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Russia would like to keep the Black Sea Fleet
Russia would like to keep the Black Sea Fleet base in Ukraine's port of Sevastopol after 2017, the Russian Navy commander said Friday. (Russia's Black Sea Fleet - Image gallery)

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko said Thursday that preparations for the withdrawal by 2017 of Russia's Black Sea Fleet from Ukrainian territory should begin without delay.

"Russia has never made a secret of its desire to retain its presence in Sevastopol after 2017," Adm. Vladimir Vysotsky said. "After all, it is a natural basing area that has evolved historically."

He added that he "takes it for granted" that an agreement with Ukraine would be eventually achieved.

Vysotsky said the Russian naval presence in Ukraine was beneficial for the local population: In addition to rent, $4 million in special subsidies to the cities of Sevastopol, Feodosia and Gvardeisky from the Russian federal budget, and indirect contributions to local budgets, the fleet provides about 25,000 jobs.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Volodymyr Ohryzko said Tuesday that a bill on preparing for the Russian Black Sea Fleet's withdrawal from Ukraine's Crimea by 2017 was ready and would soon be submitted to the Ukrainian parliament.

Frequent disputes have flared up between Russia and Ukraine over the lease of naval facilities on the Crimean peninsula.

Russia's Black Sea Fleet uses the Sevastopol base under an agreement signed in 1997. Yushchenko recently announced that Ukraine would not extend the lease beyond May 28, 2017.

In early June, Russia's lower house of parliament adopted a resolution saying the Russian-Ukrainian cooperation treaty could be denounced if Ukraine joins NATO.

Ukraine's pro-Western leadership has been pursuing NATO membership since Yushchenko's 2004 election. Ukraine failed to secure an agreement on a NATO Membership Action Plan, a key step toward joining the alliance, at the organization's summit in April, but was told the decision would be reviewed in December.

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