Kiev (Ukraine): As protesters threw eggs and set off smoke bombs, Ukraine`s parliament on Tuesday extended the Russian Black Sea Fleet`s lease at a Crimean port for another 25 years. Russia`s parliament ratified the deal in a more sedate session.
The agreement, reached last week by the two country`s presidents in a clear sign of Russia`s renewed influence in Ukraine, extends the fleet`s lease by 25 years after the old lease expires in 2017.
Former President Viktor Yushchenko adamantly tried to move Ukraine out of Moscow`s shadow and closer to Western Europe during his five years in office. But his successor, Viktor Yanukovych, who took office in February, is more favorably inclined toward the Kremlin.
The extension outraged Ukrainian nationalists who regard the fleet`s presence as tantamount to Russian occupation.
"This is a permanent threat to Ukraine`s territorial integrity because the Black Sea Fleet is the outpost of the Russian state in Ukraine, which is conducting anti-Ukrainian policies and financing anti-Ukrainian projects. In general, this is the work of (Russian) special services on Ukrainian territory," said Igor Derevyanko, one of several thousand demonstrators who gathered outside the parliament.
The voting session was unruly even by the Ukrainian parliament`s notoriously freewheeling standards.
Opponents of the measure threw eggs at parliament speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn as he opened the session and he spent much of the rest of it shielded by an umbrella held by an aide. Two smoke bombs went off and deputies shouted defiantly over the squeal of a smoke alarm.
The extension passed with 236 votes in the 450-member parliament, but opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko vowed it wouldn`t last.
"Parliament ratified this agreement on a treacherous path. We will change it as soon as we return to power," she said, according to the ITAR-Tass news agency.
That was the concern of some of the few Russian parliament members who abstained from voting when the measure passed in the State Duma 410-0.
"There`s no certainty that the agreement will be fulfilled by the Ukrainian side," said Vladimir Zhirinovsky, leader of the nationalist Liberal Democratic party. "In 10 years there may be another Yushchenko in power."
In return for the lease extension, Russia agreed to significant discounts on natural gas exports to Ukraine. High gas costs are one of the factors driving Ukraine`s economy to the precipice amid the global economic downturn, and the reduced prices are likely to stave off some economic troubles, thereby bolstering Yanukovych`s popularity.
Russia claims the steep discount of roughly 33 percent won`t seriously undermine its own economy, of which gas export is a critical element. But Zhirinovsky complained in the State Duma session that the discount was unnecessary.