Russia and Ukraine on Wednesday signed an agreement extending Russian naval presence in the Crimea for 25 years after 2017, when the current lease is due to expire.
The document was signed following negotiations between Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and his Ukrainian counterpart Viktor Yanukovych.
Under the new agreement, the lease on the Sevastopol base may be further extended by another five years.
Medvedev stressed the importance of the base as key to regional security and vowed assistance in developing Sevastopol's socio-economic infrastructure in an effort to promote public relations and improve the Russian Navy's image.
"I will instruct the defense minister and the Black Sea Fleet commander to draft an agreement on the participation of our base in the socio-economic development of Sevastopol," Medvedev said.
Yanukovych has pledged to move Ukraine away from the pro-Western stance of former President Viktor Yushchenko, who vowed that Russia would have to look for a new main base for its Black Sea Fleet once the current deal expires in 2017.
The Ukrainian opposition, however, earlier said any prolongation of Russian military presence would require amendments to the Constitution as well as a national referendum.
Mykola Tomenko, deputy speaker of parliament and a leader of the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc (YTB), said last Wednesday Article 17 of the Constitution forbids foreign military bases on Ukrainian soil.
KHARKOV, April 21 (RIA Novosti)
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