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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Dam Feud Threatens Market Pact

APA man throwing a pomegranate at a picture of Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov at a protest at the Russian Embassy in Kiev on Friday.
KIEV -- Ukrainian Foreign Minister Kostyantyn Gryshchenko warned Saturday that Moscow's refusal to halt construction of a dam that Kiev claims threatens Ukraine's sovereignty could scuttle ratification of a common market agreement with Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan.

Ukraine has dispatched border troops to the tiny island of Tuzla as tensions continue mounting in this former Soviet republic over Russia's construction of a dam in the narrow Azov Sea channel separating Ukraine's Crimea from Russia's Tamansky region.

Ukraine claims Moscow failed to get its consent before starting to build the dam in an area Kiev fears will join the tiny island of Tuzla with Russian land and could complicate already tense negotiations over the nations' maritime borders.

"The situation complicates bilateral relations and does not promote ratification [by parliament] of the common market agreement," Gryshchenko told reporters at his first general news conference since becoming Ukraine's top diplomat in September.

President Leonid Kuchma signed an agreement last month to form a common economic market with Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan that sees the free movement of goods, capital and labor as well as common tariffs and customs.

Ukraine's 450-member Verkhovna Rada must approve the agreement before it takes force.

Gryshchenko said "consultations" continued with Russia to solve the issue according to international law and commonly accepted practice, stressing that both sides believe that a conflict "will not occur and should not occur."

A delegation of Russian lawmakers is expected in Kiev this week and Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov is scheduled to visit Oct. 30 to negotiate a resolution to the dispute.

President Vladimir Putin and Kuchma signed a treaty in January delineating the border between the two most populous former Soviet republics. However, the status of the Sea of Azov remains uncertain.

Ukraine remains fearful that Moscow harbors designs on Ukrainian territory, and the resource-rich sea has been the subject of sometimes sharp disputes between the countries.

"This dam construction is only an episode in a much bigger political play involving the delimitation of the sea border between Ukraine and Russia," political analyst Jan Maksymiuk told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

"The Ukrainian coastline encircles at least 70 percent of the sea ... and there are more than 100 oil and natural gas deposits discovered at the bottom of this sea. So it's no wonder that this problem is very important for both Kiev and Moscow," he said.

(AP, MT)