KIEV (Reuters) - Russian President Dmitry Medvedev told Ukraine on Tuesday that the doors to a Russia-led security bloc were always open and pledged that the Russian navy based in a Ukrainian port would never attack its neighbors.
The Kremlin leader sought to draw Russia’s ex-Soviet neighbor closer to Moscow’s vision of European security on the last day of a visit in which the two sides have agreed to renew long-term cooperation after five years of cold relations.
Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich, who has tilted policy toward Moscow since succeeding the pro-Western Viktor Yushchenko, has aroused the wrath of his political opponents by agreeing to extend the Russian navy’s stay in Ukraine’s Crimea until 2042 in return for cheaper gas.
In a bid to shore up Yanukovich at home, Medvedev defended the fleet’s presence in the Black Sea port of Sevastopol as a guarantee of stability in the region.
“Will Russia use its Black Sea fleet to attack neighboring states? No, it will not,” he told a gathering of university students in Kiev.
He made no mention of the deployment of the fleet’s flagship, the rocket cruiser Moskva, to blockade the Georgian port of Poti in 2008 during Russia’s brief summer war with Georgia.
Yanukovich has endeared himself to Moscow by pushing possible membership of NATO — pursued by his predecessor — off the agenda, but during Medvedev’s two-day visit, he stressed Ukraine’s neutral status as a “non-bloc state.”
Medvedev, however, told him that if Ukraine’s circumstances ever changed the doors of the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) remained open.
“If in the future you would consider it proper to join the CSTO, we would be happy to invite you and accept you,” Medvedev said in Kiev. “The CSTO is not the Warsaw Pact... we do not need confrontation with NATO or other military blocs.”
The CSTO includes Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
Members have conducted military exercises and in recent years some of them agreed to set up a peacekeeping force and a rapid reaction force.
Medvedev, in comments clearly directed at U.S. and NATO ship movements in the Black Sea, said Russia was always uneasy “when foreign ships which have no links with the Black Sea basin demonstrate something or other.”
The Ukrainian parliament later authorized a series of naval exercises, involving the United States, other NATO allies and Ukraine, in the Black Sea in summer.
Last year, the Ukrainian parliament defied then-president Yushchenko and refused to allow the U.S.-led multinational Sea Breeze military exercise to take place.
But pro-Yanukovich deputies, who have a majority in the parliament, on Tuesday ensured a heavy vote in favor of allowing Sea Breeze and other exercises to go ahead this year.
Writing by Richard Balmforth; editing by Ralph Boulton