Ukrainian minister wants Russia's Black Sea Fleet out by 2017

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KIEV, February 16 (RIA Novosti, Olga Bernatskaya) - Ukraine's defense minister said Russia's Black Sea Fleet had until 2017 to withdraw from Ukrainian territory. "The limit for the Black Sea Fleet's stationing on Ukraine's territory is 2017 and it needs to be adhered to," said Anatoliy Hrytsenko.

Hrytsenko said Russia could withdraw its fleet earlier, or simply begin early preparations for the pullout, to avoid possible political problems.

"We would like to see some signals from the Russian side... to avoid raising the issue of revising our constitution."

According to Ukraine's constitution, foreign troops are not allowed to be deployed in the country.

An agreement, signed by Ukraine and Russia in 1997, divided the Soviet Black Sea Fleet, allowing the Russian navy to remain in the Crimean port of Sevastopol until 2017, at an annual rent of $93 million.

Following the dispute at the beginning of the year over Russian natural gas prices, Kiev threatened to increase the rent to $1.8 billion. It also demanded that the Russian navy surrender lighthouses and other property along the Crimean coast, claiming they were not part of the fleet agreement.

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