Russia will use facilities on Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula for naval pilot training in the next few years, the Russian defense minister said on Friday.
In line with a 1997 bilateral agreement, Russia used the Nitka Naval Pilot Training Center in Ukraine as the only training facility for its naval pilots, but Kiev has been less willing to allow Russian pilots to train at the facility in the past few years and, according to some sources, was even planning to rent it to China.
"Russia is interested in the continuation of its naval pilot training at this [the Nitka] facility," Anatoly Serdyukov said after a session of a Russian-Ukrainian sub-committee on security.
The Russian minister said Moscow and Kiev were preparing an agreement on the conditions of a new rental deal.
The Nitka Center was built in the Soviet era for pilots to practice their skills in taking off from and landing on an aircraft carrier's deck.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, the facility remained under Ukrainian jurisdiction. The Ukrainian Navy does not have an aircraft carrier.
The center provides naval aviation training 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.
Meanwhile, Moscow has announced plans to start construction of a naval pilot training facility on the Sea of Azov in southern Russia in 2010.
The new center will be built at an old airfield near the town of Eisk on the Sea of Azov, which is separated from the Black Sea by the Kerch Strait between the Crimean and Taman peninsulas.
According to the head of Russia's naval pilot training, Col. Alexander Mudrenov, the new center will cost some 24 billion rubles ($730 million) and will take two years to complete.
Russia, which has only one aircraft carrier - the Admiral Kuznetsov - is aiming to finish drafting plans for a new nuclear-powered aircraft carrier for its Navy by 2012 and build at least three of the ships for its Northern and Pacific fleets.
MOSCOW, June 25 (RIA Novosti)