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Russian expert warns of possible provocations over Black Sea Fleet

Moscow, 24 July: In the next few months Ukraine's law-enforcement bodies may increase pressure on the Russian Black Sea Fleet, Konstantin Zatulin, the director of the CIS countries institute and a member of the State Duma, believes.

"I think that as Ukraine's next presidential election draws nearer, Russian diplomats and sailors have to be prepared for new large and small provocations," Zatulin told Interfax on Friday (24 July).

According to him Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko's goal is to "escalate tensions in the lead-up to the election, for only chaos and conflicts can raise his very low rating."

Zatulin believes that by committing acts such as stopping Russian military vehicles in Sevastopol, the Ukrainian authorities intentionally "hit the most sore place".

"The detention of the Russian fleet's vehicles is heightening tension ahead of perhaps the main event for the people of Sevastopol - Russia's Navy Day. For the Russian Black Sea Fleet sailors, for the people of Sevastopol, this day is no less important, perhaps even more important, than New Year Day or Easter," Zatulin said.

Zatulin believes that another reason for worsening the situation in Sevastopol is linked to the recent visit to Kiev by US Vice President Joe Biden. "One recalls in this connection that before Georgia's aggression White House representatives visited (Georgian President Mikheil) Saakashvili. Here, probably, the visit by a representative of the US administration has brought about Yushchenko's feeling of permissiveness, fits of aggression which are sufficient for provocations only. Between Russia and Ukraine there is no territory like South Ossetia, otherwise the August 2008 scenario could be repeated," Zatulin said.

On 23 July Ukrainian traffic police in Sevastopol stopped a column of special rocket-carrying vehicles, moving from one of the bases of the Russian Black Sea Fleet which were carrying Mirazh anti-ship cruise missiles. This is the third incident like this in a month.

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