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27 Apr, 2010 08:45

Putin in Ukraine seals the deal on Russia’s Black Sea Fleet in Crimea

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin arrived in Ukraine on Monday evening to meet with the country’s President Viktor Yanukovich and Prime Minister Nikolay Azarov.

Following the of meeting, Prime Minister Putin announced that the subject of discussions was “full-scale” collaboration in the field of nuclear technology, ranging from fuel production to exporting energy.

"We are offering full-scale cooperation in our nuclear energy sectors,’ Putin stated after meeting with Yanukovich. “We propose to form a major holding that would include unification of nuclear power generation, unification of nuclear equipment construction and of the nuclear cycle."

Among other things, the politicians discussed possible projects in aircraft engineering and ship building.

The fate of the Russian Black Sea Fleet in Crimea was also high on the agenda.

“The only question was the price of the deal. The price we are now asked to pay is out of this world. I would be willing to eat Yanukovich and the prime minister for that sort of money. No military base in the world would cost that much. Prices like that simply don't exist. If we look at what the contract would  cost us over ten years, it amounts to $40-45 billion,” Putin said.

“We could build several bases like that with this money. But, to us, this is not simply a question of money. It concerns our relations with Ukraine. Cooperation in the military sphere, undoubtedly, builds up trust between states. We can work in a trusting manner on economic issues, social issues and in politics. This is the real priority,” he concluded.

The major breakthrough was made when Ukraine agreed to extend the deployment of the Russian Black Sea fleet in Sevastopol for 25 years, and in return, Russia promised to sell its gas at a 30 per cent discount.

Prime Minister Putin has called the deal “a unique case”and noted that the recent deals will “lay down foundations of Russian-Ukranian relations,” as in his view they are the evidence of “trust” and “supporting elbows” between Moscow and Kiev.

Since Viktor Yanukovich was recently elected as Ukraine’s President, co-operation between the two countries has intensified, said the Ukranian government press service, recalling that “the prime ministers will hold the fifth meeting for the past month.”

The Ukranian Prime Minister said that the restoration of trust between Russian and Ukraine is the major result of the recent Kharkov agreements.

However, the recent agreements, reached between the Presidents have yet to be ratified by the parliaments of either Russia or Ukraine.

On April 27, the document is scheduled for the ratification at Ukrane’s Supreme Rada and Russia’s lower house of parliament, the State Duma.

However, its ratification in Ukraine is not a fait accompli, as there has been strong opposition in Ukraine to the agreements. Former Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko and former President Viktor Yushchenko, who have recently united again – at least on this issue – strongly oppose the deal, calling it unconstitutional. They claim that the country’s constitution excludes the deployment of foreign military bases on its territory. However, Ukraine’s Constitutional Court has ruled the agreement legal, as this is not a new deployment, but an extension of an existing one.

During his recent Presidential campaign, Yushchenko made it clear that, if elected, the Russian Black Sea Fleet would have to leave the country’s territory in 2017. However, it is now up to the Rada to decide whether the Russian Navy will stay in Ukraine or not.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Putin told the media on Tuesday that he was surprised to see this form of response from Ukraine’s former leaders.

It is a little bit unexpected to me because we discussed the matter with the previous government in previous years, and then no one was opposed to the extension of the Russian Black Sea fleet's presence," Putin stated.

Naftogas Ukraine has also expressed its concerns over the opposition’s criticism of the deal, but  concluded in its statement that the countries’ leadership have “worked out the best possible scenario for the company’s financial improvement.”

At the same time, the country’s population is also divided in its opinion as to whether or not the Russian Fleet should stay in the country. On Saturday, thousands of demonstrators marched in front of the parliament building in Kiev, protesting a deal reached between the two Presidents earlier that week.

As local media reports, the opposition leader, Yulia Timoshenko, addressed the demonstrators, saying that the ratification of the agreement should be prevented at all costs, claiming that President Yanukovich is “selling out” Ukraine.

Meanwhile, the recent polls suggest that more than half (around 53 per cent) of Ukrainians support the newly-elected President Yanukovich, while only about 30 per cent don't and around 18 per cent are undecided on the issue.

This data was announced by the Public Opinion Foundation of Ukraine’s director-general, Oleksandr Bukhalov. Talking about the results of another survey, he noted that the majority of Ukranian citizens approve of European integration (almost 53 per cent), but, at the same time, support a union with Russia and Belarus (around 63 per cent) and oppose possible NATO entry (also around 63 per cent).

Olga Masalkova, RT