By Oksana Kovalenko, The Ukrayinska Pravda July 24, 2009 Ukraine-Russia relations have been hopping from one scandal to another. This time the natural gas has given way to cruise missiles and armored personnel carriers, APCs.
Over the past several weeks, Ukraine traffic police in Crimea repeatedly halted military trucks of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet hauling, without any authorization from Ukrainian authorities, Malakhit cruise missiles across the city. On July 23, Russia information agencies decried the alleged blocking by Ukraine traffic police of BSF APVs which were taking part in rehearsing the Navy Day military parade in one of Sevastopol’s harbors. Late same day, Russia media disseminated reports about the expulsion by Kyiv of a Russian diplomat stationed in Sevastopol. Hinting at a tit-for-tat expulsion, Russia FM Lavrov called the actions of the Ukrainian authorities a provocation - all this perfectly in line with the standard Russian reaction.
But what is the bottom line of the conflict? Just the wish of Kyiv to make Moscow play by the Ukrainian rules in Ukraine.
Whisking cruse missiles to and fro
The latest halt of 3 trucks with cruse missiles occurred in Sevastopol at 6 a.m. on July 23 near the BSF base. The declared route was across the densely-populated areas of the city. It was the third time the Ukrainian police halted the haulage of dangerous missiles across the city. This time, however, the police escorted the trucks to their destination point.
Moskit and Malakhit Navy cruise missiles bearing conventional or nuclear warheads are used to destroy large vessels. They can hit targets 120 to 150 km away.
The Russians used these missiles during the war with Georgia. Launched from The Mirage cruiser, a missile blew the Georgian Navy Tbilisi out of the water, sinking it within one and a half minutes, witnesses say,
Under the treaty between Ukraine and Russia, hauling missiles requires permissions by Ukrainian authorities.
However, in the wake of the first stops of trucks with missiles the Russia foreign ministry announced that such movements are not prohibited by the treaty.
Such troop movements have taken place before and are in line with the existing agreements on the stationing of the BSF in Crimea, representative of the Russia FM Andrej Nesterenko said.
Several hours after this statement, the Ukrainian traffic police again halted a column with cruise missiles that moved without a permit from Ukraine Defense Ministry.
Commenting to The Ukrayinska Pravda on the repeated movements of missiles in Sevastopol, Ukraine FM spokesman Vasyl Kyrylych stressed that transportation of missiles without permits is against the earlier agreements on the BSF.
Unauthorized movements of missiles indicate that either no permits have been obtained or no application for permits have been made, Kyrylych stressed.
According to Ukraine National Defense and Security Council, a mouthpiece of Pres Yushchenko, the illegal haulage of missiles by the Russian Navy is aimed at deteriorating the relations between Kyiv and Moscow.
“Violations by Russia military in Ukraine have become systemic. Despite warning from Ukraine authorities and the FM, Moscow continues to spurn the agreement on BSF stationing in Crimean, international laws and the laws of Ukraine. As a result, they pose a serious threat to Sevastopol residents and the national security of Ukraine,” the July 24 NDSC statement runs.
“We get the impression that Russia wants to deliberately show its disrespect toward Ukraine’s sovereignty and accustom us to the idea that arbitrary actions of Russia military are routine business. Their purpose, however, is to fan the tensions between the two countries,” the NDSC statement continues.
On July 24, the missile spat was stepped up by loud declarations by Russia media about the expulsion from Crimea of Vladimir Lysenko, a diplomat in charge of BSF issues.
Earlier, Lysenko was close to expulsion in 2007 when, commenting on the Ukrainian demands to hike rental payments for the BSF base, he said this may force Russia to revise the 1997 agreement on the stationing of BSF and on the Crimea peninsula status as part of Ukraine.
The Russian diplomat added that, if Russia withdraws its fleet from Sevastopol, US ships will move in – and no rent will be paid to Ukraine.
Ukraine FM reacted by saying such statements infringe on the independence and integrity of Ukraine and threatened to send Lysenko packing.
Meanwhile, Lutsenko would not elaborate on the allegations of his expulsion by Kyiv. There are indications that he is leaving Ukraine due to scheduled rotation.
Incidentally, the rumor is thick that Moscow is not pleased with Lutsenko’s record, blaming him for inability to forestall the withdrawal of 19 FSB officers from Sevastopol. Kyiv insisted on the withdrawal, saying BSF security matters will be now handled by Ukrainian SBU.
In the light of the latest developments, Ukraine proposed to Russia to replace Lysenko by another diplomat – which is no expulsion demand. Meanwhile, the expulsion issue was deliberately played up by Russia media to intensify the stand-off,a UP source says.
The Russians have already hinted that they are planning a tit-for-tat expulsion of a Ukrainian diplomat in Moscow.