KIEV, July 11 (RIA Novosti) – Moscow has officially informed Kiev that it will not use a carrier-deck pilot training site in Crimea this year, the Ukrainian Defense Ministry told RIA Novosti on Thursday.
Under a 1997 bilateral agreement, Russia has occasionally used Ukraine's Nitka Naval Pilot Training Center as the only training facility for its carrier-based fixed-wing pilots.
“Russia notified the Ukrainian Defense Ministry in a letter dated April 24 that it had no plans to use the Nitka facility in 2013,” the ministry said, adding that no contracts on the lease of Nitka to other countries had been signed so far.
The site has only been used by Russia to train Northern Fleet carrier pilots, who fly Su-33 naval fighter jets and Su-25UTG conversion trainers stationed on Russia’s only aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov.
The Russian Defense Ministry has previously asked the Ukrainian Defense Ministry to lease the training site to Russia. However, the sides failed to clinch a firm deal during talks in March.
Russia’s Navy Commander Admiral Viktor Chirkov said in May that the bulk of pilot training would be carried out during the Admiral Kuznetsov’s mission in the Mediterranean, scheduled for December.
He also said Russia would soon start using its own naval pilot training facility, which has been built in the city of Yeisk, on Russia's Black Sea coast.
The Nitka center was built in the Soviet era for pilots to practice taking off and landing from aircraft carrier decks. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the facility remained under Ukraine’s control.
The center provides facilities such as a launch pad that simulates the Admiral Kuznetsov’s flight deck, a catapult launch device and arrester wires, a glide-path localizer, a marker beacon, and an optical landing system.
The Russian Defense Ministry said last year that it was paying about $700,000 annually to rent the Nitka center and was willing to upgrade the facility.