KIEV, June 6 (RIA Novosti) - A decision by regional lawmakers to declare Ukraine's Crimea region on the Black Sea a "NATO-free zone" is nothing but political speculation, the country's president said Tuesday.
Crimean legislators earlier Tuesday declared the peninsula a NATO-free zone after a U.S. cargo ship, Advantage, called at the Black Sea port of Feodosia on May 27 ahead of a NATO exercise, Sea Breeze 2006, sparking mass protests in the largely Russian-speaking area.
"This decision is yet more political speculation," Viktor Yushchenko said at a meeting with media executives. "It does not introduce any dramatic changes in Ukraine-NATO relations."
Yushchenko said Ukraine had a plan of cooperation with NATO, like Russia and other former Soviet republics.
"Implementation of the plan falls directly within the competence of the central authorities, government, parliament and president," he said.
In February, the previous Ukrainian parliament banned foreign troops from entering the country to take part in military exercises on Ukrainian soil. But Ukrainian prosecutors said the Advantage had not violated Ukrainian legislation.
"The Advantage, which delivered hardware and arms for a military exercise, is not a warship," a spokesman for the prosecutor's office said. He also said that the troops on board the vessel had crossed into Ukraine unarmed and could not therefore be classified as a foreign military unit.
The ship's arrival also provoked strong protests from public and political organizations. Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko and Human Rights Ombudsman Nina Karpachova insisted that an official inquiry be launched into the legality of the incident.