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Russia, Ukraine Try to Settle Border Dispute - 2003-11-05

Ukraine and Russia are trying to settle a long-standing border dispute concerning a strategic waterway near the Crimea Peninsula in the Black Sea.

Ukrainian and Russian officials are meeting in Ukraine's capital, Kiev, in a new attempt to settle the dispute over a tiny island that sits in a strategic shipping route in the Black Sea.

Ukraine rushed a unit of border guards to the island of Tuzla last month when it discovered that Russia was building a sand dike in an effort to link the island to Russia's side of the border.

Russian officials say the dike was washed away in a storm many years ago, and that a new one is necessary to prevent erosion in the Kerch Strait.

But Ukraine says Russia is trying to seize control of Tuzla island, which sits in the shipping lane that links the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea. The shipping lane is the only outlet through which Russian ships pass from the major port of Rostov-on-Don.

Russia suspended work on the dike after Ukraine sent the border troops to the island, and the two sides agreed to allow an environmental commission study the erosion problem. Ukraine has since said it would consider withdrawing the troops after the commission announces the results of its study, which are expected soon.

But the latest meeting is a new attempt to ease tensions, which increased last week after a meeting between the foreign ministers of the two countries failed to make any headway.

The Kerch strait marks the boundary between Russia and the Crimean Peninsula, which was part of Russia until Soviet leader Nikita Khruschev gave it to Ukraine in 1954. The future of Crimea has been disputed by Russia and Ukraine since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

The majority of people who live on the scenic peninsula are Russian, and many Russians feel it should once again be made part of Russia. Local Russian politicians have long seized on the issue, as have nationalist political parties. But Ukraine rejects any redrawing of the border.