened when several Black Sea Fleet warships dropped anchor off the Georgian coast during and after the August armed conflict with Georgia over breakaway South Ossetia.

A source in the Russian Defense Ministry said last week that Russia planned to open in 2009 one base in Gudauta, in the west of Abkhazia, and another in Tskhinvali, the capital of South Ossetia.

Russian General Staff chief Gen. Nikolai Makarov told journalists in Moscow in October that in line with friendship and assistance treaties, concluded with South Ossetia and Abkhazia, 3,700 service personnel would be deployed at each base.

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