Russia Defense Watch: Crimea fleet stays

By MARTIN SIEFF  |  June 17, 2008 at 6:30 PM
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WASHINGTON, June 17 (UPI) -- A change of presidents has not softened Russia's determination to hold on to its historic Black Sea naval facilities in the historic fortress-port of Sevastopol.

Russia's deputy prime minister and former defense minister, Sergei Ivanov, pledged Friday that the Kremlin would continue to base its Black Sea fleet in the city and ignore any Ukrainian protests and pressure to try to force the ships out.

"The presence of the Black Sea Fleet does not cause any substantial damage to Ukraine's independence," Ivanov said in a speech in Sevastopol Saturday, according to a report carried by the RIA Novosti news agency.

The Black Sea Fleet "defends not only the interests of Russia, but those of Ukraine and its southern borders," Ivanov told an audience of Russians in Sevastopol, including Russian and Soviet armed forces veterans.

Ivanov's tough talk confirmed that Russian policy on the issue has not changed since Dmitry Medvedev replaced Vladimir Putin as president of Russia.

The historic city of Sevastopol on the Crimean peninsula underwent long sieges by the French and the British in the Crimean War 150 years ago and by the Nazis in 1942. Ukraine, which became independent after the collapse of communism and the disintegration of the Soviet Union at the end of 1991, wants Russia to vacate its remaining naval facilities in the city by 2017. But the Russians appear determined to stay.

"Your city, our fleet," Ivanov said, according to the report.

He also made it clear Russia would not abandon its interest in the interior affairs of Ukraine, saying Moscow retained its responsibility for more than 30 million Russians living outside of Russia. The Russian government "cannot and will not shrug off our responsibility for their fate," Ivanov said.

According to the deputy prime minister, Russia will do all it can to protect the rights of Russian speakers, and assist Russians who want to return home.

The Crimea, now an autonomous region within Ukraine, is a predominantly Russian-speaking territory. Since the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union, the Crimea has unsuccessfully sought independence from Ukraine.

Russians deny Abkhaz base claim.

The Russian Defense Ministry Sunday denied claims it had created a new military base in Abkhazia, the rebellious, Russian-supported province of Georgia, a former Soviet republic in the Caucasus that is now seeking to join the U.S.-led NATO alliance, the RIA Novosti news agency reported.

News reports Sunday, citing the Abkhazian government in exile, said Russia had created a military base close to the village of Agubedia in Abkhazia's Ochamchir region. The reports claimed Russian heavy tanks had already been moved there.

"The reports of a military base being established in Abkhazia are a new provocation," the Russian Defense Ministry's press office said, according to the RIA Novosti report.

Abkhazia sough to secede from Georgia in the early 1990s after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, and successive governments of Georgia have unsuccessfully sought to reclaim and pacify the territory. A fierce war followed between 1992 and 1994 in which from 10,000 to 30,000 people were killed.

In May this year, some 300 Russian railroad troops were sent to the Abkhazia region in what Russia described as a humanitarian mission. The Georgian government of President Mikheil Saakashvili said the move was really a preparation for direct Russian intervention on the side of the Abkahazians.

Russian firm offers to scrap Brit A-subs.

A Russian shipyard has offered to dispose of the nuclear components of Britain's obsolete nuclear submarines, the RIA Novosti news agency reported Monday.

The Zvezdochka shipyard in the northern city of Severodvinsk on the Barents Sea had the facilities that Britain's shipyards lack to reprocess the nuclear components of the British Royal Navy's decommissioned A-subs, a shipyard official told RIA Novosti Monday.

Britain has at least 11 nuclear submarines which have ended their active duty but cannot be carved up because of concerns about what to do about the remains of their nuclear fuel and irradiated components. The Royal Navy has been forced to keep them afloat for the foreseeable future, the report said.

The Zvezdochka shipyard specializes in reprocessing scrapped nuclear components from former Soviet warships. The official said it could do the same thing for the scrapped British A-subs, acting within the framework of the Arctic Military Environmental Cooperation program -- AMEC.

RIA Novosti noted that the AMEC program was created by Russia, the United States and Norway in 1996 and that Britain entered it in 2003.

"We could cut the reactor and two adjacent compartments from a sub, seal them hermetically and remove them to a permanent storage facility outside Russia," the Zvezdochka shipyard official told RIA Novosti.

He said the Zvezdochka shipyard was scrapping old Russian submarines at a rate of about two per year and by the period 2012-2015, it expected to have enough surplus plant to take foreign orders as well.

Royal Navy officials recently came to Russia and held preparatory talks with Zvezdochka executives, the report said.

French officials have also started exploring the possibility of having old French A-subs scrapped at Zvezdochka too, it said.

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