Russia has decided to stop using military radars built during the Soviet era in Ukraine against the background of Kiev’s bid to become a NATO member.
Russian lawmakers simultaneously voted to extend another deal calling Ukraine to help maintain Russian ballistic missiles. The move displays strong military ties between Russia and Ukraine.
The State Duma voted 388-58 with one abstension to scrap the 1997 agreement with Ukraine which allowed Russia to use data from the radars located near the western town of Mukachevo and the port of Sevastopol on the Crimean Peninsula. The huge facilities were part of a Soviet system of early warning radars intended to spot missile launches.
Deputy Defense Minister Nikolai Pankov said the Ukrainian leadership's push for NATO membership had prompted the military to reconsider the agreement. "This is our response to the Ukrainian government's to quickly join NATO," he said.
Pankov also told lawmakers that the radars were past their designated lifetime and had become too costly to maintain. He said that the facilities had become increasingly unreliable and could produce wrong information on missile launches.
Pankov said Russia had built a new early warning radar near St. Petersburg and would soon commission another one near the southern city of Armavir.
The Communist Party faction opposed the move, saying that the decision would strain ties with Ukraine and hurt Russia's security. "With this decision, we are literally pushing Ukraine to join NATO," said Communist lawmaker Anatoly Lokot.
Earlier this month, Ukraine's President Viktor Yushchenko, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and Parliament Speaker Arseniy Yatsenyuk signed a formal request asking for Ukraine's bid for the Membership Action Plan to be considered at a NATO meeting in Romania in April - a crucial step on the road to joining the alliance.
NATO membership is a highly controversial issue in Ukraine, where opinion polls show that over half of the country opposes it. Pro-Western President Viktor Yushchenko, however, has declared joining NATO a priority.
Ukraine's NATO bid faces strong opposition from Russia, which has been angered by NATO's eastward expansion and deployments close to its borders and argues that the alliance is a Cold War relic that should be replaced by other international security arrangements.
Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov warned earlier this week that Ukraine's bid to join NATO would affect the bilateral military-technical cooperation.
Russia has continued to rely on Ukraine's military industrial complex for supplies of spare parts for Soviet-designed weapons. Underlining this dependence, the Duma on Friday voted 446-0 to ratify an agreement envisaging Ukraine supplying components for the SS-18 Satan missiles, the heaviest nuclear weapons in the Russian military's arsenals.
During the Soviet times, the missiles were manufactured by Ukraine's Yuzhmash missile factory in eastern Ukraine.
"It will help strengthen the positions of our allies - workers of defense plants in Ukraine," lawmaker Sergei Markov of the main pro-Kremlin United Russia faction said during Friday's debates.
Most residents of Ukraine's Russian-speaking east strongly oppose Yushchenko's bid for NATO membership.