Lavrov says Russia to boost role in Sevastopol’s development

By RIA Novosti,

Moscow : Russia’s leadership intends to increase its contribution to the development of the Ukrainian Black Sea port city of Sevastopol, the Russian Foreign Minister said on Thursday.

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The port on the Crimean peninsula, where the main base of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet is stationed, is the focus of an ongoing dispute between Moscow and Kiev. Ukraine wants to set a deadline for Russia’s lease of naval facilities in the Crimea, while some senior Russian officials have questioned Ukraine’s right to sovereignty over Sevastopol.

Sergei Lavrov, speaking after a ceremony to lay wreaths at a memorial to Sevastopol’s war heroes outside the Kremlin in Moscow, said: “The leadership of the Russian Federation, the fleet, and the Defense Ministry are contributing to developing the infrastructure of Sevastopol, and the current plans foresee an increase in this contribution.”

He said a delegation of high-ranking Russian government officials will leave for Sevastopol on June 14 to take part in the city’s 225th anniversary celebrations.

Frequent disputes have arisen between Russia and Ukraine over the lease of the Sevastopol base. Moscow Mayor Yury Lyzhkov was barred from entering the Ukraine in May for publicly saying the area is rightfully Russian territory.

Late last month, Sergei Mironov, speaker of the upper house of Russia’s parliament, said Russia could claim back Sevastopol.

“Undoubtedly, we must raise the issue ourselves, and if necessary, with the Ukrainian authorities,” Mironov told reporters commenting Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko’s decision not to extend lease terms for Russia’s Black Sea Fleet after May 28, 2017.

According to the Moscow mayor, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev gave the Crimea to Ukraine in 1954 as “a token of brotherly love,” but under a 1948 decree Sevastopol was assigned special city status “under the governing central authorities,” and, therefore should not have been included in the list of territories transferred to Ukraine.

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. A 1994 referendum in the Crimea supported demands for a broader autonomy and closer links with Russia.