The Ukrainian parliament committee for international affairs on Monday recommended the Supreme Rada against ratifying a new deal extending Russia's use of a naval base in Crimea.
The deal, signed by the Russian and Ukrainian presidents on April 21, extends the lease on the Russian base in the port of Sevastopol for 25 years after the current lease expires in 2017, and may be further extended by another five years.
Deputy Speaker Mykola Tomenko, from the political bloc of former Ukrainian prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, said the committee "has decided not to endorse this agreement" on the grounds that it was at odds with the Ukrainian Constitution.
He also said the committee believes the agreement should be sent to the Constitutional Court to pass judgment on whether it conforms to Article 17 that explicitly prohibits the deployment of foreign military bases on Ukrainian soil.
He said 10 of the 14 committee members were present at the session and that eight of them voted against the deal.
Ukraine signed the agreement, which the opposition has called an "act of treason," in exchange for securing a 30% discount for the Russian natural gas supplies.
Oleh Lyashko, another lawmaker and member of the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc (YTB), said the party may be forced to attack its opponents during a debate on the deal's ratification.
He also said that the ratification could lead to a referendum on Crimea, with its majority Russian-speaking population, breaking away from Ukraine and joining Russia.
Tymoshenko has called the deal with Russia an "outrageous trade-off" and another "unconstitutional" move by President Viktor Yanukovych, who has vowed to turn a "new page" in relations with Russia.
The Ukrainian opposition earlier said any prolongation of Russian military presence in the country would require amendments to the Constitution and a national referendum. It said Yanukovych should be impeached for signing an unconstitutional agreement.
RIA Novosti analyst Peter van Dyk says the deal will "set a marker for how far the administration of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych can go in moving Kiev closer to Moscow."
The debate is scheduled for Tuesday and the deal could be ratified by a simple majority of 226 votes in the 450-seat parliament. However, the opposition has threatened to block access to the speaking rostrum.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov has welcomed the deal, calling it a "great victory for President Viktor Yanukovych."
Azarov said the 10-year gas discount would allow the Ukrainian government to modernize the country's economy, which shrank 15% in 2009. The discount will cost Russia an estimated $3-$4 billion a year through 2017.
The Russian lower house of parliament, the State Duma, is also due to vote on the deal's ratification on Tuesday. State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov has indicated he has no doubts it will be ratified and expressed hope the Ukrainian parliament would do the same.
KIEV, April 26 (RIA Novosti)