Russian fleet's pullout from Crimea not discussed at Ukraine talks

Moscow and Kiev did not discuss the Russian Navy leaving the Sevastopol base it rents from Ukraine in 2017 during talks on the Black Sea Fleet that finished Friday, a Russian official said, RIA Novosti reported.

"The agenda for our talks did not include the year 2017, as it is too early to discuss this issue," Ambassador-at-Large Vladimir Dorokhin said in a video linkup hosted by RIA Novosti.

"We must find a solution that would meet the interests of both Russia and Ukraine," he added after the bilateral sub-commission meeting.

The official said next sub-commission meeting could be held in October or November.

He said Kiev's stance on the Black Sea Fleet would be a major factor in Russia's future policy with regard to Ukraine.

"The greater our mutual understanding on the Black Sea Fleet, the better our relationship will be in general," he said.

Moscow has repeatedly said it would like to extend the lease.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, who is seeking NATO and EU membership for the former Soviet republic, has called for the Russian navy's early withdrawal from the Sevastopol base, as well as tougher deployment requirements and higher fees, demands that have not been backed by his former coalition ally, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

Ukraine's Defense Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov ruled out on Thursday the possibility of extending the lease.

Russia-Ukraine tensions heightened after several Black Sea Fleet warships dropped anchor off the Georgian coast during and after last month's armed conflict with Tbilisi over breakaway South Ossetia.

In a bid to extend the lease of the Sevastopol base, Russia may submit an array of attractive proposals to Ukraine.

"We are ready to submit an array of proposals that would be beneficial for both countries," the Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov said on Tuesday.

Commenting on Serdyukov's statement, Vyacheslav Popov, a former commander of the Northern Fleet who now sits in the upper house of Russia's parliament, said on Wednesday that Moscow may offer Ukraine contracts to build aircraft carriers for the Russian Navy.

Russia's naval base in the Crimea currently has 50 warships and patrol boats, along with around 80 aircraft, and employs coastal defense troops.

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