Everyone will remember the the wails of anguish and temper tantrums relating to the extension of the Russian Black Sea Fleet lease until 2o42 by the current Ukrainian government. Well, anguish and temper tantrums from within certain parts of the Ukrainian public and political classes. It can hardly be claimed many people were actually that bothered by an extension of what has been at Sevastopol their entire lives and provides a major economic boost to the Crimean region for the time being.
Now, like it or not, the Ukrainian Constitution did allow for the extension and would seem to have been written in 1996 to contain a specific clause to allow for the lease extension. The wording can certainly be interpreted that way. Like all things, there is always wiggle room in the written word.
Aside from this though, the Constitution bans foreign troops being located on Ukrainian soil. Well, kind of. There are subsequent bilateral agreements which allow for foreign troops to be on Ukrainian soil for training and exercise reasons. It is fair to say that the Constitution really bans the permanent basing of foreign troops on Ukrainian soil. Ergo on-going lease agreements would not be permanent as they contractually (and thus legally) have an end date.
A little known bilateral agreement with Russia in 1997 is the shared use of the naval pilot training centre in Crimea. This week, however, Russia made a formal request via Russian Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov to Ukrainian Defence Minister Mykhailo Yezhel to rent this naval training centre on a permanent basis. Anything permanent in relation to foreign troops on Ukrainian soil would indeed seem to be in direct contradiction to the Constitution of Ukraine.
In the immediate term, however, Ukraine has little to loose if there is a legal way around this (most likely by long term lease agreement just like the RBSF). Why? Because this naval pilot training base provides amongst other things, facilities such as a launch pad, an aerofinisher, a trampoline, a catapult launching device, a glide-path localizer, a marker beacon, and an optical landing system. None of these facilities are currently any use whatsoever to Ukraine.
These facilities are used for training to take off from and land upon aircraft carriers of which Ukraine has precisely none. Russia on the other hand does posses aircraft carriers. Ukraine therefore has nothing to loose by renting this training facility to Russia as long as its future military plans do not include having its own aircraft carriers. It would be quite foolish to rent the facility long term to the Russians and then have Ukrainian aircraft carriers with nowhere to train the pilots because existing facilities have been leased long term to Russia.
Russia, of course, has a new nuclear powered aircraft carrier on the drawing board due to start construction in 2018 which no doubt is part of its $730 billion military upgrades. Whether that price tag includes the 4 amphibious warships it has recently bought from France and the state of the art military training centre Germany is currently building in Russia seems unclear.
So, Constitutional legalities aside, which can be fairly easily circumvented, it would seem the decision over Ukraine leasing this naval pilot training centre would rest upon Ukraine’s own plans for its navy and whether or not they will include its own aircraft carrier.
A long term agreement with Russia over these facilities will go some way to clarifying Ukrainian thinking with regards its own naval forces.