Ukraine PM For More Balanced Approach To Russian Fleet Bases

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's prime minister said Thursday that extending the lease for Russian fleet bases in his country's Crimean peninsula has to be addressed in a long-term political and economic perspective.

Yanukovych (L) with his mentor Putin (R)

The presence of Russia's Black Sea Fleet in Ukraine has been a source of contention between ex-Soviet neighbors, who clashed earlier in the year over the ownership of lighthouses, and Ukraine's demand for a hike in the rent Russia pays.

Ukrainian media have speculated that future deals on the base will be linked to the price Russia offers for natural gas supplied to Ukraine.

Viktor Yanukovych, widely seen as a pro-Kremlin premier, called for a careful approach to Russian fleet problem, and warned against politicizing the issue.

He conceded the possibility of extending the lease agreement for some of the fleet facilities.

"There are some facilities which it is in Ukraine's interests for our partners to rent, bringing income to the country," Yanukovych said, adding that Ukraine sought to maintain good relations with its neighbor.

Under a 1997 agreement, Russia rents facilities for its Black Sea Fleet in the Crimea for $93 million a year until 2017. However, Ukraine's leadership, which has committed itself through a national unity pact to pursue integration with NATO and the European Union, has said it wants Russia to withdraw from the peninsula after the accord expires.

During the 2004 presidential race, Yanukovych was heavily backed by the Kremlin against the current West-leaning president, Viktor Yushchenko.

The two former arch rivals, however, now have to share power since Yanukovych's appointment as premier in August ended five months of political turmoil in the country.

Source: RIA Novosti