Moscow, May 30 (UNI) Russian Navy Chief Admiral Vladimir Vysotsky today said the Black Sea Fleet will increase the number of warships to 100 at its base in Sevastopol in Ukraine's Crimea.
''The base agreement enables us to have up to 100 warships in the Black Sea Fleet, compared to the current figure of only 35,'' Adm Vysotsky said, adding, ''We may also have up to 25,000 personnel, while currently we only have 11,000.'' He said Russia needed the Black Sea Fleet to protect its national interests.
''Russia has strategic interests in the world's oceans, and it will defend them. We will be enlarging our presence,'' he said.
''The Black Sea Fleet will remain in any event. And it will not simply remain, but will develop,'' RIA Novosti quoted Adm Vysotsky as saying.
''Russia does not intend to withdraw its fleet from Sevastopol before the base agreement expires in 2017,'' he noted.
Currently, Russia's Black Sea Fleet uses a range of naval facilities on the Crimean peninsula under an agreement signed in 1997.
Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko recently ruled not to extend the lease for Russia's Black Sea Fleet beyond May 28, 2017.
Frequent disputes have flared up between Russia and Ukraine over the lease of the naval facilities on the Crimean peninsula.
In a latest row between the two former Soviet republics, Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov was barred from entering Ukraine over his vociferous calls for the disputed ownership of a Russian naval base in Sevastopol to be transferred back to Russia.
Ukraine has been seeking NATO membership and EU integration ever since pro-Western Yushchenko came to power on the back of the ''orange revolution'' in 2004.
Russia has repeatedly dismissed Ukraine's NATO bid as a violation of bilateral friendship agreements, saying it will do all in its power to prevent the former Soviet republic from joining the NATO.
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