ROAR: Road to NATO “closed for Ukraine” after Black Sea Fleet deal

The deal between Moscow and Kiev on gas and the Black Sea fleet was a breakthrough, analysts say, but they predict a political battle in Ukraine over the ratification.

“Russia and Ukraine have struck a strategic deal,” Kommersant daily said. “Moscow agreed to sell gas to Kiev at a 30 per cent discount in order to secure the guarantee that the Black Sea Fleet stays in Sevastopol till 2042.”

This means that Russia will keep its presence in the Crimea at least for 30 years, and “the road to NATO will be closed for Ukraine for a long time,” the daily noted.

The members of the Russian delegation, headed by the Russian president, who arrived in Kharkov in eastern Ukraine, had not had enough sleep, the paper noted. “From Tuesday night till 3am on Wednesday, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov (and not only them), together with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, negotiated the remaining details of a historic deal on gas in exchange for the Black Sea Fleet with the head of the Ukrainian government, Nikolay Azarov.”

The presidents, Dmitry Medvedev and Viktor Yanukovich, were just to sign the agreements that had been reached, the paper noted. However, they also “had a hand in this,” discussing the deal twice during this month, while meeting in Moscow on April 5 and in Washington a week ago.

“As we promised, we have opened a new page in relations between Ukraine and Russia,” the paper quoted Yanukovich as saying. “I am grateful to Dmitry Medvedev for meeting me halfway and considering these issues.”

Ukraine had also considered the conditions of the Black Sea Fleet’s presence in Crimea, Yanukovich said, because Russia wanted “certainty” in this issue. “If each our meeting will end in taking such decisions, the period of chilling in our relations will be left behind soon,” he said.

Medvedev stressed that the extension of the lease for the fleet for 25 years “will build the best guarantees in the Black Sea basin.” And this could be considered a part of Russia’s initiative to develop a European security treaty, he added.

Moscow has gained a geopolitical concession, which was difficult to dream about not long ago, the daily said. “First, Russia has solved, ahead of schedule, the issue of the presence of its fleet in the Crimea till 2042, and may not hasten now to build a new mighty base for it in the city of Novorossiysk.”

“Secondly, the deal will close the road for Kiev to NATO for a long time, because the countries where foreign military bases exist are not allowed into the alliance,” the paper said.

Taking into account that not all in Ukraine support this idea, Moscow has tried to protect itself against possible problems with the ratification of the deal or the denunciation of it in the future, the daily said.

According to the paper, the provisions on the 30 per cent discount for gas “were included in the agreement on the Black Sea Fleet, rather than in the documents on gas,” as Russia insisted. This means that Ukraine will not receive a gas discount if there is no agreement on the fleet, the paper stressed. “Thus, Russia has demonstrated that its gas pipeline remains its favorite political weapon,” Kommersant noted.

At the same time, Moscow had to make concessions itself, the daily said. The gas discount for Ukraine will not influence Gazprom’s revenues, as the gas giant will not be paying export duties for supplies to Ukraine, the paper noted. “As a result, Russia’s budget will not get $3 billion of revenues in 2010 and will not be receiving $4 billion a year during the next nine years,” it added.

“Russia and Ukraine have concluded a long-term geopolitical deal,” Vremya Novostey daily agreed in the article titled “Sevastopol’s Discount.” Russia will be paying a big sum “for Ukraine’s eternal friendship and the presence of its fleet in Sevastopol at least for 32 years,” the paper said. And Moscow may receive other preferences from Kiev in the future, it noted.

The agreement is also suitable for Ukraine, as it allows the country to keep the current prices on the internal market and will ease pressure on the Naftogaz company and the country’s budget, the paper said.

However, as the discount will be effective for 10 years, one third of the term of the fleet’s presence in Ukraine, “military and gas bargaining may resume in the foreseeable historic perspective,” it added.

“If the Russian authorities made concessions concerning only the gas price and will hardly have problems with those criticizing the deal, [the Ukrainian leadership] will probably face judicial and political battles with the opposition,” the paper said. The country’s constitution rules out building new foreign military bases on Ukraine’s territory, but allows the existing bases to be leased according to international agreements, it added.

The final decision on the extension of the lease of the Black Sea Fleet in Ukraine will be taken by the parliaments of the two countries. The agreement becomes effective only after its ratification.

Former Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko’s faction in the parliament has already threatened Yanukovich with impeachment “for violating the country’s constitution.” Opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko initiated the summoning of an extraordinary session of the parliament to discuss this issue, the media say.

Meanwhile, several new agreements between the two countries may be signed during Medvedev’s official visit to Kiev due in May, Vremya Novostey said. For his first working visit to Ukraine as president he chose the second largest city of Kharkov rather than the capital.

The deal on the Black Sea Fleet was prepared in secrecy, online newspaper said. The presidents made it clear, however, that solving issues of the fleet and gas price were linked with each other. The gas discount will be counted as part of rent for leasing the base in the Crimea, Medvedev said, adding that this was more a technical than a political decision.

However, the economic interests of Gazprom and Russia have been sacrificed to political considerations, said. Earlier, it was assumed that Ukraine would offer Russia access to its gas transportation system, which Moscow and the gas giant have been trying to get for several years, the paper noted.

Some analysts, however, say that Gazprom will be able to get such access in the future, the paper said. “Russia has something else to offer Ukraine, Aleksey Makarkin of the Center for Political Technologies told the paper. Ukraine does not have enough money to modernize its gas transportation network, he added.

There were no one-sided concessions, believes Dmitry Orlov, general director of the Agency of Political and Economic Communications. The agreements signed in Kiev will be advantageous for Moscow, he stressed.

The deal was possible thanks to “an adequate course of the Ukrainian government and its readiness for the co-operation and taking decisions that suit Russia,” the analyst told website.

Ukraine was not able to pay the price for gas that Russia wanted to get, Aleksandr Sharavin, director of the Institute of Political and Military Analysis, told Kommersant. And the fleet, although it is “obsolete and has a limited importance,” is necessary for guarding borders and the South Stream gas pipeline in the future, he said.

Sergey Borisov,
Russian Opinion and Analysis Review, RT