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Russia dismisses Ukraine's reports on fleet withdrawal talks

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Reports by Kiev that consultations on the withdrawal of Russia's Black Sea Fleet from Ukraine are due to start this summer are untrue, the Russian Foreign Ministry said Wednesday.
MOSCOW, April 16 (RIA Novosti) - Reports by Kiev that consultations on the withdrawal of Russia's Black Sea Fleet from Ukraine are due to start this summer are untrue, the Russian Foreign Ministry said Wednesday.

The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said earlier Wednesday that the talks would start in June 2008.

The ministry said that during a meeting between the Russian and Ukrainian foreign ministers on April 15 Ukraine handed Russia a draft memorandum outlining the stages and the order for Russia's withdrawal from the Black Sea port of Sevastopol.

"Ukraine was told that Moscow would study the document, but discussion of the issue was not urgent," the Russian ministry said in a statement.

In line with a Russian-Ukrainian agreement, the fleet will retain its presence at the Crimean port of Sevastopol until 2017.

Russia's Black Sea Fleet currently uses a range of naval facilities in the Crimea under a 1997 agreement allowing Russia to lease the base from its neighboring former Soviet republic for $93 million per year, which is paid for by Moscow with Russian energy supplies.

Disputes between Russia and Ukraine over the lease of the base are frequent.

Last week, the head of the State Duma committee on CIS affairs, Alexei Ostrovsky, said that Russia could reclaim the Crimea if Ukraine was admitted to NATO.

Former Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, who grew up in Ukraine, made the Crimean Peninsula - a territory of 26,100 sq km washed by the Black and Azov seas - part of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic in 1954. The peninsula had formerly been a part of the Russian Soviet Socialist Republic.

The Crimea, now an autonomous region within Ukraine, is a predominantly Russian-speaking territory. Since the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union, the Crimea has unsuccessfully sought independence from Ukraine. A 1994 referendum in the Crimea supported demands for a broader autonomy and closer links with Russia.

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