Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 142

For the first time since the dissolution of the USSR, Russia’s Black Sea Fleet has reasons to celebrate Navy Day–July 25–on a note of less than complete gloom. Russian Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin’s recent visit to Ukraine (see the Monitor, July 20) included an inspection of the fleet’s main base in Sevastopol and produced two intergovernmental agreements, which may considerably simplify the Russian fleet’s life in the years ahead. One agreement authorizes and regulates Russian overflights of Ukrainian territory and waters, covers both Russian naval aviation based in Ukraine and that based in Russia itself, and simplifies Ukrainian conditions and clearance procedures for such overflights. Ukraine had in recent years insisted on strict conditions for approving the flights on a case-by-case basis, particularly when they involved aircraft based on the Black Sea’s Russian littoral and at Saratov in the Volga military district.

The other agreement stipulates that the Russian fleet’s debts for the rental of land and installations, electricity, water, heating and other supplies and services shall be deducted from the Ukrainian government’s debts to Russia. Those debts are high and mounting. This agreement may eliminate the constant interruptions in those supplies and services by the city of Sevastopol and Ukrainian companies to the heavily indebted Russian fleet.

These agreements constitute a part of the political price that the Ukrainian government is paying for Russia’s implicit approval of President Leonid Kuchma’s reelection. They reflect, moreover, Ukraine’s deteriorating balance-of-payments position vis-a-vis Russia. But they also serve the Russian government’s purpose of demonstrating to its own electorate that it can outdo Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov in looking after the Black Sea Fleet and that, unlike Luzhkov, it can achieve results without provoking tensions with Ukraine. Whether these agreements will ultimately work as intended remains far from certain, however. The record of Russian-Ukrainian negotiations over the Black Sea fleet is replete with ill-fated agreements. The only certainty is that these documents are serving the two governments’ immediate political purposes in this election year.

Meanwhile the missile cruiser Moskva, flagship of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, left Ukraine’s Mykolaiv shipyard on July 18 and docked at Sevastopol on July 21. Ukraine agreed to forego payment for the Moskva’s overhaul, so as to enable the flagship to figure in the Russian Navy Day celebrations. But the overhaul seems far from complete, so that the Moskva’s short voyage from Mykolaiv to Sevastopol proved slow and arduous, necessitating a stopover at Kherson. The Russian command in Sevastopol dispatched three tugboats–to “accompany” the Moskva, according to one source, or to “tug” it, according to another. And Russia’s Black Sea Fleet commander, Admiral Vladimir Komoyedov, stated that the flagship requires a further six to eight months of repairs in Sevastopol before it can sail to the high seas (UNIAN, DINAU, Eastern Economist Daily (Kyiv), ORT, Itar-Tass, July 19-22).