Russia’s deputy PM has told the BBC the country’s Black Sea Fleet will vacate its naval base in Sevastopol in 2017 if the Ukrainian government demands it.
Speaking exclusively to Panorama, Sergei Ivanov said Russia would seek to renew its lease on the Crimean port, but will move the Fleet if it cannot.
The move will anger nationalists who consider Sevastopol a part of Russia.
It is feared the port could become a flashpoint in already strained relations between Russia and the West.
Asked if he could envisage the Fleet not being based in the Crimea – its home for the last 225 years – Mr Ivanov, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s number two who oversees Russia’s military and industry, said:
“Yes I can imagine that easily after 2017. Why not, if the Ukrainian government then in power decides not to prolong the lease?”
“We are not aggressive,” said Mr Ivanov. “We have recognised the territorial integrity of all former Soviet republics. That was in 1991. Russia, of course, has no territorial ambitions regarding any former Soviet countries.”