Open

Coming up

Don't miss

Replay


LATEST SHOWS

MEDIAWATCH

Is Carla Bruni against a political comeback for Sarkozy?

Read more

DEBATE

Clone of Pakistan Protests: Democracy put the test (Part Two)

Read more

DEBATE

Pakistan Protests: Democracy put the test (Part One)

Read more

ENCORE!

The French Maestro of Soul

Read more

FOCUS

US tobacco giants want lion's share of e-cigarette business

Read more

ENCORE!

Bold and bonkers: Kate Bush is back on stage

Read more

THE INTERVIEW

Simon Serfaty, US foreign policy specialist

Read more

IN THE PAPERS

'It's a War, Stupid!'

Read more

BUSINESS DAILY

French PM calls on ECB to go further to help economy

Read more

  • UN backs inquiry of IS group’s alleged crimes in Iraq

    Read more

  • French education ministry picture sparks racist abuse

    Read more

  • US military targets al Shabaab Islamists in Somalia

    Read more

  • Obama calls for higher wages amid 'revving' US economy

    Read more

  • Video: Ukraine’s children return to school as fighting rages on

    Read more

  • Americans detained in North Korea call for US help

    Read more

  • US urges Israel to reverse West Bank land seizure

    Read more

  • Lesotho PM calls for regional peacekeeping force after ‘coup’

    Read more

  • Ukrainian forces retreat from Luhansk airport after clashes

    Read more

  • Teddy Riner, France’s unstoppable judo champion

    Read more

  • Death toll rises in Paris apartment building blast

    Read more

  • Iraqi forces free Amerli in biggest victory over IS militants since June

    Read more

  • French police arrest hungry hedgehog hunters

    Read more

  • Tripoli under control of militias, says government

    Read more

  • Monaco’s Falcao set for Man Utd loan on transfer deadline day

    Read more

  • Spain orders custody for parents of ill British boy

    Read more

Europe

A Russian base on the Crimean peninsula is East-West flashpoint

Text by Leela JACINTO

Latest update : 2010-04-27

The pandemonium in the Ukrainian parliament over Tuesday’s vote to extend the lease of a Russian naval base on the Crimean peninsular underscores the emotional intensity surrounding a Russian military presence in the former Soviet state.

Scenes on Tuesday of Ukrainian parliamentarians hurling eggs, smoke-bombs and throwing punches like high school kids in a cafeteria brawl stunned the international community. The brouhaha was in response to a vote extending the lease of a Russian base in Ukraine.
 
But the parliamentary pandemonium underlines the depth of feeling about this explosive issue in a divided Ukraine.
 
At the heart of the dispute lies a Russian naval base on Ukraine’s Black Sea coast that has turned into a flashpoint for Russian and Western interests.
 
The Black Sea Fleet's base is located on the northern coast of the Black Sea on the
Crimean peninsula in the historically important city of Sevastopol. For Russians, Sevastopol is steeped in history. It has been home to a Russian naval base since czarist days and into the Soviet era. The city was the focus of the Crimean War between Russia and an alliance of Britain and France in the 1850s. During World War II, it turned into a symbol of resistance before the city fell to the Nazis.
 
The Crimean peninsular has for long played a critical role in international affairs. Following the allied victory in World War II, the victorious leaders gathered in the Crimean city of Yalta to discuss Europe’s post-war reorganization.
 
During the Soviet era, the lush peninsular was a popular destination for Soviet and East German tourists.
 
 
On the frontline of NATO’s sphere of influence
 
Today, the base in Sevastopol is a critical means of extending Moscow’s influence on the former Soviet state especially since it’s on the frontline of NATO’s sphere of influence.
 
While Ukraine is not a NATO member, the country applied for membership under the government of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, a staunchly anti-Moscow politician.
 
Ukraine’s current pro-Moscow president, Viktor Yanukovich, who took office earlier this year, has maintained that NATO membership is not on the agenda.
 
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has maintained that the extension of the Russian base's lease does not affect Ukraine’s prospects of eventually joining NATO. But under the current administration, the chances of that are slim.
 
For Ukrainian opponents of this lease extension, its proximity to Georgia caused consternation during the 2008 Russia-Georgia conflict. Tens of thousands of Russian troops, as well as warships, submarines and aircraft carriers from the Black Sea Fleet base took part in the conflict, alarming Ukrainian politicians such as Yushchenko, who forged close ties with a West-leaning Tbilisi.
 
In Georgia, the extension of the Sevastopol lease is being monitored with growing alarm.
 
Under the terms of the latest deal between Ukraine and Russia, the lease has been extended for another 25 years after 2017 – when the current lease ends – with the further option of another five-year extension after 2042.
 
 
For gas and money
 
Supporters of the lease extension say the deal was an economic necessity.  
 
In exchange for maintaining its base in Crimea, Moscow agreed to grant Ukraine a 30 percent discount on Russian natural gas, estimated to be worth 40 billion dollars over the next 10 years.
 
Ukraine’s economy has been faring poorly since the financial crisis began, and the gas-price cut is expected to help stabilize its budget.
 
Shortly after the lease vote went through on Tuesday, parliament adopted the 2010 state budget, which is key for securing 12 billion dollars in credit from the International Monetary Fund.
 
Behind the pandemonium in parliament on Tuesday, there were economic imperatives, geopolitical games and deep emotional and historical resonance at play.

Date created : 2010-04-27

COMMENT(S)