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31 Mar, 2014 16:40

Russian Duma denounces Black Sea Fleet deal with Ukraine

Russian Duma denounces Black Sea Fleet deal with Ukraine

Russia’s lower chamber of parliament, the State Duma, has voted to denounce the Russian-Ukrainian agreements on the Black Sea Fleet. The MPs voted to halt the rent payments to Kiev for Sevastopol naval base and to cease writing off Ukraine’s debt.

The State Duma censured a total of four agreements on the status of the naval base in Sevastopol on Monday. These include the 1997 agreements between Moscow and Kiev, according to which Russia officially received a part of the Soviet Black Sea Fleet and started renting the naval base of Sevastopol from Ukraine, as well as the 2010 agreement prolonging the rent of the naval base till 2042, with an option of extending it by a further five years.

As part of the agreements, Russia annually paid the Ukrainian government $526.5 million for the base, as well as writing off $97.75 million of Kiev’s debt for the right to use Ukrainian waters and radio frequencies, and to compensate for the Black Sea Fleet’s environmental impact. The Russian Navy was allowed to station up to 25,000 troops, 24 artillery systems, 132 armored vehicles and 22 military planes on the territory of Crimea in addition to the vessels.

Crimea’s accession into Russia de facto terminated the deal, with Russia no longer obliged to pay the rent, the MPs decided.

As a result of the March 18 agreement, which marked the Black Sea region’s joining the Russian Federation, “the subject of the Russian-Ukrainian agreements ceased to exist,” said the head of the Duma Committee on the Affairs of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), Leonid Slutsky.

“From now on the status and the conditions of the Black Sea Fleet stationed in the city of Sevastopol will be regulated within the constitutional framework of the Russian Federation,” Slutsky said, calling the vote “historic.”

A total of 443 out of 450 MPs voted in favor of the move, far exceeding a simple majority of 226 votes. However, according to Russian law, such a law must first be voted on by the Federation Council, Russia’s upper house of parliament, before coming into power. A vote on the issue is scheduled for Tuesday, April 1, and an extraordinary session of the Federation Council will be held.

On Friday, the Russian Foreign Ministry sent a diplomatic note to the Ukrainian Embassy in Moscow, informing the Ukrainian side of the draft law introduced by the Russian President Vladimir Putin. The note also raised Moscow’s intention to transfer Ukrainian military hardware remaining in Crimea.

The coup-appointed Ukrainian government was quick to reply, with Ukrainian Foreign Ministry official, Evgeny Perebiynis, telling journalists on Friday “in case the Russian side denounces these agreements, the Russian fleet in Crimea will be illegal.”

Upon signing the law into power, Russia would have to “think of withdrawing the Black Sea Fleet” from Crimea, Perebiynis warned.