MOSCOW, September 24 (RIA Novosti) - Moscow may offer Ukraine contracts to build aircraft carriers for the Russian Navy, a senior Russian lawmaker told RIA Novosti on Wednesday.
He commented on Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov's statement on Tuesday that Russia could make several lucrative proposals to Ukraine that could convince Kiev to allow Russia's Black Sea Fleet to remain in Sevastopol after 2017, when the lease on the naval base in the Crimea expires.
"We can offer Ukraine extensive and lucrative opportunities in the sphere of shipbuilding. They have the Nikolaev shipyards that used to build aircraft carriers during Soviet times," said Vyacheslav Popov, a former commander of the Northern Fleet who now sits in the upper house of parliament.
"These shipyards are bankrupt and abandoned at present and with mutual consent we could help reactivate them," Popov said.
Russia currently lacks the capacity to build aircraft carriers and modernizing its existing shipyards would be an expensive and lengthy proposition.
Popov said though that this proposal "may become a sensitive issue" as Ukraine's pro-Western president, Viktor Yushchenko, is seeking NATO and EU membership for the country.
Yushchenko has called for the Russian navy's early withdrawal from the Sevastopol base, as well as tougher deployment requirements and higher fees, demands that have not been backed by his former coalition ally, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.
Russia-Ukraine tensions heightened after several Black Sea Fleet warships dropped anchor off the Georgian coast during and after last month's armed conflict with Tbilisi over breakaway South Ossetia.
Ukraine's Foreign Ministry said later Wednesday that Ukrainian and Russian delegations would meet in Kiev Thursday for a new round of discussions on the operation of the base in the context of the Georgia conflict.
"During the consultations Ukraine will set out its position on the Black Sea Fleet's action during crisis situations," the ministry said.
Russia's naval base in the Crimea currently has 50 warships and patrol boats, along with around 80 aircraft, and employs coastal defense troops.