Navy Wants to Keep Sevastopol Base

SEVASTOPOL, Ukraine -- A senior Navy officer said Monday that Moscow wanted to keep its base in Ukraine's Black Sea port of Sevastopol and blamed Ukrainian politicians for calling into question its future.

The port city in the Crimea Peninsula has been home to the Black Sea Fleet for 225 years, though Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko has spoken out against renewing Russia's lease, which will expire in 2017.

While the Navy could move to a Russian base under construction, it is less suitable than Sevastopol, Rear-Admiral Andrei Baranov, the Black Sea fleet's deputy chief said.

"I personally am not going to go away, and nor will our ships. It's all up to our supreme commander to decide," he said, referring to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. "We are not planning to go anyway. There are no options."

He criticized Ukraine's leadership for raising the future status of the port and said the base was being used as a political weapon. "Of course, it's a very advantageous factor for them, to settle their political interests, speculating on our presence here," he told reporters.