Ukraine vows to implement orders on Russia fleet

Pro-Western Ukraine vowed on Thursday to make Russia seek official permission for movements of its warships based in the ex-Soviet state despite Moscow's objections, placing the neighbors on a collision course.

Russia's Black Sea Fleet is based on Ukraine's Crimea peninsula under an agreement signed by the two ex-Soviet states. Kiev's jurisdiction over the area remains a highly sensitive issue among Russian nationalists and in the peninsula dominated by ethnic Russians.

Ukraine's plans for tougher rules on Russian naval moves, announced by President Viktor Yushchenko on Wednesday, are the latest affront to Moscow after Kiev's sharp criticism of its military incursion into Georgia in support of breakaway regions South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Tension between the two states had already been simmering due to Moscow's opposition to Kiev's efforts to join NATO, and past disputes over gas prices and property.

On Thursday, Georgian Chief of Staff Serhiy Kirichenko said Yushchenko's decree would be carried out, no matter what.

"There is a presidential decree and it will, naturally, be implemented," Interfax Ukraine quoted him as saying. "I guarantee that we will do everything to ensure the president's decree is carried out."

Investors priced Ukrainian assets sharply riskier amid concerns over the row with Russia, with the cost of insuring Ukrainian government debt widening sharply.

Yushchenko's decree on Wednesday required the fleet to secure permission for any movements 72 hours in advance.

In Moscow, the deputy head of Russia's general staff dismissed it as irrelevant.

"We have one general commander for the Black Sea fleet. It is the President of Russia," Colonel-General Anatoly Nogovitsyn said. "And all commands from outside are illegitimate to us."


Ukraine's leaders, like the United States, have backed Georgia throughout the conflict and urged Moscow to withdraw troops from its smaller neighbor's territory.

On Thursday, Yushchenko's Website said the president had spoken to U.S. President George W. Bush and praised Washington's "clear and consistent position".

Under the terms of Wednesday's presidential decree, Ukrainian authorities must inform fleet commanders of their consent for the movement of warships and aircraft 24 hours before their scheduled departure.

Should commanders fail to comply with the rules, Ukraine's foreign ministry would be empowered to ask the vessel or aircraft to leave Ukrainian territory.

The conflict in South Ossetia has given rise to suggestions that disagreements between Ukraine and Russia could rekindle tension between the two neighbors over the fleet and Crimea that existed throughout the early post-Soviet years.

Under a 1997 agreement, Ukraine agreed to lease harbor space in the Crimea peninsula base of Sevastopol until 2017.

Yushchenko and other officials say Ukraine has no intention of extending the lease and have called for negotiations to ensure for an orderly departure of the fleet by 2017 -- a position strongly criticized by the Kremlin.

Nationalist Russian politicians regularly suggest that Moscow should reclaim Sevastopol -- or even all of Crimea -- as its own territory.

Crimea, part of Russia from the late 18th century, was handed to Soviet Ukraine by Kremlin leader Nikita Khrushchev in 1954 when the collapse of communism was unthinkable. It reverted to independent Ukraine when Soviet rule collapsed in 1991.

[Source: By Yuri Kulikov, Reuters, Kiev, 14Aug08]

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