Ukraine: No Plan To Extend Russian Black Sea Port Lease

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's defense minister Thursday rejected Russian President Vladimir Putin's proposal to consider extending the Russian military's lease on a Black Sea port.

Russian Marines on the Black Sea in Sevastopol

Defense Minister Anatoliy Hrytsenko said Ukraine would uphold the 1997 agreement that allows the Russian navy to remain in the port of Sevastopol until 2017.

But when that expires, Ukraine would expect Russia's Black Sea Fleet to leave, Hrytsenko told reporters in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, according to his office.

"I am convinced that there shouldn't be and won't be any permanent foreign military base on Ukrainian territory - whether it be members of NATO, members of the Tashkent agreement or the Commonwealth of Independent States collective security agreement," Hrytsenko said, referring to the Western military alliance and alliances between ex-Soviet states.

During a televised call-in session on Wednesday, Putin said Russia would be interested in discussing the extension of the lease of Russia's Black Sea Fleet.

Russia pays Ukraine an annual rent of $93 million to base its fleet in Sevastopol. The presence of the Russian troops on Ukrainian territory has sparked anger among Ukrainian nationalists, and given rise to a number of disputes between Ukraine and Russia over who has ownership of lighthouses and other property in the region.

Analysts had suggested that in exchange for promising Ukraine a below-market rate for gas imports for several years, Ukraine might agree to extend the port's lease to the Russian navy. Hrytsenko, however, insisted no such talks were under way.

"If someone is carrying out such talks, they are behind-the-scenes, secret, and ultimately, illegal," Hrytsenko said.

Hrytsenko is an appointee of Ukraine's pro-Western President Viktor Yushchenko, who shares power with the more Russian-leaning Premier Viktor Yanukovych.

Source: AP