First Russian navy ship returns to Ukrainian base

SEVASTOPOL, Ukraine (Reuters) – The first Russian navy ship returned to base in the Black Sea on Friday from operations against Georgia.

A Reuters correspondent said about 100 Ukrainian protesters, brought by bus by a local party from a nearby town, marched through the Crimean port of Sevastopol as the Mirage, a small missile ship, returned.

One banner read: “End the Russian occupation of Crimea”.

“We are protesting against the presence of an aggressive Russian fleet on Ukrainian land,” said one demonstrator, Oleg Fomushkin.

Around 20 others held Russian flags. There were scuffles when a pro-Russian demonstrator tried to snatch a Ukrainian flag. One man was detained.

Ukraine, which backed Georgia in a conflict with Russia over the breakaway region of South Ossetia, criticized Moscow for using ships from its Black Sea Fleet, which is based on Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula under a leasing agreement.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko last week announced tougher rules on Russian naval movements from the base, angering Moscow and raising fears Ukraine could be the next target of Russia’s campaign to reassert its influence in the region.

Analysts say the Crimea region in southern Ukraine could be used by Russia to destabilize Ukraine. As well as hosting the Black Sea fleet, the majority of people living in Crimea are ethnic Russians.

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