Ukraine's ex-president slams naval base deal with Russia
KIEV, April 22 (RIA Novosti) - The deal between Moscow and Kiev on extending Russia's use of the Sevastopol naval base in Crimea amounts to "military occupation," former Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko said on Thursday.
The agreement, signed on Wednesday, extends the lease on the Russian base in the port of Sevastopol for 25 years after the current lease expires in 2017, and may be further extended by another five years.
"When they announce with great aplomb that a relatively low gas price has been achieved in exchange for military occupation, I cannot possibly welcome such agreements either as a citizen or as a politician," Yushchenko said.
In a dramatic sign of the new government in Kiev's realignment with Moscow, the two sides agreed on Wednesday to extend the lease on the base in exchange for a 30% cut in gas prices for Ukraine. The documents were signed following negotiations between Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and his Ukrainian counterpart, Viktor Yanukovych.
Yushchenko said the new agreement encroaches "on the most sacred thing - sovereignty and independence."
He urged all opposition and patriotic forces to unite in the face of the threat to Ukraine's sovereignty.
Yanukovych, who became president two months ago, has pledged to steer Ukraine away from the pro-Western stance of Yushchenko, who vowed that Russia would have to look for a new main base for its Black Sea Fleet after 2017.
The Ukrainian opposition earlier said any prolongation of Russian military presence would require amendments to the Constitution as well as a national referendum.
Yushchenko's party said Yanukovych should be impeached for signing the agreement extending Russian naval presence in Crimea because it contravenes the Ukrainian Constitution.
Mykola Tomenko, deputy speaker of parliament and a leader of the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc, said on April 14 that Article 17 of the Constitution forbids foreign military bases on Ukrainian soil.
However, Foreign Minister Kostyantyn Hryshchenko said on Thursday that Ukraine's Constitutional Court had ruled the extension of the base lease did not violate the country's Constitution.