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Putin Promotes Russian Black Sea Fleet On Controversial Ukraine Visit

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (file photo)
Putin is in Ukraine's Crimea for a two-day visit that is likely to raise tensions over the disputed, predominantly Russian-speaking region.

Putin was due to meet with Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who is holidaying in the picturesque Black Sea resort of Sevastopol.

On July 25, when Russia marks its annual Navy Day, the two leaders are scheduled to attend the annual Russian Black Sea Fleet parade through the city's main street.

Speaking at an international motorbike show outside the city, Putin thanked Yanukovych for helping raise the holiday's profile in Ukraine.

"I wish all sailors a good holiday," Putin said. "Tomorrow, Ukrainian and Russian sailors will be together, just like they were together, like our peoples were together, for many, many centuries even in the hardest and most difficult times. They will be together tomorrow too. I particularly thank Ukraine's leaders for this."

The bike show, which features participants from all over the world, is dedicated to the Russian Black Sea Fleet, which is based in Crimea.

The show, just like the presence of Putin and Yanukovych at Sunday's Russian Black Sea Fleet parade, is likely to anger many in Ukraine.

New Lease

Critics of Yanukovych -- who grew up in Ukraine's mainly Russian-speaking east and is seen as Kremlin-friendly -- bitterly oppose his decision to allow the Russian Navy to extend its stay in Crimea until 2042.

The decision in April sparked angry protests and chaos in Ukraine's parliament during the deal's ratification.

Critics, led by Yanukovych's Western-leaning predecessor, Viktor Yushchenko, and former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, regard the Russian base as a hostile presence on Ukrainian soil and had pushed for its removal when the existing lease runs out in 2017.

In return for the fleet's 25-year lease extension, Moscow cut by 30 percent the price Ukraine pays for Russian natural gas.

compiled from agency reports