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Report: Russia to build naval base in rebel region

  • Story Highlights
  • Official: Russia to station vessels at Abkhaz port of Ochamchire on Black Sea
  • Moscow recognizes Abkhazia as independent region following war with Georgia
  • Georgia and Russia blame each other for starting last year's conflict
  • Russia's Black Sea Fleet is currently based at the port of Sevastopol, Ukraine
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(CNN) -- Russia will begin the construction of a new naval base this year in Georgia's pro-Russian separatist region of Abkhazia, according to a Russian media report Monday.

Russia's Black Sea fleet is based in Sevastopol under a lease agreement with Ukraine that expires in 2017.

Russia's Black Sea fleet is based in Sevastopol under a lease agreement with Ukraine that expires in 2017.

Russia's Itar-Tass news agency quoted an unnamed official at Russian naval headquarters as saying it wanted to station vessels at the Abkhaz port of Ochamchire on the Black Sea, reported.

"The fundamental decision on creating a Black Sea Fleet base in Ochamchire has been taken," the official told Tass, in quotes carried by "This year we will begin practical work, including dredging, along Abkhazia's coast.

"It will take more than a year to implement all works." The official added that the deployment was to protect the breakaway region from Georgian attacks.

Georgia launched a campaign against South Ossetia, a Russian-backed separatist territory, on August 7 last year. The following day, Russian tanks, troops and armored vehicles poured into South Ossetia and Abkhazia, advancing into Georgian cities outside the rebel regions.

The two sides blamed each other for starting the conflict and have made accusations of ethnic cleansing.

Moscow has since recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent regions -- a move which angered many Western governments who suspect Russia of acting to thwart Georgia's ambitions of joining NATO.

This latest development comes despite comments made last year by Abkhazia's leader that his territory would not be hosting Russian military bases.

"There will be no new bases," Sergei Bagapsh told Russia's Novosti news agency, adding that Russia's Black Sea Fleet will not be based in the republic either.

"Only units of Russia's ground forces that have always been based here will continue to be stationed in Abkhazia," he said.

Russia's Black Sea Fleet is currently based in the port of Sevastopol which belongs to Ukraine -- another former Soviet state which, like Georgia, aspires to NATO membership.

The fleet is due to leave Ukraine for good in 2017, in line with a 20-year lease deal signed in 1997. However, Russia's diplomats and military have said they want the fleet to stay at its traditional home base after the expiry of the deadline, reported.

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