Russia, Ukraine Report Agreement on Black Sea Fleet


After more than half a decade of wrangling and five different announcements that the problem had been solved, Ukraine and Russia said Wednesday that they finally have agreed on how to split custody of the former Soviet Union’s most infamous orphan: the Black Sea Fleet.

“This opens the road for Boris Yeltsin’s visit to Kiev,” Russian Prime Minister Viktor S. Chernomyrdin announced after signing what he called historic fleet agreements with his Ukrainian counterpart, Pavlo Lazarenko. But he gave no details of what the latest deal involves.

Russian President Yeltsin is due to arrive in the Ukrainian capital Friday for a two-day visit. He is expected to sign a friendship treaty that the former Soviet Union’s biggest Slavic heirs hope will normalize their prickly relations.


Preparations for the long-awaited visit have been in high gear, down to the vodka Yeltsin will drink with Ukrainian President Leonid D. Kuchma (plain, no pepper) to smooth their talks.

But six of Yeltsin’s previously planned trips to sign the treaty were canceled at the last minute because of the protracted fleet dispute. Kiev journalists have been placing bets on whether Friday’s visit will actually take place.

“The threat remains that the Russian president’s visit to Kiev won’t actually happen,” Kuchma told Interfax-Ukraine news agency Wednesday after returning from Estonia, where he met with the presidents of Poland and the Baltics.

Although the fleet agreements’ details have not been announced, both premiers said the most contentious issues have been resolved. Since the countries agreed in 1995 that Ukraine would get about 18% of the fleet’s aging armada and Russia the rest, the biggest problem has been where to put Russia’s share and on what terms.

The mainly Russian fleet’s home is in Ukraine, at the port of Sevastopol on the Crimean peninsula. Pro-Russian separatism in Crimea, and especially in Sevastopol, encouraged Moscow to demand that its share of the ships be berthed in Sevastopol, while the Ukrainians go elsewhere.

Nit-picking over whether the main base for Russia’s Black Sea Fleet “is Sevastopol” or “is in Sevastopol” masked deeper issues. For Kiev, “is Sevastopol” meant Russia had an unacceptable claim to Ukrainian territory and, besides, Kiev wasn’t about to give up access to the biggest, best-equipped port in Crimea.


As a result, talks have been at a standstill for nearly two years.

On Wednesday, however, it appeared that Chernomyrdin and Lazarenko agreed to moor their separate navies at different bays in the port. Diplomats and television commentaries suggested Russia would lease the bays and certain facilities on Crimean soil for 20 years for an undisclosed rental payment.

“The sum will fully cover all of Ukraine’s expenses,” Lazarenko told a news conference after the signing.

Interfax-Ukraine reported that Moscow was offering $72 million a year while Kiev wanted $453 million. Whatever the price, the initial rentals are expected to be deducted from Kiev’s energy debt to Russia.

By agreeing to a lease, Russia implicitly recognized Ukraine’s sovereignty over the city, removing one of the biggest obstacles to Yeltsin signing the bilateral friendship pact--the mutual recognition of borders.

Meanwhile, Russia’s Black Sea Fleet is already preparing for its tighter quarters. Earlier this month, naval officers announced that the fleet would now be divided between two ports: Sevastopol and Novorossiysk, in Russia.

According to Interfax-Ukraine, Russia agreed Wednesday not to deploy nuclear weapons on the ships stationed in Ukrainian waters.