Mayor Wants Return Of Naval Base

MOSCOW, Russia -- Moscow's mayor called for the home base of Russia's Black Sea Fleet in the Crimean port of Sevastopol, which is leased from Ukraine, to be transferred to Russian ownership.

Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov

Attending celebrations to mark the fleet's 225th anniversary, Yuri Luzhkov ignored a warning from the Ukrainian authorities not to repeat previous calls for the base to be placed directly in Moscow's possession.

"Do you think it's right for me to keep silent?" he asked several thousand ethnic Russians in Sevastopol's main square, after watching a naval parade of Russian rocket cruisers, submarine hunters, destroyers and a submarine.

"This issue remains unresolved. We will resolve it for the sake of truth, for the sake of state interests, for the sake of the lawful right that Russia has to the naval base of Sevastopol," he said.

The colourful parade and diplomatic niceties of the celebrations could not hide the frosty relations between Russia and NATO aspirant Ukraine.

Several hours after the parade, scuffles broke out between Ukrainian nationalists and a much larger group of ethnic Russian nationalists, who pelted the Ukrainians with eggs in front of the Russian Black Sea Fleet headquarters.

Under a 1997 agreement, Russia will lease the base from Ukraine until 2017 at a rent of $93 million a year.

Sevastopol was established as Russia's naval base in Crimea under 18th-century Empress Catherine the Great.

Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev had given Crimea, previously part of Russia, to Ukraine in 1954 as "a token of brotherly love".

Ukraine inherited it after the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991. Ethnic Russians are in the majority in Crimea.

Luzhkov had previously called for the naval base to be owned outright by Moscow.

When he arrived in Crimea late on Saturday, he was given a warning by Ukraine's Security Service telling him to refrain from repeating his previous statements on Sevastopol which could be interpreted as a violation of Ukrainian law.

During the parade, songs glorifying Russian sailors played from loudspeakers and thousands of resident waved Russian flags and chanted "Glory to Russia!"

In speeches beforehand, acting Russian Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov and Deputy Ukrainian Defence Minister Valery Ivashchenko pledged co-operation between the two ex-Soviet states.

Source: TVNZ