Russia and Ukraine Lock Horns Over Naval Base
They have bickered over NATO expansion, energy prices and how to commemorate a 1930s mass famine. Now, Russia and Ukraine are locked in a new dispute over a naval base in the Ukrainian city of Sevastopol. The base lies in Crimea, a verdant, mountainous peninsula that was part of the Russian Empire and later Soviet Russia until Khrushchev gave it to Ukraine in 1954. After the breakup of the Soviet Union, Ukraine kept control of the region, but signed a lease allowing Russia to base its Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol until 2017. This month, however, Moscow’s mayor, Yuri M. Luzhkov, called for Russia to assume ownership of Sevastopol. In remarks delivered from the naval base on the 225th anniversary of the Black Sea Fleet’s inception, the mayor said that Khrushchev had never intended to give Sevastopol to Ukraine and urged a review of the current arrangement. Many Russians, and some of Crimea’s ethnic Russian majority, would like to see Russia regain control of the region, particularly Sevastopol, a strategic port city that they consider integral to Russia’s national security. The statements rankled the government in Kiev, which, in response, banned Mr. Luzhkov from entering Ukraine, saying his comments threatened Ukraine’s national interests.
Moscow, already annoyed by Kiev’s Western-leaning policies and particularly angered by its drive to join NATO, vowed to retaliate. “Regarding the Ukrainian decision to ban Moscow’s mayor, Yuri Luzhkov, from entering the territory of Ukraine, the Russian Foreign Ministry informs that Russia has been forced to take adequate measures against those Ukrainian politicians who, with their actions and words, do harm to the Russian Federation,” the ministry said in a statement on Thursday. Ukraine’s deputy justice minister appears to be the first official to suffer retribution. After the minister, Evhen V. Kornichuk, suggested this month that Vladimir V. Putin, Russia’s newly appointed prime minister, be banned from Ukraine as well, Moscow has made it clear that Mr. Kornichuk will not be welcome in Russia. “Considering what Evhen Kornichuk said in his public address, we assume that he will not be planning to visit the Russian Federation,” Andrei Nesterenko, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, said on Thursday. A spokeswoman for the Foreign Ministry could not confirm Friday whether Mr. Kornichuk had been officially banned nor whether more entry restrictions would follow.
Kiev Decision on the RF Black Sea Fleet Withdrawal Not to Affect Combat Capacity
The decision of Kiev to elaborate a bill, whereby Russia’s-Ukrainian agreements on the RF Black Sea Fleet’s deployment in Crimea will expire in 2017 hasn’t affected combat training and capacity of the fleet, Igor Dygalo, who heads the Information Service at the RF Navy, told RIA Novosti. Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko committed the government to elaborate a bill, whereby Russia’s-Ukrainian agreements on deployment of the RF Black Sea Fleet in Ukraine will expire in 2017. “The main thing for the Black Sea Fleet today is to accomplish the missions defined by the combat training plans, which it is doing with honor, solving the tasks of strengthening combat capacity and maintaining technical readiness of the forces at the high level,” Dygalo said. The Black Sea Fleet command has all necessary legal base to arrange full-value combat training of the fleet. Those are the basic agreements sealed by Russia and Ukraine and ratified by parliaments of both countries, Dygalo reminded.
Foreign Ministry Warned About Aftereffects of Black Sea Fleet Decree of Yushchenko
The decree of Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko about the withdrawal of the RF Black Sea Fleet from Ukraine “won’t improve atmosphere of trust” between the nations and may impair the progress in negotiations on the issue, Russia’s Foreign Ministry warned. Discussing the dates of the Black Sea Fleet’s stationing is premature yet, the Information Department of the RF Foreign Ministry commented Wednesday, specifying that the topic would be the subject of Russia’s-Ukrainian negotiations some time later. “Nowadays, it is necessary to focus on tackling practical issues related to ensuring conditions for full-fledged operation of the Black Sea Fleet of the Russian Federation and its stationing in Ukrainian territory,” the statement said. The decree of Yushchenko appears even more surprising as the parties have agreed on “quite the opposite,” to be more precise on the negotiations related to the Black Sea Fleet operation in Ukraine under the Russia's-Ukrainian Action Plan till 2009, the Foreign Ministry pointed out. Three agreements were sealed May 28, 1997, the RF Foreign Ministry reminded, - on the status and terms of the RF Black Sea Fleet’s stationing in Ukraine, on division of the Black Sea Fleet and on the mutual settlement related to that division and stationing of the Black Sea Fleet in Ukraine. The first two agreements were concluded for 20 years and will be prolonged for another 5 years should none of the parties notify about their expiration. Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko committed the cabinet Wednesday to elaborate by July 20 a bill on the RF Black Sea Fleet's stationing in Ukraine.
In related news:
Troops clash with militants in Ingushetia, south Russia
Russian Interior Ministry troops were involved in a shootout with militants on Saturday morning in the North Caucasus republic of Ingushetia, a local police source said. No troops were injured in the clash, which occurred at around 10:00 a.m. Moscow time in the Sunzhensky District, the source told RIA Novosti, adding that there was no information on fatalities among the illegal armed group. "Troops clashed with a group of nine gunmen, about 1 kilometer from the town of Gandalbos, and then about 3 kilometers from the town another clash occurred with another group of militants numbering about 30." However, a spokesman for the Ingush Interior Ministry said that the ministry has no information confirming the shootouts in the republic. The spokesman said that on Friday two Interior Ministry troops were wounded after an unidentified explosive device went off in the Sunzhensky District. "They were both hospitalized and the doctors say their lives are not in danger," he said. Sporadic terrorist attacks and militant clashes remain common in Russia's North Caucasus republics, although the active phase of the Kremlin campaign to fight militants and terrorists in Chechnya is officially over. Violence often spills over into neighboring republics, in particular Ingushetia and Daghestan.
Russian Interior Ministry Conducts Military Exercises Near Ossetia And Ingushetia
Russian Interior Ministry movable commandos have their military exercises near a border of South Ossetia and the restive southern Russian region of Ingushetia some 90 km outside Vladikavkaz on May 22, 2008. Ingushetia, which neighbours Chechnya, frequently sees clashes between insurgents and Russian security forces. The local population share close ethnic ties and the Sunni branch of Islam with the Chechen people.
Russian 'killer of aircraft carriers' starts drills in Pacific
The Varyag, a Russian Slava-class missile cruiser dubbed 'the killer of aircraft carriers,' has started a series of live-firing exercises in the Pacific for the first time since a recent overhaul, a fleet spokesman said Monday. Varyag, the flagship of the Russian Pacific Fleet, was commissioned in Russia's Pacific Fleet in 1989 and re-entered service in early 2008 following a major refit that lasted almost a year. "The Varyag's crew is scheduled to conduct a series of live firing drills against ground, surface, and air targets," said Captain 1st Rank Roman Martov. He said the exercise was aimed at checking the performance of all on-board weapons systems. "The cruiser is equipped with a powerful array of missile systems, torpedoes and artillery systems," Martov said, adding that NATO experts had dubbed Russian combat ships of this class "the killer of aircraft carriers," as it can carry 1,000kg of high-explosives, or a tactical nuclear warhead out to a range of 300 nautical miles. The Slava-class missile cruiser was designed as a surface strike ship with some anti-air and ASW capability. The sixteen SS-N-12 Sandbox nuclear-capable supersonic anti-ship missiles are mounted in four pairs on either side of the superstructure, giving the ship a distinctive appearance. In addition, the cruiser reportedly carries 64 SA-N-6 Grumble long-range surface-to-air missiles (SAM) and 40 SA-N-4 Gecko short-range SAMs. Two other ships of this class, the Moskva and Marshal Ustinov, are in service with Russia's Black Sea Fleet and Northern Fleet, respectively.
Summit Backs Non-Russian Oil Route
Azerbaijan, Georgia, Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine agreed on Friday to speed up preparations for shipping Central Asian fuel to Europe to reduce dependence on Russia. At a summit in Kiev, European Union Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs backed the so-called Euro-Asian oil transportation corridor project, which includes plans to transport Azeri oil through the Odessa-Brody pipeline to the region. Kazakhstan said it was also willing to pump oil through the pipeline. The countries of Eastern and Central Europe are banding with Central Asian states to circumvent Russia, the region's dominant energy supplier. Russia, the world's largest natural gas exporter, is increasingly using its energy resources to wield influence over its former satellites. The country is also the world's second-biggest oil exporter. "Very often, energy issues have political color," Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko said. "Examples of 'energy pressure' are constant occurrence."