Prague, 13 November 1996 (RFE/RL) - The Russia-Ukraine talks on the fate of the Black Sea Fleet are deadlocked, again.
The two countries have bitterly disagreed on the issue ever since the break up of the Soviet Union, with each side claiming ownership rights over ships and maritime bases.
After numerous negotiating sessions Russia's President Boris Yeltsin and his Ukrainian counterpart Leonid Kuchma agreed last year on how the fleet should be divided: it was to be split along an approximate four-to-one ratio in favor of Russia.
This division is being gradually implemented. Most of the vessels have already been appropriated by one or the other maritime force. Yesterday, the last aviation regiment of the Black Sea Fleet was disbanded at the Oktyabrskoye air base and its 39 fighter planes were divided, with 20 going to Ukraine and 19 to Russia.
But the main stumbling block in all earlier and subsequent negotiations has been the status of the huge naval base in the Crimean city of Sevastopol. Moscow wants to have an unrestricted and sole possession of the base, while Ukraine insists that the base could only be leased to Russia for a specific time.
Two days ago the Ukrainian position was reiterated by Deputy Defense Minister Ivan Bizhan, who said at a press briefing in Kyiv that Ukraine could lease part of the Sevastopol port's infrastructure to Russia for "a fixed term" -- there have been reports that the term could be 20 years -- but would expect Moscow to look to its own Black Sea ports for a permanent headquarters.
On the same day, the Russian Black Sea Fleet command released a statement by Admiral Viktor Kravchenko that Sevastopol should remain the fleet's permanent home base. Kravchenko argued that basing the Russian fleet at Russian Black Sea ports would be logistically difficult because of prevailing adverse "winds" and economically prohibitively expensive.
Less than three weeks ago Yeltsin and Kuchma were reported to have reached an agreement on "all questions" related to the fleet. Russia's Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin was to travel to Kyiv in mid-November to sigh the appropriate accords. And Yeltsin was to make a long-awaited visit to Ukraine formally to sign a basic friendship and cooperation treaty.
But now things have changed dramatically, and none of these visits appears to be in the offing.
Even while Yeltsin was conferring with Kuchma, Moscow mayor Yuri Luzkhov and a group of prominent Russian politicians published an open letter in a Moscow newspaper calling on the Russian government to claim sovereignty over Sevastopol.
On October 23, the Russian State Duma overwhelmingly endorsed a resolution warning that Russia will never cede control over the port city. The resolution said that Sevastopol "was, is and will be the main base of Russia's Black Sea Fleet."
Yesterday, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry responded strongly rejecting the Duma's resolution. "Such actions are contrary to the norms of international law and to Russian pledges to respect Ukraine's territorial integrity," the ministry said. And the ministry went on to say that Ukraine would appeal for help to international community to resolve the Black Sea Fleet issue.
The Ukrainian parliament has warned that it could call next week for the removal of all foreign military forces from Ukraine territory.