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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Crimea Talks End Without Deal

Russian-Ukrainian talks on sharing out the Black Sea Fleet and defusing tensions over Ukraine's Crimean peninsula ended without agreement Wednesday but a Ukrainian minister said the two sides were close to a deal. Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Valery Shmarov told reporters after the talks finished that some technical details still had to be cleared up. He said that participants would take "approximately 10 days off," and "then we plan to meet again and sign the deal," he added. "I think there are good grounds to believe a deal will be reached." Uncertainty over control of the former Soviet fleet only compounds tensions between the two states over the Crimean peninsula where the ships are based. The political leadership of Crimea, a Ukrainian territory with a big Russian majority, last week adopted a new constitution that loosens ties with Kiev and moves the peninsula toward realignment with Russia. Kiev accuses "nationalist forces" in Russia of encouraging the move as a step toward reabsorbing Crimea and then Ukraine itself. Russian hardliners on Wednesday put pressure on Moscow to take a more aggressive stance over Crimea's status. Opposition leader Sergei Baburin, addressing a news conference in Syktyvar in northwestern Russia, said "Ukrainian leaders must understand that Crimea is an integral part of Russia ... If someone tries to trample on Crimea, Russia will have to provide Crimea with all the necessary help," Itar-Tass reported. In Moscow, Former Vice President Alexander Rutskoi said Crimea was what he called "primordial Russian land" and urged both Ukraine and Russia to grant the peninsula "independence and the status of a free-trade zone," the news agency said. President Boris Yeltsin insists he has no claim on the peninsula, part of the Soviet Union until transferred to Ukraine in 1954. Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk, however, detected an imperious lecturing tone in Yeltsin's declaration last week that use of force be ruled out in the dispute. Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev, speaking at a meeting of Baltic leaders in Estonia on Wednesday, also stressed that Russia had no territorial ambitions of any kind. "There is no border question in Europe," he said. "If there were one we would open a Pandora's Box. "I think there is no question of discussing borders, neither with Ukraine nor with Latvia nor Estonia." Nationalist sensitivities run high on both sides and reports of Ukrainian troop movements, denied by authorties in Kiev, have abounded in the Moscow press. The danger facing both sides in the Crimean issue is that the militant Crimean administration could force the issue of autonomy and, ultimately, independence. Kravchuk, in a crisis, could come under strong pressure at home to act decisively to preserve control over the peninsula. The nightmare then is of a Black Sea Fleet, its fate still not formally resolved, being forced to chose allegiance between Russia and Ukraine. The Russian view is that Ukraine should base its ships in Balaklava and Donuzlav, leaving the fleet headquarters of Sevastopol, on the Crimean peninsula, under Russian control, but not sovereignty. Ukraine, however, insists on the right to station some ships in Sevastopol, which would be the headquarters of the Ukrainian fleet as well as of the Russian one. At talks in Sevastopol last month, Russia and Ukraine worked out a formula on dividing the fleet. But the meeting broke up in acrimony over where to base each country's navy. Ethnic Russians make up about 70 percent of the 2.7 million residents of Crimea. Ukraine offered Crimea broad autonomy after independence from Moscow. However, economic collapse prompted Crimeas to elect Russian nationalist Yury Meshkov president in January and vote heavily for closer ties with Moscow in a March referendum. (Reuters, AP)