Ukraine Parliament Ratifies Russia Naval Lease as Smoke Bombs, Eggs Thrown
Ukrainian lawmakers loyal to President Viktor Yanukovych ratified a treaty extending the lease on Russia’s Black Sea Fleet as opposition groups hurled eggs and smoke bombs across the chamber in protest.
Yanukovych’s majority pushed through the ratification with 236 votes in the 450-seat parliament in Kiev. In Moscow, Russia’s lower house, the State Duma, backed the treaty, which must also be approved by the upper house, the Federation Council.
The opposition, headed by former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, said yesterday it would seek to block the treaty that allows the fleet to remain until 2042 in exchange for a $40 billion gas subsidy deal from Russia. They say the treaty is illegal as the constitution forbids the stationing of foreign troops in Ukraine. Prime Minister Mykola Azarov said there’s no need for a referendum on the issue after the ratification.
The agreement “violates Ukraine’s national interests, poses a threat for national interests and breaches territorial integrity,” Ivan Kyrylenko, head of Tymoshenko’s parliamentary group, said on television yesterday.
The clashes erupted in the chamber, with lawmakers throwing objects and scuffling, after supporters and opponents of the deal had gathered outside the building. About 7,000 people are involved in the demonstration and some have confronted the police, local news wire Unian reported. Tymoshenko said on television that she will visit the regions of the country to push for early parliamentary elections.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev agreed on April 21 to cut natural gas prices for Ukraine by 30 percent. In return, Ukraine will allow Russia to keep its fleet in the country after the expiry of the current lease in 2017 and increase the amount of gas it imports.
The party of former President Viktor Yushchenko, who sought membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Union, had urged citizens to come to the parliament building to protest, according to a statement on its Web site.
“In exchange for cheap gas, which leaves the economy uncompetitive, they put at risk the most sacred thing for every nation: its independence,” Yushchenko said on April 22. “One should use straw as fuel but one should stay independent.”
The pro-Yanukovych majority in the parliament has the backing of 53 percent of lawmakers.