To say that Ukraine’s decision to host a Russian naval base for 25 more years caused a tremendous stir in Ukraine would be putting it mildly. The reason you ask? It is the agreement between Ukraine and Russia to let the Russian fleet continue being stationed at Sevastopol, Ukraine. The unruly parliament used everything on their hands to show their disagreements – eggs and smoke bombs were dropped and umbrellas were used to shelter the parliamentarians – everything was happening on the floor.
The cause of this commotion was the agreement by the Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, to let the Black Sea Fleet stationed at Sevastopol remain there until 2042. This deal will see Ukraine get a 30 percent cut in the price of Russian gas for the duration of the agreement, which will provide a much needed boon to the Ukrainian economy.
Emotions were without a doubt running high, as was apparent from the scenes inside the Ukrainian parliament. Fistfights, eggs fights and smoke bombs were all a part of the entire scene as the decision was unraveled by the speaker – who himself was pelted with eggs and took shelter behind an umbrella. The parliament in short, was the designated battlefield for the disgruntled nationalists’ who see the step as eliminating ‘sovereignty’ of the Ukraine
The Russian fleet has traditionally been stationed in Ukraine at Sevastopol since the 18th century – since the rule of Catherine the Great. However, after Ukraine’s independence from the Soviet Union that the fleet stationed at Sevastopol was due for departure in 2017.
Ukraine’s former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and former President Viktor Yushchenko are leading the Ukrainian nationalists, and they see the deal as the betrayal of Ukraine’s interests, nationally. Yushchenko and his followers are considered to be pro-Western and were looking for Ukraine’s inclusion in the NATO during the time when he was the President.
They see the deal to keep the Black Sea Fleet stationed at Sevastopol as harmful for Ukraine in the long run. Analysts believe that the deal will also harm the Western efforts which wanted to support Ukraine’s transition to democracy. Russian influence on the region which NATO was planning to use as its base is also a cause for concern for many.
The agreement will significantly improve Ukraine’s ties with Russia which had been strained during Tymoshenko’s government – which promoted a more pro-Western agenda. But the current Prime Minister Yanukovych argues that strained relations and pro-Western agenda were damaging Ukraine’s relations with its powerful neighbor and were hampering development in the country. The fleet Yanukovych believes, does not in any way endanger Ukraine’s national interests, rather a 30 percent cut in the price of gas will open up many avenues for Ukraine.
The agreement has shown that the rift between the two is quite apparent. Yanukovych’s opponents deem the agreement as unconstitutional, but the constitution itself in this regard is ambiguous and contains contradictory articles. They also believe that this will provide the platform for Russia to drag Ukraine into its future conflicts with other ‘powers’. Tymoshenko argues that with this deal, Ukraine has clearly signed itself on a path of destruction.
There is no doubt that a 30 percent cut in gas prices will prove to be a huge boon for flailing Ukraine, but it remains to be seen as to what the atmosphere inside the country will be like. On the Russian end though, President Dmitry Medvedev’s deal with Ukraine is seen as a diplomatic coup which puts Russia firmly in the driving seat.