Worth the price to strengthen strategic ties: Putin
The Russian and Ukrainian Parliaments on Tuesday simultaneously ratified a landmark agreement to extend the lease of a key Black Sea naval base in Sevastopol to Russia by 25 years.
While in Russia's State Duma the accord sailed through seamlessly, with 410 deputies voting for and none against, in Ukraine's Verhovna Rada the ratification process turned into a violent battle between supporters and opponents of the pact.
In what looked like a street riot, opposition deputies staged fistfights with pro-government MPs, threw eggs at the Speaker and set off smoke bombs in a futile attempt to disrupt voting.
Crouching behind two umbrellas held over him by aides, Speaker Volodymyr Litvyn gave a start to electronic voting. When the winning tally 236-to-0 came on screen, it was hardly visible in the heavy smoke that filled the hall.
The agreement, reached last week by the Russian and Ukrainian Presidents, Dmitry Medvedev and Viktor Yanukovich, extends the Russian Navy's lease of the Sevastopol base by 25 years after the old lease expires in 2017.
The former Ukrainian President, Viktor Yushchenko, who had tried to evict the Russian Navy from Sevastopol even before 2017, denounced the new lease agreement as a “military usurpation” of Ukraine, while the former Prime Minister, Yulia Timoshenko, called it a “black page in the history of Ukraine” and pledged to tear up the pact “as soon as we return to power”.
Under a package deal, Russia has agreed to cut the price of natural gas it supplies to Ukraine by 30 per cent, a discount that will add up to a wobbling $40 billion over the next 10 years.
Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said the price of the naval base extension was “exorbitant,” but was still worth it, as this would pave the way to the strengthening of all-round strategic ties between the two main ex-Soviet Slavic nations.