A Ukraine Foreign Ministry official on Wednesday said his government would object to any increase in strength to Russian naval forces based at a Crimean naval base leased by Moscow, spiking already tense relations between the two former Soviet republics, according to DPA."The (1997 treaty between Russia and Ukraine) makes clear what (Russian) ships may be based in (the Ukrainian province) Crimea ... and no addition to Russian forces that may be based in Ukrainian territory is allowed," said Vasyl Kirilych, a senior Foreign Ministry spokesman.
A treaty signed in 1997 gave Russia rights to base warships in Sevastopol until 2017. Kyiv and the Kremlin already are at odds about the Russian fleet`s future in the region, with the pro-NATO Ukrainian government saying the Russians must go as soon as possible, and nationalist members of the Russian government saying the fleet must stay until 2017, and maybe afterward.
Kirilych technically left the door open for negotiations on replacement of some warships, saying "this can be considered on a type-by-type, class-by-class basis," but ruled out an overall increase in Russian combat power, saying "this is neither acceptable or logical."
Kirilych`s remarks at a Kyiv press conference had come in response to May 30 comments by Admiral Vladimir Vysotskiy, commander of Russia`s navy, arguing Russian Black Sea Fleet warships were aging and required replacement or reinforcement.
Vysotskiy`s Moscow statement raised hackles in Kyiv, where sensitivities are high over a long-term Russian lease of shore installations in the Crimean port Sevastopol, home base of Russia`s Black Sea fleet.
Russia if it wished could increase the number of warships based in Sevastopol from a present 35 to 100, and more than double the number of military personnel from 11,500 to 25,000, Vysotskiy said according to an Interfax news agency report.
Kirilych flatly contradicted Vysotskiy, arguing the treaty listed ships allowed in Sevastopol by name and type, and so precluded any reinforcement by other Russian warships in the future.
The presence of Russian military elements in Crimea is a matter of intense disagreement within the region itself, with majority ethnic Russians generally supporting the idea, and minority ethnic Ukrainians and Tartars opposing the Russian fleet`s being based in Sevastopol.
Boris Gryzlov, speaker of the Russian legislature, in Wednesday remarks in Moscow carried by Interfax warned of "severe repercussions" should Ukraine`s government continue on a path of increased association with NATO, and early exit of Russian forces from Crimea.