Ukraine warns Russia not to encourage separatists
Russian military ships will have to leave Sevastopol
Ukrainian officials warned Russia on Thursday not to encourage separatist groups in Ukraine and insisted that Russian military ships will have to leave the Black Sea base of Sevastopol when Russia`s lease expires, The Associated Press reported.
The comments revealed the deep tensions between Ukraine and its neighbor to the north following Russia`s war with Georgia in August.
Ukraine fears that Moscow may try to encourage a separatist movement on the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea, which hosts Russia`s Black Sea fleet.
Russian and Ukrainian diplomats met in Kiev for the latest round of talks on the future of the Russian Black Sea fleet, stationed at Sevastopol on a lease agreement until 2017.
Moscow has insisted it does not want to leave the strategic port and has offered to pay more to continue using it. But Defense Minister Yury Yekhanurov remained firm, saying the deal will not be extended after 2017.
"Come that year and Ukraine will be left without foreign bases on its territory," he told reporters Thursday.
Meanwhile, Marina Ostapenko, a spokeswoman for Ukraine`s Security Service, said the government will resist attempts by Russian extremists to recruit Ukrainians to their separatist cause.
Russia`s recognition of the Georgian rebel regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states following a war last month has only stoked those fears. Crimea long belonged to the Russian empire and the majority of Crimeans are ethnic Russians, many of whom feel close to Moscow.
Ostapenko accused Russian special services of backing extremist groups in Georgia`s breakaway regions and Moldova`s separatist province of Trans-Dniester and vowed that Ukraine would not allow such activities.
"We will not allow for our citizens to be dragged into such things and their expansion in Ukraine," Ukraine`s Security Service chief Valentyn Nalyvaychenko said at a news conference.
Russian officials have denied claims that Moscow has plans to encroach on Ukraine`s sovereignty.
Ukrainian officials have accused Russia of staging a mass handout of passports in Crimea — just like it did to residents of South Ossetia and Abkhazia prior to last month`s war.
Russia then justified its invasion of Georgia saying it needed to defend its citizens. Kiev fears Moscow may be preparing for the same scenario in Crimea.
Russia has dismissed the allegations, saying it is granting citizenship to ethnic Russians who want to return to their homeland.