Russia's Black Sea Fleet does not threaten Ukrainian sovereignty
14/06/2008 17:55 SEVASTOPOL, June 14 (RIA Novosti) - The presence of Russia's Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol is no threat to Ukraine's sovereignty, Russia's deputy prime minister said during celebrations to mark the city's 225th anniversary on Saturday.
"The presence of the Black Sea Fleet does not cause any substantial damage to Ukraine's independence," Sergei Ivanov told veterans and Russians living in Sevastopol, adding that the Fleet "defends not only the interests of Russia, but those of Ukraine and its southern borders."
Sevastopol on the Crimean peninsula is the focus of an ongoing dispute between Moscow and Kiev. Ukraine wants to set a 2017 deadline for Russia's lease of naval facilities in the Crimea, while some senior Russian officials have controversially questioned Ukraine's sovereign right to the port.
Ivanov said that any discussion on the future of the base should be discussed by Kiev and Moscow in a "civilized" manner, adding "your city our Fleet."
He also reminded people of Russia's responsibility to over 30 million Russians living outside of Russia, we "..can not and will not shrug off our responsibility for their fate."
According to the deputy prime minister, Russia will do all it can to protect the rights of Russian speakers, and assist Russians who want to return home.
Frequent disputes have arisen between Russia and Ukraine over the lease of the Sevastopol base as well as Kiev's plans to join NATO, which Moscow staunchly opposes.
In May Moscow Mayor Yury Lyzhkov was barred from entering Ukraine for publicly saying the area is rightfully Russian territory.
According to the mayor, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev gave the Crimea to Ukraine in 1954 as "a token of brotherly love," but under a 1948 decree Sevastopol was assigned special city status "under the governing central authorities," and, should not have been transferred to Ukraine.
The Crimea, now an autonomous region within Ukraine, is a predominantly Russian-speaking territory. Since the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union, the Crimea has unsuccessfully sought independence from Ukraine.
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