CIS navy raises the Tsar's flag

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The Independent Online
MOSCOW (Agencies) - The flag of St Andrew, which used to fly from ships of the Imperial Russian Navy, was hoisted anew yesterday on ships of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

As Navy Day was celebrated for the first time since the break-up of the former Soviet Union, the Soviet banner, a blue band on a white background with a red star, hammer and sickle, chosen in 1922, was brought down during official ceremonies at St Petersburg and several naval ports, the Itar- Tass agency reported. As it did, the Soviet anthem was played for the last time.

In St Petersburg, the flag of St Andrew - the patron saint of sailors - which was introduced in 1699 by Tsar Peter the Great, was hoisted first on the cruiser Aurora, a symbol of the Bolshevik Revolution, which is anchored on the Neva river in the centre of the city. Aurora, according to Communist versions of history, fired shots that triggered the storming of the Tsar's Winter Palace in the 1917 revolution. Communists with banners and red flags yesterday protested on the quayside next to the vessel, which the Bolsheviks turned into a museum.

A military band played the Russian national anthem as the St Andrew Ensign - a blue diagonal cross on a white background - rose over the warship. The ensign had been blessed the day before by a Russian Orthodox priest.

Yesterday it was also run up over the nearby Kronstadt naval base, which was opened to visitors for the first time in a century and attracted crowds.

At Sevastopol, five vessels of the Black Sea Fleet raised the new Russian flag - in violation of an agreement between Russia and the Ukraine - during a military review supervised by commanders from the CIS and the Ukraine. The vessels are supposed to be under CIS command and not to pledge separate allegiance to either Russia or Ukraine.

Delicate negotiations were threatened last week when a mutinous Black Sea Fleet ship raised the blue-and-yellow Ukrainian flag and headed for a Ukrainian- controlled port.

At Vladivostok, actors presented scenes from Russian naval history since the time of Peter the Great, who founded the navy in 1696.

'The Russian fleet must retrieve its flag, not because Soviet sailors were ashamed of the old flag but because it no longer corresponds to the spirit of the Russian navy,' said Admiral Vladimir Chernavin, commander-in-chief of the CIS fleet, in an interview published on Saturday by the newspaper Krasnaya Zvesda.