Black Sea Fleet Dispute Clouds Other Issues

Article excerpt

TENSION is flaring within the disputed Black Sea Fleet, threatening to blow off course efforts by Russian and Ukrainian leaders to deal with pressing issues at home.

Control of the 380-vessel fleet has been hotly contested since the Soviet breakup in 1991. The latest trouble began in mid-May when support ships began raising the Russian naval banner in place of the neutral naval ensign of the former Soviet Union.

Ukrainian officials denounced the action as a violation of a fleet-sharing pact reached last year that called for the ensign to be flown until the fleet was formally divided in 1995. Russians blame Ukraine for the tension, saying Kiev is not properly maintaining the fleet.

After President Leonid Kravchuk called for immediate talks with his Russian counterpart on the issue, an aide to President Boris Yeltsin said the Russian leader was willing to meet.

Interfax news agency reported that Mr. Yeltsin and Mr. Kravchuk would meet in mid-June. Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev will visit Kiev June 7 to organize the summit.

The flare-up comes at an inopportune time for both leaders, who are facing difficult domestic reform issues. …