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Russia/Ukraine: Separate Black Sea Maneuvers Planned

Moscow, 20 March 1997 (RFE/RL) - The Russian Black Sea Fleet is preparing major naval exercises as a show of the apparent disapproval of the American-Ukrainian naval maneuvers planned for this Summer.

The fleet's spokesman Andrei Grachev told RFE/RL in a phone interview from the port of Sevastopol on Tuesday that the exercises are set to begin in mid-April. Grachev stopped short of defining the tactical objective of the planned action, but noted that the fleetUs commander Admiral Viktor Kravchenko strongly disapproves of the so-called Sea Breeze exercises that Ukraine plans to hold with the US forces in the Black Sea this August.

President Boris Yeltsin and the Russian Foreign Ministry have also expressed concern over the Sea Breeze, in which the U.S. and Ukrainian units would land on Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in a humanitarian mission in relief of an earthquake and armed unrest.

Apparently angered by Ukraine's plans, Kravchenko has turned down Ukraine's bid to take part in the Russian exercises.

Ever since collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russian and Ukraine have been in a conflict over the future of the Black Sea fleet based in Sevastopol.

The two countries have reached several agreements on dividing the fleet, but none has been fully implemented. The two states also have problems in deciding who will control the ground facilities. Russia insists on sole control of the Sevastopol naval base. Ukraine disagrees.

This continuing discord has been used by Yeltsin repeatedly to postpone signing of a basic friendship and cooperation treaty with Kiev.

The Russian Black Sea Fleet currently has some 600 vessels, including 83 warships, 58 combat cutters and 16 submarines. It also includes a coast guard division, a brigade of marines and a naval aviation division.

Ukraine's Black Sea fleet has some 80 warships, a brigade of marines and more than 20 smaller ground units.