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Russia may discuss Black Sea Fleet base extension 'closer to 2017'

Russia may discuss Black Sea Fleet base extension 'closer to 2017' 23.10.2008

Moscow will be ready to discuss the extension of its naval presence in Sevastopol, Ukraine 'at a later stage,' the Russian foreign minister said on Wednesday.

Under bilateral agreements, Russia's Black Sea Fleet has the use of the Crimean Sevastopol base until 2017. Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko recently announced that Ukraine would not extend the lease beyond that date.

"At some point we will be ready to ask the Ukrainian side to discuss terms for the further presence [of Russia's Black Sea Fleet], but, needless to say, these issues could be discussed in substance at a later stage, closer to 2017," Sergei Lavrov said.

He added that the most important thing at the current stage was the fulfillment in good faith of the existing agreements on the Black Sea Fleet by both parties.

He reiterated that Russia could ask for the extension of its naval presence in Ukraine after 2017.

Viktor Yanukovych, the leader of Ukraine's largest opposition party, the Party of Regions, said on Wednesday that it was necessary to raise the rent for Russia's naval presence in Ukraine.

"The lease terms for the Black Sea Fleet should be substantially revised upwards," he said.

Russia, which currently pays about $100 million a year for the lease, insists there are no legal grounds for an increase.

Yushchenko has called for the Russian navy's early withdrawal from the Sevastopol base, as well as tougher deployment requirements and higher fees, demands that have not been backed by his former coalition ally, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

Ukraine's Defense Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov has ruled out the possibility of extending the lease.

Russia-Ukraine tensions heightened after several Black Sea Fleet warships dropped anchor off the Georgian coast during and after August's armed conflict with Tbilisi over breakaway South Ossetia.

In a bid to appease Kiev, Russia has said it may submit an array of attractive proposals to Ukraine.

Russia's naval base in the Crimea currently has 50 warships and patrol boats, along with around 80 aircraft, and employs coastal defense troops.

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