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Yushchenko: Russia Should Pay More For Black Sea Fleet

Viktor Yushchenko
KYIV, (Reuters) -- President Viktor Yushchenko, locked in a battle for power and jurisdiction with his prime minister, has called for new arrangements to get Russia to pay more rent for its Black Sea Fleet base in Ukraine.

The call is expected to further strain relations with Russia and make it more difficult to rebuild the ruling coalition, which collapsed last week amid policy differences Yushchenko and Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who takes a softer stand on Russia's intervention in Georgia.

Yushchenko said he wanted the government to pay off part of a longstanding debt of $1.2 billion to Moscow -- to enable Kyiv to raise Russia's rent for using the port of Sevastopol.

"After that, the president believes we can move toward adopting market conditions for leasing land and other property to Russia for use by its Black Sea Fleet," the president's press service quoted him as saying in central Ukraine. "We would then receive realistic payment for the pollution of our environment and the use of radio frequencies."

The pro-Western Yushchenko criticized Russia's intervention in Georgia last month, particularly its use of Black Sea Fleet ships, and introduced rules requiring Russia to advise of ships' movements. Moscow has vowed to ignore the regulations.

Under a 1997 treaty, Russia pays about $100 million annually to use the Sevastopol base in Ukraine's Crimea peninsula, funds used to pay for Russian and Central Asian gas.

During rows with Russia over gas prices since 2005, Ukrainian figures have periodically suggested Moscow pays too little rent. Experts say the market rate is about $1 billion.

With all top politicians focusing on presidential election due by 2010, the pro-Western "orange" coalition in parliament underpinning Ukraine's leadership has collapsed and politicians face a weekend constitutional deadline to rebuild it.

No 'Radical Steps'

Tymoshenko this week urged politicians to refrain from "radical, unilateral steps" over the fleet. She denied any suggestion that her stand was linked to a deal to secure Russian backing ahead of the presidential election.

Yushchenko stood alongside Tymoshenko in the 2004 "Orange Revolution" that brought him to power, but the two have since quarrelled at length.

The "orange" coalition between Tymoshenko's bloc and the president's Our Ukraine party collapsed when the president's allies walked out last week.

Our Ukraine denounced Tymoshenko's tactical voting alliance with the more Russia-friendly party of ex-premier Viktor Yanukovich in approving legislation cutting presidential powers.

In his comments, Yushchenko vowed to veto measures which curbed his powers to nominate officials and issue decrees. The prime minister issued a fresh appeal for the president and his allies to give new backing to the coalition.

If the current "orange" coalition, which has anyway lost its majority in parliament, cannot be rebuilt this weekend, parties have 30 days to form a new one. Should they fail, the president can call what would be the third election in as many years.

RFE/RL Belarus, Ukraine, And Moldova Report

RFE/RL Belarus, Ukraine, And Moldova Report

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