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    Ukraine ready to settle Kerch Strait dispute with Russia

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    KIEV, January 17 (RIA Novosti) - Ukraine's president said his country was ready to resolve the use of the Kerch Strait on the border with Russia if its neighbor recognized the Soviet-era administrative borderline as the state border.

    Russian-Ukrainian border talks have stalled over division of the Kerch Strait, the Baltic Sea and the Sea of Azov. Confrontation over Tuzla Island in the Kerch Strait between the two seas erupted in the summer of 2003 when Russia's attempt to construct a dam there provoked a bitter dispute with its neighbor, which accused Russia of encroaching on its territory.

    "We are prepared to discuss these issues with Russia and find a compromise in exchange for recognition of the administrative border in the Kerch Strait as the Ukrainian-Russian state border," President Viktor Yushchenko told a news conference in Donetsk in eastern Ukraine, adding that he hoped for progress on the issue.

    While Russia remains committed to the Kerch agreement signed in 2003 by Russian President Vladimir Putin and his then Ukrainian counterpart Leonid Kuchma, Ukraine has proposed changing the status of the Azov Sea from territorial to international waters.

    "We believe that using the [Soviet-time] administrative border as the state border fully corresponds to relevant international principles and norms," the Ukrainian leader said, adding that Russia had applied the same principle in establishing the post-Soviet borders with its Baltic neighbors.

    "For today, working groups of both countries have had 25 sessions on the issue, and the maritime border in the Sea of Azov, the Kerch Strait and the Black Sea have yet to be resolved," Yushchenko said, adding that the issue would be the focus of the bilateral interstate commission led by the two presidents.

    During the latest round of talks on the Kerch Strait in Kiev, Yushchenko said he had signaled Ukraine's readiness to sign agreements with Russia on navigation, environmental safety and the defense use of the strait given a clear borderline in the area.

    The president also said talks on another disputed issue, the Azov maritime border, had made substantial progress in the past seven to eight months. "We had to agree on the starting points of the borderline on both coasts of the Sea of Azov, and we are now discussing the middle dividing line," Yushchenko said.

    He added that Russia advocated shared use of the Sea of Azov, while Ukraine wanted the sea to be clearly divided in accordance with international regulations. Negotiations are therefore entering a new phase, the president said.

    The Ukrainian president was also upbeat about negotiations on the Black Sea borderline. "On the Black Sea, we will find an agreement," he said.

    A senior Russian diplomat, Valery Kenyaikin, said in June that talks on the Black Sea had made serious headway and that Russian negotiators had submitted a draft agreement on the issue.

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