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Kyiv Accuses Russia Of Stirring Tensions Over Fleet

Ukraine stopped a motorcade carrying missiles in early July
KYIV (Reuters) -- Ukraine's top security body accused Russia on July 24 of stirring up tensions between the two countries after it tried to transport cruise missiles through the streets of the southern Ukrainian town of Sevastopol.

Moscow leases a base for its Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol, a port in the Crimea peninsula which is populated by mainly ethnic Russians. The base has been a thorn in relations between Moscow and Kyiv since Ukraine's independence in 1991.

Ukrainian police said on July 23 officers blocked from leaving the base a convoy of trucks attempting to transport cruise missiles through the town -- days before celebrations marking Russia's annual Navy Day. It was the third incident this month, Ukrainian authorities said.

"There is an impression that there is a conscious attempt to demonstrate disrespect to national sovereignty and that these arbitrary actions of the armed forces will become a common occurrence," the National Security Council said in a statement.

"The aim -- to increase the tensions between the two countries."

The council is chaired by President Viktor Yushchenko and its meetings are attended by ministers and senior officials.

Yushchenko, swept to power by pro-Western mass protests in 2004, has infuriated Moscow by pushing for Ukraine's membership of NATO and telling the Black Sea Fleet it must leave its base in 2017 when its lease runs out.

Russia sees NATO encroachment to its borders as a threat to its security and was troubled by joint Ukrainian-NATO naval exercises last July in the Black Sea.

Tensions hit a peak the following month, when Russia sent warships from the base to Georgia during its five-day war, despite Yushchenko's support for Tbilisi.