"Withdrawing the fleet will take a long time," Viktor Yushchenko told a press conference on the results of Ukraine's domestic and foreign policy in the first half of 2008. "The topic of starting talks on Black Sea Fleet withdrawal from Ukraine should be put on the agenda."
Yushchenko recalled that the Ukrainian Constitution banned the country from hosting any foreign military bases on its territory. "I believe this [Russian fleet stationing in Ukraine] should be perceived by the Russian side and others as the Ukrainian state's gesture of goodwill," he said.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Volodymyr Ohryzko said Tuesday that a bill on preparing for the Russian Black Sea Fleet's withdrawal from Ukraine's Crimea by 2017 was ready and would soon be submitted to the Ukrainian parliament.
Frequent disputes have flared up between Russia and Ukraine over the lease of naval facilities on the Crimean peninsula.
Russia's Black Sea Fleet uses the Sevastopol base under an agreement signed in 1997. Yushchenko recently decided not to extend the lease beyond May 28, 2017.
In early June, Russia's lower house of parliament adopted a resolution saying the Russian-Ukrainian cooperation treaty could be denounced if Ukraine joins NATO.
Ukraine's pro-Western leadership has been pursuing NATO membership since Yushchenko's 2004 election. Ukraine failed to secure an agreement on a NATO Membership Action Plan, a key step toward joining the alliance, at the organization's summit in April, but was told the decision would be reviewed in December.