Ukraine May Charge More For Russian Navy Base

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine might increase by fourfold the price it charges Russia to base its Black Sea Fleet in a Ukrainian port, Ukraine's defence minister said in a newspaper interview published yesterday.

Defence Minister Anatoliy Gritsenko

"If in the very important energy sector ... relations have moved from the category of 'brotherly' to the category of 'fair market,' it's fully logical to consider that such a step will be carried out in other sectors of Ukrainian-Russian relations," Defence Minister Anatoliy Gritsenko said in an interview published in Ukraine's Kommersant newspaper.

A fierce dispute with Russia over the price of gas led to Ukraine's gas supply being cut off for three days and it paying almost double for gas imported from Russia and Central Asia. The spat also cast doubts on a series of other issues, including the status of a Russian naval fleet.

Ukraine's Security Council chief Anatoliy Kinakh said the council would hold a special session early next month to discuss the fleet, and that another meeting, under the auspices of a Ukrainian-Russian presidential commission, would be held on February 16 at the level of deputy foreign ministers.

Under a 1997 agreement, Russia and Ukraine divided the Soviet Black Sea Fleet and Ukraine allowed the Russian navy to remain in the Sevastopol port until 2017, charging an annual rent of US$93 million. The fleet provides the Russian navy with its only convenient access to the Mediterranean.

Gritsenko said it is "fully possible" that the price Russia pays for its Crimean Peninsula base could jump to US$400 million.

"Crimea is a vacation zone, demand for land is huge and supply is limited," Gritsenko was quoted as saying by Kommersant.

Ties between Moscow and Kiev have been increasingly tense since pro-Western President Viktor Yushchenko came to power last year and launched a drive to move closer to the West. The latest dispute has centred around a Ukrainian lighthouse used for navigation by Russia's Black Sea Fleet.

Russia accused Ukraine of attempting to seize the lighthouse last week and bar Russian navy personnel from entering. Ukraine's Foreign Ministry has countered that Russia had no right to control access to this and other lighthouses on the Crimean coast.

In Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said yesterday that Ukraine was sending mixed signals about the seizure of the lighthouse, comparing the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry position with what he said was an explanation from Yushchenko's office calling the move a provocation possibly carried out by activist youths.

"It is hard for us to understand who is behind this and who is speaking for Ukraine," Lavrov said. "We are awaiting an official, clear explanation."

Ukrainian Parliament Speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn said on Monday that he had asked the Foreign Ministry and the Defence Ministry to clarify the situation.

According to Lavrov, the 1997 agreement placed the lighthouse and nearly 100 other navigation facilities in the hands of the Russian fleet and stipulated that they be jointly used by Russia and Ukraine but it also called for a second agreement listing facilities belonging to the fleet. Ukraine balked at signing that deal, and Ukrainian courts have since unilaterally ordered dozens of facilities returned to Ukraine, he said.

Source: China Daily