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Russia could build naval base in Abkhazia

01.09.2008 Source: en.rian.ru

Russia's Black Sea Fleet may eventually use the Abkhazian port of Sukhumi as a naval base, former fleet commander said on Friday.

After Russia recognized the independence of Georgia's two breakaway regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Abkhazian President Sergei Bagapsh suggested that Russia's Black Sea Fleet could use one of the ports in the republic to station its warships.

"Sukhumi could easily host Black Sea Fleet ships, for instance a naval brigade of up to 30 vessels," said Admiral Eduard Baltin, commenting on Bagapsh's statement.

Baltin, 71, said a naval brigade might comprise a division of small ASW ships, a division of small missile ships or boats, and a division of minesweepers.

He said one of the large piers at the Sukhumi port had not been used since the 1992 Georgian-Abkhazian conflict because several ships were sunk there.

"If we cleared up the harbor at the cargo terminal, we would be able to station the ships from the naval brigade there," the admiral said.

A group of Russian warships led by the guided-missile cruiser Moskva visited the Sukhumi port on Wednesday, as part of a peacekeeping mission in Abkhazian territorial waters, according to the Russian Navy.

Russia has repeatedly said that it has no plans to withdraw its Black Sea Fleet from the naval base in Sevastopol in Ukraine until the bilateral agreement on the base's lease expires in 2017, despite numerous statements recently made by Ukraine that Russia should be prepared to withdraw its fleet.

Russia's Black Sea Fleet has stepped up security at its facilities in Ukraine to deter possible provocative acts following the conclusion of hostilities between Georgia and Russia over breakaway South Ossetia on August 12.

Ukraine, which is seeking NATO membership along with Georgia, supported Tbilisi in the conflict with Moscow.

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