The development underscores a new wave of confrontation between Russia and Ukraine just two weeks after a natural gas war between the two had led to massive gas supply cutoffs in Europe.
Nine employees of Ukraine’s state hydrography company entered the territory of the Yalta Lighthouse Friday morning and took full control of the facility, the Black Sea Fleet reported. An officer running the lighthouse for the BSF has been denied access to the facility.
The lighthouse provides key navigation services to the Russian naval fleet in that area of the Black Sea, while also renders similar services to hundreds of civilian ships.
Russia’s Black Sea Fleet issued an angry statement on Friday accusing Ukraine of attempts to destabilize the situation and warned that safety of maritime transportation had been at risk.
“These actions may create preconditions for accidents and may break the entire system of maritime safety,” Igor Dygalo, a spokesman for the Russian Naval Forces, said.
The Russian forces stepped up security at dozens of similar facilities scattered throughout Crimea and had apparently prevented an unauthorized access by a group of civilians at a similar station in Sarych.
Foreign Minister Boris Tarasiuk on Saturday confirmed that Ukraine has taken over the Yalta Lighthouse, adding that Russia had been holding it illegally for almost a decade.
“If it’s yours, you can’t seize it. You can only regain it,” Tarasiuk said in an interview with Interfax-Ukraine. “Russia has been illegally holding control over all navigation facilities.”
The emerging dispute highlights a sensitive issue of stationing of the Russian Black Sea Fleet on the Ukrainian territory in Crimea that had been arranged by a 20-year agreement signed late 1996.
Russia agreed to pay Ukraine $98 mln annually for stationing more than 300 naval ships in Sevastopol and other Crimean bases, but also to rent some other facilities, according to the agreement.
The BSF has been apparently controlling 35 navigation stations out of 100 that had been located throughout Crimea, according to the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry. Ukraine said the stations were not included into the agreement and had been held by the Russians illegally.
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