Russian Naval Fleet ‘May Leave Ukraine,’ Abandon Sevastopol After 200 Years

By Mark Franchetti
BBC

Russia’s deputy PM has told the BBC the country’s Black Sea Fleet will vacate its naval base in Sevastopol in 2017 if the Ukrainian government demands it.

Speaking exclusively to Panorama, Sergei Ivanov said Russia would seek to renew its lease on the Crimean port, but will move the Fleet if it cannot.

The move will anger nationalists who consider Sevastopol a part of Russia.

It is feared the port could become a flashpoint in already strained relations between Russia and the West.

We are not aggressive. We have recognised the territorial integrity of all former Soviet republics
Sergei Ivanov

Asked if he could envisage the Fleet not being based in the Crimea – its home for the last 225 years – Mr Ivanov, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s number two who oversees Russia’s military and industry, said:

“Yes I can imagine that easily after 2017. Why not, if the Ukrainian government then in power decides not to prolong the lease?”

Ships from Black Sea Fleet
The Black Sea Fleet has been in Sevastopol for over 200 years

It will also surprise the West where in the wake of the war in Georgia many fear Moscow could seek to reclaim parts of the Crimea by force to secure the Fleet’s future.

‘British and US aggression’

Mr Ivanov however dismissed such claims as Cold War-style propaganda and gave Russia’s strongest assurances to date that it has no territorial ambitions.

“We are not aggressive,” said Mr Ivanov. “We have recognised the territorial integrity of all former Soviet republics. That was in 1991. Russia, of course, has no territorial ambitions regarding any former Soviet countries.”

Sergei Ivanov (left) and Mark Franchetti
Mr Ivanov spoke out against Nato expansion

“We are not going to start a war or attack any country. Right now, in fact, Russia does not fight any war at all. If you analyse how many wars the United States and Britain are fighting – it’s quite different,” he added.

The future of the Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol is a sensitive and emotional issue for most Russians.

The Crimea was handed over to Ukraine during Soviet times when the transfer was a mere legal technicality – and no-one envisaged the collapse of communism and Ukraine’s subsequent independence from Moscow.

Local opposition

In Sevastopol, most locals feel closer to Moscow than Kiev….

Read the rest:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/7677152.stm

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