Russia would like to keep the Black Sea Fleet base in Ukraine`s port of Sevastopol after 2017, the Russian Navy commander said Friday, according to RIA Novosti.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko said Thursday that preparations for the withdrawal by 2017 of Russia`s Black Sea Fleet from Ukrainian territory should begin without delay.

"Russia has never made a secret of its desire to retain its presence in Sevastopol after 2017," Adm. Vladimir Vysotsky said. "After all, it is a natural basing area that has evolved historically."

He added that he "takes it for granted" that an agreement with Ukraine would be eventually achieved.

Vysotsky said the Russian naval presence in Ukraine was beneficial for the local population: In addition to rent, $4 million in special subsidies to the cities of Sevastopol, Feodosia and Gvardeisky from the Russian federal budget, and indirect contributions to local budgets, the fleet provides about 25,000 jobs.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Volodymyr Ohryzko said Tuesday that a bill on preparing for the Russian Black Sea Fleet`s withdrawal from Ukraine`s Crimea by 2017 was ready and would soon be submitted to the Ukrainian parliament.

RIA Novosti