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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin and Kuchma Celebrate Navy Day

SEVASTOPOL, Ukraine — In a display of cordial ties, President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma attended Russia's Navy Day celebrations Sunday in the once-disputed Black Sea port of Sevastopol.

The presidents watched a parade of Russian and Ukrainian military ships that formerly belonged to the Soviet Black Sea Fleet, an air show by Ukrainian MiG-29 and Su-24 warplanes, a paratroop jump and a rocket salvo against an imagined enemy.

Putin and Kuchma later visited the Moskva, the flagship of the Black Sea fleet's Russian portion, where Putin wished prosperity and happiness "to the people of Ukraine as a whole and Crimean residents in particular."

Ukraine and Russia have argued for years over the future of Crimea, which only became part of then-Soviet Ukraine in the 1950s, over mainly ethnic Russian Sevastopol and over ownership of the Black Sea Fleet based there.

Sevastopol today serves as the base for Russia's part of the Black Sea Fleet, which the sides agreed to divide in 1997.

Still, some Russian politicians continue to argue that the historic port must belong to Russia. Among the dignitaries from both sides attending Sunday's event was Moscow's Mayor Yury Luzhkov, who has enraged Ukraine with such statements.

Ties between Russia and Ukraine have been long troubled by these and other frictions but achieved new warmth since Putin came to power. The summit Saturday and Sunday was the two leaders' second meeting in less than a week.

"We shall meet even more often," Putin said Saturday as he and Kuchma attended a ceremony for the consecration of a major and newly restored Orthodox cathedral in Khersones, near Sevastopol. The two leaders had also visited a children's summer camp that day.

Putin and Kuchma are scheduled to attend an informal summit of leaders from former Soviet republics in Sochi next week, and Putin has promised to visit Ukraine next month for celebrations of its 10th anniversary of independence.

On Saturday, Kuchma said in Khersones that the Slavic peoples were united by Orthodox Christianity. "The event that gathered us will become an important landmark in Ukraine's history, in the history of the Orthodox people," he said in remarks cited by Interfax.

Putin said Christian principles bound Russians and Ukrainians together.

"In our unity is our strength," he said. "Such events that let us think and say that our countries and peoples have entered a new phase, one of creation, restoration and construction in the widest sense of the word."

Khersones' restored St. Vladimir Cathedral is built on the site where the Kievan prince Vladimir embraced Orthodox Christianity in the 10th century. The 19th-century cathedral served as a Bolshevik jail during Russia's civil war. It was closed by the Communist authorities in 1924 and ruined in World War II.

Dignitaries, including the two presidents' chiefs of staff, the head of Ukraine's pro-Moscow Orthodox church and Russia's Communist Party chief Gennady Zyuganov, watched the ceremony, in which a cross crowning the 35-meter-high cathedral was consecrated. Hundreds of people gathered at the site chanted: "Russia! Russia!"

Putin left for Sochi on Sunday afternoon.