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Four Russian naval ships return to Crimea from Abkhazia coast

14.08.2008 Source: en.rian.ru

Four Russian ships have returned from waters off Abkhazia to their Black Sea Fleet base in the Crimean port of Sevastopol, a crewman said on Wednesday.

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.

The Foreign Ministry in Ukraine, from whom Russia rents the Sevastopol base, said on Sunday that it could ban Russian ships involved in the conflict from entering the port.

Former Black Sea Fleet commander Vladimir Komoyedov said the Ukrainian warning was nothing but another provocation.

"Kiev is most likely to have decided to shift from international-level charges against the Black Sea Fleet to routine accusations, which have become a kind of norm, of illegal movements of units or warships, not reporting etc.," he said.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko signed a decree on Wednesday stating that Russia is required to inform the Ukrainian authorities of all movements by naval vessels and aircraft from its Crimea-based Black Sea Fleet.

According to the decree, Russia must seek permission from Kiev for the movement of its warships and aircraft beyond Ukrainian borders. Permission is to be sought no later than 72 hours prior to any planned maneuvers.

Commenting on the decree later on Wednesday, Komoyedov said the Russian Navy is not duty-bound to follow the orders of the Ukrainian president.

"Russia's Black Sea Fleet is subordinate to the Russian naval commander and the commander-in-chief. It is beyond Mr. Yushchenko's jurisdiction to give orders to a Russian navy," he said.

The admiral said the bilateral 1997 treaty only requires the Black Sea Fleet to notify the Ukrainian authorities of the movements of its vessels. He said interstate agreements take priority over unilateral directives from authorities of one of the signatories.

Komoyedov said Yushchenko's decree is designed to interfere with the Russian Fleet's operations.

Yushchenko signed the document after returning from Tbilisi, where he took part in a mass rally in support of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili amid fighting with Russia. Both leaders have pursued pro-Western policies, seeking to join NATO and the European Union and reduce Russian influence.

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