Russia Could Claim Crimea If Ukraine Joins NATO - MP

MOSCOW, Russia -- A senior member of the Russian lower house of parliament said on Wednesday that Russia could claim the Crimea if Ukraine was admitted to NATO.

NATO decided at its recent summit in Romania not to offer Ukraine and Georgia the chance to join a program that would have put them on the track to join the military alliance, but promised that the decision would be reviewed in December.

The ex-Soviet republics had received strong U.S. backing for their bids.

"If Ukraine's admission to NATO is accelerated, Russia could raise the question of which country the Crimea should be a part of," Alexei Ostrovsky, the head of the State Duma committee on CIS affairs, said in a radio interview.

"The Russian Federation has legal grounds to revise agreements signed under Khrushchev."

Former Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, who grew up in Ukraine, made the Crimean Peninsula - a territory of 26,100 sq km washed by the Black and Azov seas - part of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic in 1954. The peninsula had formerly been a part of the Russian Soviet Socialist Republic.

The Crimea, now an autonomous region within Ukraine, is a predominantly Russian-speaking territory. Since the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union, the Crimea has unsuccessfully sought independence from Ukraine.

A 1994 referendum in the Crimea supported demands for a broader autonomy and closer links with Russia.

The Russian Black Sea Fleet retains a Soviet-era base in Sevastopol in the Crimea. Disputes between Russia and Ukraine over the lease of the base are frequent.

However, Ostrovsky admitted that Ukraine was unlikely to join NATO any time soon, saying that the Ukrainian president, prime minister and parliamentary speaker were the only people in the country seeking membership of the Western military alliance.

His comments referred to recent opinion polls that have indicated that about 70% of the population is opposed to joining NATO.

NATO's ongoing expansion, as well as Washington's missile plans for Europe and an ongoing dispute over the recognition of Kosovo by the U.S and the majority of EU states have plunged Moscow's relations with the West to a post-Cold War low.

Source: RIA Novosti