ROAR: “Black Sea Fleet will stay in Sevastopol for good”

The Russian prime minister and other politicians from Moscow have visited the Crimea as the Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol celebrated Navy Day.

Russian PM Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich discussed on July 24 economic relations, including problems in the energy sector and the development of pipeline transport and the gas transportation system in Ukraine.

Although the Russian Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol was not the subject of discussion, Putin thanked the Ukrainian president for the decision on the fleet and “the atmosphere he creates in mutual relations between our brotherly nations of Russia and Ukraine.”

After the current lease of the Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol expires in 2017, it will be extended for 25 years according to the deal ratified in April. The lease may be further extended for five years.

Since presidential elections in Ukraine in February, Putin and Yanukovich have met several times. “This means that the relations are becoming increasingly close,” Vyacheslav Igrunov, director of the International Institute for Humanitarian and Political Studies, told Business FM radio.

“Life has shown that the Ukrainian economy, isolated from Russia’s, is experiencing enormous difficulties,” the analyst said. “Its revival after the crisis, which was more difficult for Ukraine than Russia, depends on our cooperation,” he added.

Russia will be investing in the social infrastructure of the fleet in Sevastopol, Russia’s ambassador to Ukraine Mikhail Zurabov said earlier. It is necessary to develop the coastal infrastructure of the base and seriously modernize its military hardware and invest in the city that hosts the fleet, he noted.

Some analysts believe the Black Sea Feet needs modernization and a new strategy. The fleet is closed in the Black Sea and it has not been upgraded for a long time, said Aleksandr Shatilov of the Center for Political Conjuncture. “The fleet’s only advantage is that it supports the Russian influence in South Ukraine,” he noted.

However, due to warming relations between Russia and Ukraine, there is a chance now that the fleet will be modernized, the analyst told

Russian Navy Commander Admiral Vladimir Vysotsky said that three patrol boats of a new project and three submarines will be laid up at shipyards for the Black Sea Fleet before the end of 2010. They will ensure the security of ships in the Black Sea, he said.

Russia might be able to develop a fully-fledged fleet by 2050, but needs to act fast, RIA Novosti quoted the admiral as saying. He added that Russia had obtained consent from a number of countries in key regions of the world to facilitate entry of Russian naval ships to their ports as much as possible.

Russia was abandoning foreign bases several years ago, but simplified entry to some countries “could be regarded almost as having bases in some respects,” he told Ekho Moskvy radio station.

Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov was among the Russian politicians who attended the celebrations in Sevastopol. He has made his first working visit to Crimea since the Ukrainian authorities had lifted a ban on his entry into the country.

Meeting with head of the Council of Ministers of the Crimean autonomous republic Vasily Dzharty, Luzhkov thanked Yanukovich for annulling his persona non grata status. “Muddy times” in the two countries’ relations are now history, Luzhkov believes.

“Those times were intended to estrange our nations from each other,” Interfax quoted Luzhkov as saying. “This was unwise, because our peoples are close relatives. In terms of economy, this involved ludicrous isolation, which hindered the solution of social problems and problems of development.” The current leadership in Ukraine is “absolutely understandable,” the mayor added.

Speaking in Crimea on July 25, Luzhkov stressed that “the Russian Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol is forever.” He recalled that two years ago “the reactionary government of then-President Viktor Yushchenko declared him persona non grata.”

“Life has corrected this unlucky politician,” Luzhkov said. The present Ukrainian leadership is forming the atmosphere of friendship and cooperation, he said.

A tough reaction by the Yushchenko government followed after Luzhkov visited Sevastopol on May 11, 2008. “He said that the Soviet Union never handed over this base to Ukraine, and that meant that Russia may demand its return through an international court,” Rossiyskaya Gazeta daily recalled.

“For Luzhkov, this punishment was very painful because it was Moscow that helped much to save the Black Sea Fleet during tough years of the ‘90s,” the paper stressed. “The city preserved the missile cruiser Moscow from destruction, built apartment blocks for officers of the fleet, a school and a branch of Moscow State University,” it added.

Moscow authorities also sent books to help preserve the Russian language which was under the threat of ban at the time, the daily noted.

Prior to his latest visit, Luzhkov had said he would not change his position on the fleet. He stressed that “Sevastopol is the Russian city and the Russian military base that ensures a strategic balance in the south of Russia,” the paper said. In response to these statements, the Ukrainian opposition again proposed a ban on Luzhkov entering the country.

The Crimean problem has great influence on Yanukovich, Ukrainian political scientist Vadim Karasev told Business FM. If Yanukovich conducts policy similar to that of Belarusian President Lukashenko, “then the Crimean card could be played to weaken his position,” he noted. However, nobody is interested “in making relations between the two countries more tense,” he said.

Now the road to Ukraine is open for Russian politicians, head of the Center for Political Technologies Dr. Igor Bunin, told the radio. All the politicians are taking part in talks with Ukrainian colleagues, but these visits also “have a big symbolic meaning,” he noted.

Sergey Borisov,
Russian Opinion and Analysis Review, RT