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Yanukovych Defends Russian Naval Base Extension


Russia supporters wave flags as a ship of Russia's Black Sea Fleet arrives in Crimea, Ukraine.
Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych has defended his decision to grant a 25-year lease extension to Russia's Black Sea Fleet base in Crimea.

In return for the extension, Moscow reduced the price Ukraine pays for Russian natural gas by 30 percent in a deal announced on April 21 after talks between Yanukovych and his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev, in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv.

Speaking today at a news conference in Kyiv, Yanukovych said the agreement was key to Ukraine's economic survival.

"The main reason [for reaching a new gas deal] was because Ukraine had [an earlier] 10-year gas contract that was driving us into the grave," Yanukovych said. "That was the main problem. We had to find a way out."

Cash-strapped Ukraine had been paying over $300 per 1,000 cubic meters of gas under an agreement negotiated last year by the government of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, whose pro-Western policies had angered Moscow.

The lease extension has drawn strong criticism from Ukraine's opposition, which sees Russia's Black Sea Fleet as a hostile presence on Ukrainian territory.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said today, however, that Russia will not offer gas in exchange for military bases around the world. Putin said "the Crimea is a special case."

compiled from agency reports