Ukrainian opposition unable to hamper Russian naval base deal - paper
MOSCOW, April 23 (RIA Novosti) - The Ukrainian opposition will not be able to hamper the ratification of a deal between Moscow and Kiev on extending Russia's use of a naval base in Ukraine's Crimea, Russian daily Kommersant said.
The lease agreement, signed on Wednesday, extends Russian naval presence in the Crimean port of Sevastopol for 25 years after the current lease expires in 2017, and may be further extended by another five years. In exchange, Ukraine is to receive a 30% cut in Russian gas prices.
The Ukrainian opposition earlier said any prolongation of Russian military presence in the country would require amendments to the Constitution and a national referendum. It said incumbent President Viktor Yanukovych should be impeached for signing an unconstitutional agreement.
Mykola Tomenko, deputy speaker of parliament and a leader of the opposition party, Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc, said on Wednesday Article 17 of the Constitution forbids the deployment of foreign military bases on Ukrainian soil.
However, section XV says existing military bases on Ukrainian territory can be used by foreign troops under a lease agreement ratified by the Ukrainian Supreme Rada (parliament) if they are defined by international treaties.
In February, former President and opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko sent a request to the court signed by another 50 deputies asking it to comment on the contradictions in the constitution. Kommersant said the court refused to provide an explanation.
Yanukovych said the agreement is constitutional as it extends an existing lease agreement. He added that Ukraine would benefit from the deal as it will receive money on a cash basis for the lease and will also save money through the natural gas discount.
He also said that the fleet had been stationed in Sevastopol since the Soviet Union and local infrastructure was geared towards the naval base.
NATO spokesman James Apparthurai said Russia and Ukraine are both partners of the Western Military Alliance and the signing of the agreement on the base is a bilateral process.
Yanukovych, who was inaugurated in February, vowed during his campaign to improve relations with Russia and renegotiate the January 2009 deal on gas supplies, which increased the price, straining Ukraine's already troubled finances.