Cablegate: Black Sea Fleet Stirs Controversy Between Russia And

DE RUEHMO #1568/01 1560347
R 040347Z JUN 08



B. MOSCOW 1330

E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (SBU) Summary: The dispute over the termination of Russia's
Black Sea Fleet basing in Sevastopol by 2017 has only grown more
intense since Russia celebrated the fleet's 225th anniversary on May
12. In response to Ukrainian President Yushchenko's order to draw
up a draft law by July 20 to terminate all international agreements
regarding the Black Sea Fleet's base, the Russian MFA asserted it
was too early to consider the fleet's status, and predicted that the
fleet would continue to be located in Ukraine, with Medvedev
counseling Yushchenko against any hasty decision. MFA negotiators
argue that treaty language foresaw a "likely" extension of the
lease, with experts stressing Russia's resistance to Sevastopol
falling into NATO hands. FM Lavrov accused the GOU of fanning
populist flames to galvanize support for NATO accession, a move he
said would have dire consequences. Russian experts point to
statements by Ukrainian officials potentially linking Sevastopol's
status to Russia's World Trade Organization (WTO) accession as a
further irritant. Mayor Luzhkov's recent comments questioning
Crimea's Ukrainian status continue to reverberate, with the MFA
announcing a tit-for-tat travel ban and a local newspaper falling
victim to the Mayor's wrath. End Summary.

Russia Presumes Right to Sevastopol...

2. (U) On May 21, the MFA posted a response to Ukrainian President
Yushchenko's May 20 decree ordering his cabinet to draft a law by
July 20 that would terminate all international agreements on the
presence of Russia's Black Sea Fleet in Ukraine. Citing the 1997
Agreements on the Status and Conditions of Stationing the Black Sea
Fleet of the Russian Federation on the Territory of Ukraine, the
Parameters for Division of the Black Sea Fleet, and on Mutual
Settlements Associated with the Division of the Black Sea Fleet and
with the Russian Federation Black Sea Fleet's Presence on the
Territory of Ukraine, MFA officials pointed out that the Agreements
provide for automatic five-year extensions past their 2017
expiration unless one side notified the other in writing one year
prior. Thus, the MFA said the GOR presumed that the Black Sea Fleet
would continue to be based in Ukraine in the future, and argued
Russia and Ukraine should concentrate on practical issues to improve
operations of the fleet. These issues included housing, navigation
support, citizenship of servicemen and their families, and others.
MFA officials argued the Russian and Ukrainian presidents agreed to
work on these issues when they signed the Russia-Ukraine Action Plan
To 2009.

3. (U) Lavrov and other GOR officials called Yushchenko's order
premature and said it jeopardized trust between Russia and Ukraine.
In press coverage, some GOR officials speculated that Ukraine's
actions could endanger the ten-year Friendship and Cooperation
Treaty between Russia and Ukraine, which came into force on April 1,
1999. On May 29 Medvedev called Yushchenko and stressed the
importance of not taking unilateral decisions that run counter to
previous treaty obligations.

...Then Clarifies the Record

4. (U) In an attempt to control the press speculation and clarify
the MFA's May 21 statement, Ambassador at Large Vladimir Dorokhin in
a press conference on May 29 pointed out the benefits the Black Sea
Fleet brings to Sevastopol: Russia pays about USD 98 million per
year to rent the base, plus an additional USD 4 million in subsidies
to the local government. The base also provides about 25,000 jobs
for local residents. Dorokhin stressed that 20-year lease on the
base at Sevastopol would be automatically renewed for another five
years unless one side notified the other in writing. This,
according to Dorokhin, meant that the original agreement foresaw a
"likely" further presence of the fleet in Ukraine. He argued that
it has never been a secret that the GOR would like to keep the Black
Sea Fleet in Sevastopol for as long as possible.

5. (U) Dorokhin acknowledged that, as a sovereign state, Ukraine had
the right to conduct its own affairs, but argued that Russia should
also have a voice in the matter. He questioned the timing of
Yushchenko's announcement, as well as the GOU's logic that it would
take nine years for Russia to withdraw the Black Sea Fleet from
Sevastopol. He also said the GOR would not give up its interests in
the Black Sea. A recent opinion poll showed approximately 70
percent of Russians support basing the Black Sea Fleet in

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MOSCOW 00001568 002 OF 002

GOR Links Black Sea Fleet Issue To Ukraine MAP
--------------------------------------------- -

6. (SBU) At the BRIC Ministerial on May 16, FM Lavrov linked the
GOU's demands to have the Black Sea Fleet leave Sevastopol by 2017
to a possible NATO MAP offer to Ukraine, arguing that Ukrainian
authorities have been "whipping up emotions" as part of an effort to
"artificially draw Ukraine into NATO." Lavrov said the GOU was
damaging Russia-Ukraine relations and acting against the will of the
majority of Ukrainians. He said this would have "destructive
consequences," and Russia would do everything it could to prevent
Ukrainian accession to NATO. Other GOR officials have made similar
statements, including Chair of the State Duma Committee on CIS
Affairs Alexey Ostrovsky, who declared in April that Russia could
reclaim Crimea if Ukraine was admitted to NATO. Other GOR officials
have speculated that Ukraine wants to conclude negotiations over the
Black Sea Fleet early in order to make a NATO MAP offer easier to

7. (SBU) Russian experts tell us that the GOR remains concerned that
Sevastopol could become a NATO base, despite provisions in Ukraine's
constitution that prohibit foreign bases. In the GOR's assessment,
Ukrainian politics show that constitutions can be changed on a whim.
Some experts argue that the GOR would like to drag out negotiations
over the Sevastopol base as long as possible in the hope that the
next Ukrainian president might be more amenable to hosting the Black
Sea Fleet on Ukrainian soil. Experts maintain that the GOR does not
want Sevastopol to become a central issue in its relationship with
Ukraine, and so is in no hurry to commence negotiations on the
fleet's withdrawal. GOR officials reiterate that Russia would like
to avoid the logistical and financial trouble of relocating the
Black Sea Fleet to Novorossiysk (ref A).

WTO-Sevastopol Linkage?

8. (SBU) Russian experts are concerned that Ukraine could use
bilateral negotiations with Russia over WTO to introduce political
linkage to Sevastopol. Gaining wide press play in Russia was
Supreme Rada member Andrey Paruby, of the pro-Yushchenko Our
Ukraine-People's Self-Defense Bloc, statment that Ukraine can "block
Russia's accession to the WTO until an agreement on the withdrawal
of Russia's Black Sea Fleet from Ukraine is signed." Ukraine was
expected to participate in the Working Party multilateral
negotiations and Russian trade negotiators have been prepared for a
bilateral request.

Luzhkov's Revenge

9. (U) In retaliation for the GOU's May 12 announcement that Moscow
Mayor Yuriy Luzhkov was no longer welcome in Ukraine following
comments questioning Crimea's Ukrainian status (ref B), the Russian
MFA announced on May 22 that it would impose entry restrictions on
Ukrainian politicians who "damage the Russian Federation by action
or word." The MFA immediately banned Ukraine's First Deputy Prime
Minister Evhen Kornichuk from entering Russia because of his
suggestion that Putin should be declared persona non grata.
"Considering what Evhen Kornichuk said in his public address, we
assume that he will not be planning to visit the Russian
Federation," said Andrey Nesterenko, a Foreign Ministry spokesman.

10. (SBU) Domestically, Luzhkov has lashed out against the
independent Nezavisimaya Gazeta for its critical coverage of his
Sevastopol remarks, with Editor Konstantin Remchukov receiving a
one-month eviction notice from the newspaper's city-owned premises.
While Remchukov intends to fight the order, he noted that the
Russian media have been muted in their analysis of Luzhkov's
incendiary rhetoric, precisely because the mayor holds substantial
levers with which to complicate their operations.


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