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Russia dismisses Ukraine's Black Sea Fleet claims


MOSCOW, January 27 (RIA Novosti) - Russia dismissed on Tuesday claims by Ukraine that the Black Sea Fleet is violating a 1997 bilateral agreement on the deployment of warships at naval bases on Crimean Peninsula , a Russian Foreign Ministry source said.

"The Black Sea Fleet strictly observes the provisions of a 1997 agreement, which precisely regulates its activities," the source said.

Some media sources earlier cited an anonymous Russian Navy official as saying that Russia is planning to redeploy a submarine from the Northern Fleet to the Sevastopol base in Ukraine's Crimea, which triggered Kiev's angry response.

Leonid Osavolyuk, director of the first territorial department at Ukraine's Foreign Ministry, said earlier on Tuesday Russia had no right to make a unilateral decision on rearming its Black Sea Fleet, based in Ukraine, and accused the Russian Navy of violating the country's border integrity.

However, the Russian diplomat insisted that Black Sea Fleet officials must inform Ukrainian authorities in advance about its future actions, but do not need approval from the Ukrainian side.

Commenting on Osavolyuk's statements, former commander of the Black Sea Fleet, Adm. Vladimir Kormoyedov said that according to bilateral agreements, the Russian Navy may deploy up to 25,000 personnel and up to 100 combat and support vessels at naval facilities in Ukraine.

"If Russia decides to rotate its naval assets within the agreed limits, we must inform Kiev about this decision, but we do not have to wait for Ukraine's permission," Kormoyedov said.

Meanwhile, Capt. 1st Rank Igor Dygalo, a spokesman for the Russian Navy, said the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry had made another attempt to escalate tensions over the presence of the Russian Navy on the Crimean peninsula.

"We are surprised that along with the current negotiation process Kiev is continuing to make statements that create tension around the presence of the Black Sea Fleet in Ukraine and lead to the deterioration of the situation in the Crimea and Sevastopol," Dygalo said.

Tensions between Russia and Ukraine heightened after several Black Sea Fleet warships dropped anchor off the Georgian coast during and after last August's armed conflict with Tbilisi over breakaway South Ossetia.

Ukraine, which sided with Georgia during the conflict, repeatedly said that Russian combat ships frequently transport undeclared cargo and refuse to submit customs declarations while crossing Ukrainian territorial waters.

Russia's Black Sea Fleet uses a range of naval facilities in Ukraine's Crimea, including the main base in Sevastopol, as part of the 1997 agreement, under which Ukraine agreed to lease the bases to Russia until 2017.

Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko announced in the summer that Ukraine would not extend the lease of the Sevastopol base beyond 2017, and urged the Russian fleet to start preparations for a withdrawal.

Although the agreement for Russia's use of the base includes a possible extension of the lease, with Moscow repeatedly saying it wants to negotiate on the issue, Ukraine reiterated in October that it would not permit an extension of Russia's naval presence in the country after 2017.

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