Russian Flag Raised Over 115 Disputed Ships

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More than 100 disputed warships of the former Soviet Black Sea Fleet hoisted the Russian naval ensign Monday as a quarrel over ownership of the armada again threatened relations between Moscow and Kiev.

In defiance of an agreement between Russian and Ukrainian leaders, pro-Moscow officers raised the cross of St. Andrew--for centuries the emblem of the czarist navy--over dozens of support ships of the 380-vessel fleet. By Monday night, 115 ships were flying the blue-and-white flags, according to Russian Television.

The act of defiance was apparently in response to a statement from Ukrainian Defense Minister Konstantin Morozov, who had threatened to cut funds for ships that flew that Russian ensign.

According to local journalists, several hundred officers and their families gathered Monday in their home port of Sevastopol to demand Russian control. Some also called for the Crimean Peninsula to secede from Ukraine and rejoin Russia, to which it belonged until 1954.

The first St. Andrew's crosses were raised above the ships Friday in protest against deteriorating living conditions. Russian sailors also claim that Ukrainian authorities had changed their housing arrangements while they were at sea with their vessels.

The fight for control of the Black Sea Fleet and ownership of the Crimean Peninsula, where the bulk of the force is based, has clouded relations between Ukraine and Russia since the Kiev government first announced its intention to develop an armed force to back up its independence, proclaimed in December, 1991.

In Yalta last August, Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin and Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk signed an agreement pledging to share the fleet for two years while a settlement is worked out.

The Ukrainians now complain that the Russians have used the accord to maintain effective control over the fleet.

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