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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kiev Rejects Proposal to Renew Sevastopol Lease

Ukraine on Thursday rejected President Vladimir Putin's proposal to extend the Russian military's lease on the Black Sea port of Sevastopol.

Ukrainian Defense Minister Anatoliy Hrytsenko said his country would uphold the 1997 agreement that allows the Russian navy to remain in Sevastopol until 2017. But when that expires, Ukraine would expect Russia's Black Sea Fleet to leave, Hrytsenko said, according to his office.

"I am convinced that there shouldn't be and won't be any permanent foreign military base on Ukrainian territory, whether it be members of NATO, members of the Tashkent agreement or the Commonwealth of Independent States collective security agreement," Hrytsenko said.

During a televised call-in show Wednesday, Putin said Russia would be interested in discussing an extension of the Sevastopol lease.

Russia pays Ukraine $93 million per year to base its fleet in Sevastopol. The presence of Russian troops in Ukraine has sparked anger among Ukrainian nationalists and given rise to a number of disputes between Ukraine and Russia over who has ownership of lighthouses and other property in the region.

Analysts had suggested that in exchange for promising Ukraine a below-market rate for gas imports for several years, Ukraine might agree to extend the port's lease to the Russian navy. Hrytsenko, however, insisted that no such talks were underway.

"If someone is carrying out such talks, they are behind the scenes, secret, and ultimately, illegal," Hrytsenko said.

Hrytsenko is an appointee of Ukraine's pro-Western President Viktor Yushchenko, who was in Helsinki on Thursday in advance of an EU-Ukraine summit scheduled for Friday.

Yushchenko reiterated the importance of closer integration with Europe. "We hope that the discussions tomorrow will present us with a good initiative, with a clear mandate ... for our role in the future negotiations with the EU," Yushchenko said. "One of the strategic goals is to get a European perspective in our foreign policy."

On Friday, the Ukrainian leader will participate in a summit with EU officials, which is expected to launch negotiations on an economic and political cooperation agreement. Ukraine hopes for eventual membership in the EU but the bloc is noncommittal amid growing wariness over expansion as it prepares to take in Romania and Bulgaria and is engaged in negotiations with Croatia and Turkey.