Another Diplomatic Spat Between Russia, Ukraine Looms

SEVASTOPOL, Ukraine -- Another diplomatic spat looms between Russia and Ukraine after a failed Ukrainian attempt to seize navigation equipment at a Russian Black Sea Fleet lighthouse.

The Khersones lighthouse is the subject of the latest spat between Ukraine and Russia.

It remains to be seen how Russian and Ukrainian authorities will react to the latest dispute, though it is widely believed that a new round of diplomatic sparring is looming amidst already heightened tensions between the two former Soviet neighbors.

Two Ukrainian court bailiffs on Wednesday entered the Black SeaFleet's base in the Ukrainian port city of Sevastopol, Russian media reported.

The bailiffs demanded that Russian servicemen there hand over navigation equipment at the Khersones lighthouse, citing a ruling of the Sevastopol Economic Court.

The Black Sea Fleet, which has long been deployed on Ukraine's Crimea Peninsula, prevented the two bailiffs from seizing the property and handed them over to Ukrainian police instead.

The Black Sea Fleet command denounced the move as "an unprecedented fact of gross violation of the basic agreements on the Black Sea Fleet" between Russia and Ukraine.

"The bailiffs deliberately violated the international agreements and Ukrainian legislation by illegally penetrating into the guarded object," the command said in a statement reported by the Itar-Tass news agency.

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian foreign ministry said Thursday that "the Black Sea fleet command continues unlawful actions by rudely violating Ukrainian legislation and basic international agreements."

According to a judgment of the local civil court, bailiffs are allowed to enter the Russian-controlled military area, the Russian newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta quoted the Black Sea Fleet as saying Friday.

The court's decision made it clear that the lighthouse and its equipment belongs to Ukraine and the country can have access to them.

Ukraine's Breeze broadcasting company reported that Russian troops put obstacles around the lighthouse and blocked a key road for sick Ukrainian children to get to nearby rehabilitation centers.

The two sides are still waiting for a statement from the Russian Foreign Ministry on the event, Nezavisimaya Gazeta said. Ukrainian analysts believe that Russia's response will trigger more bickering.

Nezavisimaya Gazeta said there was a good chance that the lighthouse episode was connected with Kiev's expulsion of some Russian diplomats last month.

Kiev asked the Russian consul general in Odessa and a senior counselor of the Russian embassy to end their duty in Ukraine at the end of July. In response, Moscow demanded that Ukraine recall two senior diplomats.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev labeled Ukraine's expulsions "without any reason" as "an unprecedented provocation in the whole of the post-Soviet space."

Moscow and Kiev later reached a consensus to stop the expulsion of the Russian consul general in Odessa and the Ukrainian consul general in St. Petersburg.

However, the Russian consul general was suspected of being a middleman in an attempt to provide financial aid for pro-Kremlin Crimean authorities, Ukrainian media reported.

Russian-Ukrainian relations have been gradually deteriorating under pro-western President Viktor Yushchenko. They sank to a new low earlier this month after Medvedev accused Yushchenko of taking anti-Russian positions and delayed sending a new ambassador to Ukraine.

In his letter to Yushchenko, Medvedev also criticized Ukraine for deliberately barring the activities of the Black Sea fleet despite an existing bilateral agreement on its deployment.

Kiev and Moscow signed an agreement in 1997 stipulating that the Black Sea Fleet's main base in Sevastopol would be leased to Russia for 20 years, with the possibility of extending the term.

Ukrainian officials, however, have repeatedly called on the fleet to leave Sevastopol when the lease expires in 2017.

As contentious as the fleet issue could be, Kiev's bid for NATO membership and its backing of Georgia in a brief Russia-Georgia war in August 2008 are also inflammatory issues.

Source: Xinhua