Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko on Wednesday ruled out Russia's Black Sea fleet staying in Ukraine after its lease ends in 2017, a day after Moscow voiced interest in keeping it there longer.
Asked whether Ukraine would consider extending the Russian fleet's lease on the port of Sevastopol, Tymoshenko said: "We need to maintain this agreement until 2017 and then we need to make Ukraine a zone free of any military bases."
Moscow has been angered by Ukrainian demands that it quickly relocate the historic fleet founded by the Russian Empress Catherine the Great at Sevastopol in the mid-18th century.
The dispute has been aggravated by Ukrainian moves to join NATO, prompting some Western politicians to predict it could spark a new crisis in a region destabilized by Russia's incursion last month into Georgia.
Ukraine infuriated Moscow during that conflict by imposing restrictions on the use of the port after ships stationed there were used in combat against close Ukraine ally Georgia.
On Tuesday, Russian Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov said Russia "would like the Black Sea Fleet to remain in Sevastopol after the 2017 expiration" and hoped to negotiate new terms with Kiev, Interfax news agency reported.
Under a 20-year agreement signed in 1997, Moscow pays 98 million dollars (68 million euros) a year to maintain its naval base in Sevastopol, an amount which some Ukrainians say is much too small for its oil-rich neighbour.
Experts say it would cost Russia tens of billions of dollars (euros) to build comparable facilities at its own Black Sea port of Novorossiysk, which now serves as an auxiliary base.
Sevastopol is located on the Crimea Peninsula, a part of Ukraine that is home to many Russian-speakers and which some European officials fear could become a target of Russian aggression.
Moscow denies having any designs on Crimea, but some Russian politicians have angered Ukraine by saying the peninsula, seized by Catherine the Great after a war with the Ottoman Empire, should be made part of modern Russia.
source: AFP News, http://www.france24.com
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