Monday, October 20, 2008

Russia - from Ukraine to Yemen?

According to Russia's deputy prime minister, the Russian Navy could leave the Black Sea port of Sevastopol by 2017, while the speaker of Russia's Parliament said that Russia could look to reopen a Soviet-era base in the country of Yemen.

Deputy PM Sergei Lavrov told the BBC that Russia will leave Sevastopol if an extension to the lease they have with Ukraine for the naval base there can't be worked out. Sevastopol is another problem left over from the breakup of the Soviet Union. For more than 200 years Russia's Black Sea fleet has been based in Sevastopol, which (like the rest of the Crimean region) was part of Russia. Then in 1954, in an act of goodwill, the Soviet Union gave the Crimea to Ukraine. At the time it wasn't considered a big deal since Russia and Ukraine were both part of the big, happy Soviet family. Then the Soviet Union broke up in 1991...

Since then Russia has been renting Sevastopol from Ukraine, but as relations between Ukraine and Russia have been souring and Ukraine has been eager to get the Russian Navy out of their port. Governments in the West (the US and UK mostly) have been worried that after the recent conflict with Georgia, Russia might try to keep Sevastopol, and the rest of Crimea for that matter, lease or no lease. But Lavrov seems to now be striking a different tone, at least as far as the base is concerned.

Russia, though, has been looking at other homes for their navy. They are currently renovating facilities in the Syrian port Tartus for use by their navy, which would give them a presence in the Mediterranean Sea. Now Sergei Mironov, speaker of Russia's upper house of parliament, said that Russia is looking to head back to Yemen, the little country at the bottom of the very strategic Arabian Peninsula.

Yemen was once two countries, North and South Yemen, with the South being socialist and an ally of the Soviet Union. That ended in the early Nineties when Yemen reunified and the Soviet Union fell apart. Now the Russians are looking at once again using the port facilities in Aden, according to Speaker Mironov.

Russia has been showing more and more interest in Africa recently. They have sent a ship to help intercept the hijacked Ukrainian shipload of tanks taken by pirates a few weeks ago off the coast of Somalia, and they have been in talks with the Somali government over future cooperation. A base in Aden would be a natural location to launch anti-piracy operations off the coast of Africa, and would help to extend Russia's military influence beyond its borders.
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