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Russia's Black Sea Fleet based in Sevastopol
Russia's Black Sea Fleet based in Sevastopol does not pose any threat to Ukraine's national security, a senior Russian diplomat said on Wednesday.

The Black Sea Fleet currently uses a range of naval facilities on Ukraine's Crimean peninsula under an agreement signed in 1997. Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko recently ruled not to extend lease terms for Russia's Black Sea Fleet beyond May 28, 2017.

"The Black Sea Fleet has not caused a single incident during its stay on Ukrainian territory that might have posed a threat to the country's national security," Vladimir Dorokhin, the Foreign Ministry's ambassador-at-large, told a RIA Novosti news conference.

He said Russia paid about $100 million annually to Ukraine for the lease of its naval facilities in the Crimea.

"The fleet enlists 12,000 personnel and employs 25,000 Ukrainians," Dorokhin said. "We contribute about 15% of Sevastopol's annual city budget and pay an additional $4 million in subsidies to local administrations of every town where other [Black Sea Fleet] facilities are located."

Frequent disputes have flared up between Russia and Ukraine over the lease of the naval facilities on the Crimean peninsula. In the latest row, Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov was barred from entering the former Soviet republic over his vociferous calls for the disputed ownership of a Russian naval base in Sevastopol to be transferred back to Russia.

"We have never denied the fact that we would like to keep the base in Sevastopol after 2017," Dorokhin said, adding that the issue must be resolved through negotiations "later on, when the conditions are ripe."

He said Russia is surprised by Ukraine's desire to raise the issue nine years prior to the expiration of the 1997 agreement.

"There is nothing strange in our position," the diplomat said. "We have never asked Ukraine to do anything that may infringe upon its national interests or pressure the Ukrainian leadership to abandon its plans."

"We simply asked the Ukrainians to postpone discussions on the issue, without making any hasty decisions," Dorokhin said.

Ukraine has been seeking NATO membership and EU integration ever since pro-Western president Yushchenko came to power on the back of the "orange revolution" in 2004.

Russia has repeatedly dismissed Ukraine's NATO bid as a violation of bilateral friendship agreements and said it would do its best to prevent Ukraine from joining NATO.

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