Ukraine Bans Moscow Mayor Over Sevastopol Row
KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine on Monday banned future visits by Moscow mayor Yury Luzhkov after he called for the return of the port of Sevastopol to Kremlin control.
Ukraine's secret police the SBU issued the ban, citing a controversial speech by Luzhkov during a visit to the Black Sea peninsula Crimea, during which Luzhkov argued the port Sevastopol was not legitimate Ukrainian territory, and that Russia should reassert sovereignty over the city.
Luzkov's remarks were 'inflammatory ... and in direct violation of a warning issued by the SBU...to citizen Luzhkov to abide by the laws and Constitution of Ukraine,' SBU spokeswoman Maria Ostapenko said.
The SBU will also investigate possible money laundering by Luzhkov in Crimea, and if evidence of criminal activity is found will seek to prosecute him, she added.
Luzkhov, although not a designated representative of the Kremlin, has acted as an unofficial spokesman for Russian Foreign Ministry policy aimed at greater influence by Moscow over its southern neighbour Ukraine, for more than a decade.
Tens of millions of dollars in unofficial Russian payments to selected Crimean businesses and citizens over the years have been dispensed by Luzkkov in the form of 'voluntary contributions' by the Moscow city government.
Ukrainian government agencies had criticised Luzhkov in the past, and even called for his designation as a persona non grata.
The Monday SBU announcement marked the first time Luzkhkov had actually been banned from the territory of Ukraine, or his government's payments into the Crimean economy publicly questioned as possibly illegal.
The Moscow mayor had been in Sevastopol, home port for Russia's Black Sea Fleet, to help observe simultaneous Russian military ceremonies marking the 63rd anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany, and the 225th anniversary of the founding of Russia's Black Sea fleet.
'I have been told stay quiet (by the SBU), but I will tell the truth,' Luzhkov said in a Sunday speech. 'And the truth is Sevastopol was never made part of Ukraine (by the Soviet Union)... and so we (Russia) should re-open the question of Sevastopol's status.'
Ukraine's Foreign Ministry in a statement linked Luzkhkov's remarks directly to the Kremlin, calling his comments 'a planned operation aimed at breaking the positive dynamics of Ukraine-Russian relations ... and open interference in Ukraine's internal affairs,' said Vasyl Kyrilych, a Foreign Ministry spokesman.
Russian signature of a 1997 treaty ceding all claims to Ukrainian territory, in exchange for fleet basing rights in Sevastopol, make the city indisputably Ukrainian and Luzhkov's claims groundless, Ukrainian diplomats have argued.
Relations between Ukraine and its giant northern neighbour Russia have deteriorated in recent months over a host of disputes, among them an effort by the Ukrainian government to begin accession to join NATO, and Russian punitive oil and gas pricing aimed at undermining Ukrainian government's hostility to the Kremlin.
Sevastopol last week became the latest focus in the long-running Russo-Ukrainian row, when Russian plans to hold a military parade down the main street of Sevastopol with armored combat vehicles delivered by naval warship were cancelled, after the Sevastopol city government refused to issue the vehicles parade permits.
Adding insult to Russian injury, Ukrainian authorities permitted a US Marine detatchment to march in an infantry-only parade through the city led by Russian and Ukrainian Marines.
State-controlled Russian media harshly criticised the move, calling the US Marines' presence in Sevastopol, a military city closed during the Soviet era to foreign visitors, an open insult to Russia.
Dozens of pro-Russia and pro-Ukraine activists in Sevastopol came to blows during Luzhkov's visit, with the Ukrainian nationalists shouting 'Muscovites out!' and the Great Russia supporters retaliating with fists and throwing eggs.
Ukraine's Crimea peninsula is ethnically mixed, with a dominant ethnic Russian majority sometimes in conflict with Ukrainian and Tartar minorities.
Source: Deutsche Presse-Agentur