Ukraine Tells Russia to Pay More for Black Sea Fleet Base

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine and Russia clashed anew Feb. 14 as Kiev called for a hike in the rent the Kremlin pays to station its Black Sea fleet in Crimea and said Moscow would have to move the naval base when its lease runs out in 2017.

Russian Black Sea Fleet

”Today we are talking about a transition to market methods in our relations,” Volodymyr Ogryzko, Ukraine’s first deputy prime minister, said at the start of an intergovernmental meeting over the fleet in Kiev.

”In our relations with Russia, say in the gas sphere, we agreed to review contracts that were in force so that we could switch to a European formula of determining the price,” Ogryzko said in televised comments.

”We think the same approach should be applied in other spheres, including the calculations for the temporary basing of the Black Sea fleet on Ukrainian territory,” Ogryzko said.

He was referring to a bitter dispute early in the year, when Russia said it was ending gas subsidies for Ukraine and demanded a four-fold-plus increase in the gas price. The dispute ended in a deal that saw the price of Kiev’s gas imports nearly double.

The head of the Russian delegation, however, reiterated Moscow’s position that the rent for the Black Sea fleet was set in a 20-year lease agreement that the two nations signed in 1997.

”We came here with an absolutely clear mandate to confirm the stability of the 1997 base agreement and to resolve practical problems brought up by the Ukrainian side,” said Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin.

Russia currently pays just under 100 million dollars (83 million euros) to lease land and property for the fleet headquarters in Crimea, where the fleet has been based ever since its founding in the late 18th century under Catherine the Great.

Kiev wants to hike the price to bring it in line with what other governments pay to house military bases abroad.

Last week national security council chief Anatoly Kinah estimated that a new “market” price for the base -- located in the middle of the nation’s top tourist destination -- could be some 1.8 billion dollars.

Meanwhile Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Boris Tarasyuk said that Moscow would have to move the fleet once the current lease runs out in 2017.

”Our position is well-known,” he said in an interview with the Interfax news agency. “We of course will abide by the agreement... until 2017.”

”But Ukraine’s constitution forbids the presence of foreign military bases on our territory. We call on the Russian Federation to work consistently and systematically to gradually relocate the Black Sea fleet from our nation’s territory.”

The row over the fleet is the latest dispute to further strain the tense relations between Russia and Ukraine since pro-Western President Viktor Yushchenko defeated a Moscow-backed candidate last year in Ukraine’s “orange revolution” election.

Since the beginning of the year, Kiev and Moscow have clashed over gas, control of hydrography sites in Crimea, meat and dairy imports, and naval traffic in disputed waters.

The dispute over the fleet in the Crimea is a particularly sensitive one. Crimea was part of the Russian Federation until 1954, when Soviet leader Nikita Krushchev transferred it to Ukraine -- a move that had no practical consequences during the Soviet era but that laid the foundation for a hot dispute after Ukraine gained its independence following the Soviet breakup in 1991.

Source: AFP