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Fate of Russian Black Sea Fleet in Ukraine undecided

October 02, 2013, 11:36 UTC+3

Agreement to extend the fleet stationing for 25 years, starting from 2017 denounced by Ukrainian parliament, few chances to reinstate it

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Ukraine will possibly demand withdrawal of Russian Black Sea Fleet from Crimea for the sake of its full membership in the European Union, Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily writes. The issue will become topical after the Ukrainian presidential election of 2015. It is currently discussed in Kiev at the instigation of the Ukrainian National Salvation Committee that believes the stationing of the Black Sea Fleet in Ukraine is does not correspond to provisions of the association agreement between Ukraine and the EU which is being prepared for the signing. In case the document is signed in November, Ukraine will have to think about “transferring its territorial-water resource to the domestic fleet and European peacekeeping missions of the United Nations and NATO”.

The Ukrainian-Russian agreement on the temporary stationing of the Russian Black Sea Fleet was signed in 1997 for the period of 20 years. It was believed that in 2017 Russia would withdraw its fleet from Crimea. A naval base of the Black Sea Fleet was being set up in Novorossiysk for these purposes. Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Navy Admiral Viktor Chirkov said recently that the base would be ready to receive new ships and submarines in 2014. However, Sevastopol remains the main naval base of the fleet, he specified.

A possibility to stay in Crimea for long appeared in April 2010, when the presidents of Ukraine and Russia signed the so-called Kharkov agreements. Kiev agreed to extend the fleet stationing for 25 years, starting from 2017. The treaty envisaged a possibility to automatically extend it after 2042. Moscow, for its part, agreed to give a discount on gas price - 100 dollars per each 1,000 cubic meters. Later Kiev qualified the terms as unequal, as, according to local officials, even taking into account a gas price discount for Ukraine, it still was more costly than for Gazprom’s European partners.

The Russian side sees no possibility for signing new gas contracts, while Ukraine for its part does not give its consent for modernization of hardware and armaments of the Russian Black Sea Fleet. This fragile balance has been in place for the past few years. Meanwhile, early in the summer of 2012, the Constitutional Court of Ukraine sent an alarming signal to the Russian side in its ruling. In response to a parliamentary inquiry, it ruled that the Ukrainian parliament had the right to denounce international treaties. The opposition immediately seized on that opportunity for denouncing the Kharkov agreements. Several attempts have been made over the past year-and-a-half to submit the issue to the parliament, but the ruling party has prevented that.

An expert from the Ukrainian Gorshenin Institute, Vladimir Zastava, explained to Nezavisimaya Gazeta the reasons behind such caution. “We are speaking in terms of a 100-dollar discount per 1,000 cubic meters of gas, but the word ‘discount’ is not mentioned in the documents. It is not a discount, but a lowering of export duty that Russia agreed to in exchange for an extension of the term of the fleet’s stationing in Crimea. It is envisaged in the documents that if Ukraine tries to terminate the agreements, it will have to pay compensation to Russia for the loss of profit from the reduction of export duty for the whole period of 25 years. This will make more than 40 billion dollars,” he said.

Earlier, Ukrainian government’s commissioner for European integration, Valery Pyatnitsky, confirmed that the European Union was not advancing any demands as to the fleet stationing. “The draft agreement does not say a word about the stationing of the fleet in Sevastopol or about any other military bases or any other directions of military cooperation,” he said.

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