Yeltsin in Black Sea accord: Agreement reached between Russia and Ukraine on division of fleet

Click to follow
The Independent Online
THE LEADERS of Russia and Ukraine, whose relations have often been tense since the collapse of the Soviet Union, managed to overcome their differences yesterday when they agreed to an amicable division of the Black Sea Fleet into two separate navies. The bilateral deal will give some cheer to Boris Yeltsin and Leonid Kravchuk, who are both under pressure on their domestic political fronts.

After a one-day summit in Moscow, the two presidents issued a statement saying they had agreed to 'expedite the formation of the Navy of the Russian Federation and the Navy of Ukraine on the basis of the Black Sea Fleet of the former Soviet Union'. The ships and other assets would be split 50-50, they said.

At a meeting last year in the Crimean resort of Yalta, Mr Yeltsin and Mr Kravchuk had put the fleet under joint command pending a share-out agreement. But last month it became clear this arrangement was no longer tenable when some 200 vessels, or about two thirds of the fleet, hoisted the pre-revolutionary Russian naval ensign, indicating they wanted to serve Moscow.

The agreement must still be ratified by the parliaments of Russia and Ukraine and there is the risk of protests from nationalists on both sides who may argue that their leaders should have won them an advantage. But if the deal works, Russia and Ukraine will exchange naval attaches and co-ordinate the operations of their ships. Russia will be allowed to continue using the Crimean base of Sevastopol, which is on Ukrainian territory.

Before the summit there had been speculation that Ukraine might demand a stake in the Russian oil industry in exchange for this favour and while the presidents' statement said nothing specific about this, it did speak of 'developing bilateral relations including conditions for the supply of energy resources to Ukraine'.

Mr Yeltsin also confirmed Russia's previously stated readiness to give Ukraine security guarantees to encourage it to ratify the Start 1 Treaty cutting strategic nuclear weapons.

His fruitful day in Moscow should have heartened Mr Kravchuk, a Communist-turned-nationalist who is in severe political difficulties at home because of his failure to introduce real market reform. Yesterday deputies to the Ukrainian parliament voted to hold a confidence referendum in both themselves and the President in September but this was not enough to satisfy striking miners in Donetsk who want early elections, big pay rises to compensate for inflation and autonomy for eastern Ukraine.

The involvement of the militant miners makes Mr Kravchuk's problems particularly dramatic. Fresh from a referendum victory, Mr Yeltsin seems to be in a vastly more comfortable position but, in reality, his domestic political situation may not be that much easier.

On Wednesday the Russian leader adjourned the assembly which was supposed to have finished writing a new constitution for him by 16 June with an optimistic speech in which he predicted that a text would be ready when the gathering reconvened at the end of this month. Yesterday his legal aide, Sergei Shakhrai, went further, saying that a power-sharing deal had been cut between Moscow and Russia's regions which would cement a peaceful federation.

But there is a lack of hard evidence to justify this confidence. Many of the regional leaders themselves say that

a lot of work remains to be done before a new Russian constitution will

be ready.