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With Ukraine's blessing, Russia to beef up its Black Sea Fleet

Moscow's upgrade to its Black Sea Fleet – headquartered with Ukraine's blessing at Sevastopol – could make waves around the Black Sea, where NATO has a strong presence.

By Correspondent / October 25, 2010

In this Sept. 11, 2008 file photo, the Russian missile cruiser Moskva sits anchored in the Black Sea port of Sevastopol, Ukraine.

Sergei Chuzavkov/AP/File



Just a year ago Ukraine was insisting that Russia would be required to vacate the Crimean naval base of Sevastopol when its old lease expired in 2017. That would have posed serious problems for Russian Navy's Black Sea Fleet, which is headquartered there.

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But today, after pro-Moscow President President Viktor Yanukovych took office in February, Russia appears completely secure in its military foothold on Ukrainian soil until at least 2042. In a quiet announcement Monday, Moscow revealed that – with Ukrainian consent – it will "upgrade" its Black Sea fleet over the next decade with at least 18 new warships, including six new frigates, six submarines, two giant troop-landing ships, and new squadrons of naval aircraft.

"I am quite sure that the Russian Black Sea fleet will stay in Ukraine till doomsday," says Kirill Frolov, an expert with the official Russian Institute of Commonwealth of Independent States.

The Russian naval upgrade is likely to cause waves around the Black Sea, which is bordered by NATO members Romania, Bulgaria, and Turkey, as well as Ukraine and Georgia.

The NATO aspirations of Ukraine and Georgia, both former Soviet republics, had stirred strong concerns in Moscow. But with NATO rules stipulating that member countries may not host non-NATO foreign military bases on their soil, Mr. Yanukovych's agreement to prolong Russia's grip on Sevastopol would seem to block Ukraine from even considering joining the alliance for decades to come.

The tilt toward Moscow

Since the narrow electoral victory Mr. Yanukovych in February, Ukraine's previous pro-Western drift has gone into sharp reverse. The Slavic neighbors now seem headed into a full strategic embrace.

Under former President Viktor Yushchenko, Ukraine was committed to quickly joining NATO, but Mr. Yanukovych put an end to that last April by quietly closing down the government commission that was preparing for the move.