Russia fleet ‘may leave Ukraine’
Russia’s deputy PM has told the BBC the country’s Black Sea Fleet will vacate its naval base in Sevastopol in 2017 if the Ukrainian government demands it.
Speaking exclusively to Panorama, Sergei Ivanov said Russia would seek to renew its lease on the Crimean port, but will move the Fleet if it cannot.
The move will anger nationalists who consider Sevastopol a part of Russia.
It is feared the port could become a flashpoint in already strained relations between Russia and the West.
We are not aggressive. We have recognised the territorial integrity of all former Soviet republics.
Asked if he could envisage the Fleet not being based in the Crimea – its home for the last 225 years – Mr Ivanov, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s number two who oversees Russia’s military and industry, said:
“Yes I can imagine that easily after 2017. Why not, if the Ukrainian government then in power decides not to prolong the lease?”
It will also surprise the West where in the wake of the war in Georgia many fear Moscow could seek to reclaim parts of the Crimea by force to secure the Fleet’s future.
He also spoke against NATO expansion (again):
He also dismissed America’s claims that its plans for a missile defence shield in Europe are to protect it from Iran and North Korea.
He said Russia sees the shield – parts of which are to be stationed in Poland and the Czech republic – as a threat to Russia.
Mr Ivanov warned that Russia would react militarily if the plans went ahead, but also rubbished a previous threat made by a Russian general who said Poland was exposing itself to a possible nuclear strike if it agreed to station parts of the shield on its territory.
Don’t know if he is speaking the truth or not. Because not a lot of days ago, Putin was menacing Ukraine for arming Georgia in Russian-Georgian conflict and some days before that, Ukraine was cautioning Russia against arming the separatists. So, will they have the intention of abandoning Sebastopol? I really don’t think so. I think they are just gaining time.