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Yushchenko Tells Putin Ukraine Can Defend Itself

Yushchenko (left) with Putin earlier this year (ITAR-TASS) October 26, 2006 -- President Viktor Yushchenko said today Ukraine can defend itself without Russia's help.

Yushchenko was responding to comments by Russian President Vladimir Putin who during a televised appearance on October 25 said Russian naval and land forces stationed in Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula contributed to regional stability, and could if necessary defend Ukraine from outside interference.

A treaty between Russia and Ukraine allows Russia to base its Black Sea Fleet in the port of Sevastopol until 2017. Speaking in Kyiv, Defense Minister Anatoliy Hrytsenko said there were no changes in plans for the Russian fleet to remain in Crimea after its lease runs out.

Yushchenko is in Helsinki today where he is meeting Finnish leaders ahead of a summit with EU officials on October 27. Finland currently holds the rotating EU Presidency.

(UNIAN, Interfax, dpa)