Eggs flying in Parliament, Ukraine approves deal for closer Russia ties
The Ukraine parliament approved a deal today to extend a Russia naval lease on Sevastopol in exchange for cheaper gas, despite an egg-throwing fracas by enraged opposition members.
Amid smoke bombs and flying eggs hurled by enraged opposition deputies, Ukraine's parliament on Tuesday controversially agreed to extend the Russian Navy's lease on the Crimean port of Sevastopol for 25 years in exchange for billions of dollars worth of discounted Russian gas.Skip to next paragraph
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"Today will go down as a black page in the history of Ukraine and the Ukrainian parliament," said Yulia Tymoshenko, the former prime minister who was narrowly defeated by pro-Moscow Viktor Yanukovich for the presidency in February polls.
Opposition leaders say it effectively maintains the Black Sea as a Russian-dominated lake, and compels Ukraine to involuntarily back Moscow's military actions such as the Russian Navy's blockade of Georgia during the brief 2008 war between Russia and Georgia.
News agencies reported that 10,000 protesters rallied outside the parliament in central Kiev (Kyiv) Tuesday shouting, "Don't sell Ukraine to Russia" and "Death to the traitors." But lawmakers inside ratified the deal with 236 votes, a 10-seat majority in the 450-member Supreme Rada.
And that may be just the start. Ukraine's dizzying geopolitical about-face appears to be picking up speed.
Experts say that Ukraine has been rapidly realigning itself away from the West and toward Moscow since the electoral triumph of Mr. Yanukovich, who heads the eastern Ukraine-based Party of Regions.
Yanukovich and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev have met five times since the February elections, including a meeting in Kharkov last week where the Ukrainian leader signed the naval accord in return for a 30 percent discount, worth about $40 billion over the next decade, in the price of Russian natural gas – upon which Ukraine's foundering economy is deeply dependent.
"Ukrainian politicians today have to be tough pragmatists," says Mikhail Pogrebinsky, director of the independent Center for Political and Conflict Studies in Kiev. "Half of our trade turnover is with Russia, and we just can't afford to be in a state of conflict with them. It's a practical and unsentimental deal."
Some analysts say Yanukovich may be ready to embrace a sweeping restoration of Soviet-era economic ties, including a customs union and joint industrial strategy, between Russia and Ukraine that has been long advocated by Moscow.
The 2004 Orange Revolution interrupted those plans. The peaceful street revolt overturned an election allegedly rigged by Yanukovich and brought pro-Western President Viktor Yushchenko to power pledging to put Ukraine on a fast-track to NATO membership and integration with the European Union.