Ukraine OK's Russian port deal amid chaos

Ukrainian opposition groups tossed smoke bombs and disrupted a session of parliament as legislators voted to extend Russia's lease of a controversial naval port.
Smoke bombs disrupt the parliament session hall Tuesday during ratification of Ukraine's naval port deal with Russia. ((Efrem Lukatsky/Associated Press))

Pandemonium broke out in Ukraine's parliament Tuesday as opposition groups tossed eggs and smoke bombs in an unsuccessful effort to stop legislators from extending Russia's lease of a controversial naval port.

Thousands of protesters gathered outside parliament to protest the deal, which extends the Russian navy's use of the Sevastopol port for 25 more years after the existing lease expires in 2017.

Fights broke out and smoke billowed through parliament after at least two smoke bombs went off inside the chamber.

Parliamentary Speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn had to duck behind an umbrella as opponents hurled eggs at him, but the vote passed by a narrow margin after order was restored.

Guards shield parliamentary Speaker Volodymr Lytvyn with an umbrella as opposition groups toss eggs. ((Efrem Lukatsky/Associated Press))

Sevastopol, on the Crimean Peninsula that extends from mainland Ukraine into the Black Sea, is more than 300 kilometres from the nearest Russian territory.

The extension passed with 236 votes in the 450-member parliament, but opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko said the deal wouldn't last.

"Parliament ratified this agreement on a treacherous path. We will change it as soon as we return to power," she said, according to the ITAR-Tass news agency.

The two countries' presidents agreed last week to extend the lease. The measure was also ratified by Russia's parliament Tuesday.

As part of the arrangement, Russia agreed to discount natural gas exported to Ukraine.

The deal is the most concrete sign of Russia's renewed influence in Ukraine since Viktor Yanukovych became president in February.

Yanukovych, a former electrician and factory manager, replaced Viktor Yushchenko, who pushed to move Ukraine out of Moscow's shadow and integrate more closely with Western Europe.

With files from The Associated Press