Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko Wednesday ruled out Russia`s Black Sea fleet staying in Ukraine after its lease ends in 2017, a day after Moscow voiced interest in keeping it there longer, according to AFP.Asked whether Ukraine would consider extending the Russian fleet`s lease on the port of Sevastopol, Tymoshenko said: "We need to maintain this agreement until 2017 and then we need to make Ukraine a zone free of any military bases."
Moscow has been angered by Ukrainian demands that it quickly relocate the historic fleet.
The dispute has been aggravated by Ukrainian moves to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, prompting some Western politicians to predict it could spark a new crisis in a region destabilized by Russia`s incursion last month into Georgia.
Ukraine infuriated Moscow during that conflict by imposing restrictions on the use of the port after ships stationed there were used in combat against close Ukraine ally Georgia.
Under a 20-year agreement signed in 1997, Moscow pays $98 million a year to maintain its naval base in Sevastopol, an amount which some Ukrainians say is much too small for its oil-rich neighbor.
Experts say it would cost Russia tens of billions of dollars to build comparable facilities at its own Black Sea port of Novorossiysk, which now serves as an auxiliary base.