Ukraine snubs Moscow on port

 

Ukraine snubs Moscow on port

By Roman Olearchykin Tbilisi

Published: August 14 2008 02:53 | Last updated: August 14 2008 02:53

Victor Yushchenko, on Wednesday announced restrictions on use of the Crimean port of Sevastopol by Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, a move that follows a challenge by Kiev this week to Moscow’s naval operations off Georgia’s coast.

The surprise decree by Ukraine’s pro-western president requires Russian naval vessels to request permission 10 days in advance before returning to the strategically important port, which Russia leases from Ukraine. Russia’s defence ministry quickly denounced it as “not serious”.

Officials in Kiev suggested the new rules were not linked to Moscow’s decision to send naval vessels to Georgia’s coast for operations that Russian officials said were meant to maintain stability and support humanitarian efforts.

But Ukraine’s foreign ministry this week warned Moscow that it would not allow Russian vessels to return to Sevastopol if they were used in military operations against Georgia. The media service for Russia’s Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol said on Wednesday that four vessels had left the base this week to support operations off Georgia.

Kiev also suspects that Moscow wants to keep its fleet in Sevastopol beyond the expiry of the lease agreement in 2017.

Ukraine’s move came hours before US President George W. Bush said he would send aircraft and naval vessels to Georgia to provide humanitarian aid. It fuelled fears that worsening relations between Kiev and Moscow – amid the Russian-Georgian military conflict – could escalate into a dangerous east-west struggle in the strategic Black Sea region.

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