Ukrainian president Leonid Kuchma on April 25 inspected the city and naval bases of Sevastopol and chaired there a special meeting of senior officials from all of Ukraine’s regions. Responding to the Russian Federation Council’s recent resolution calling for joint Russian-Ukrainian administration of the city and negotiations over its future, Kuchma ruled out any talks or change in the city’s internationally recognized status as an integral part of Ukraine. He reaffirmed Kiev’s position on leasing Sevastopol bays, but not the city itself, to Russia’s Black Sea Fleet for an appropriate rent under a bilateral treaty, and pledged to ensure normal basing conditions for the Russian and Ukrainian fleets in Sevastopol.
In a significant policy initiative, Kuchma urged the demilitarization of the city and the area of Sevastopol, with the exception of the five bays earmarked for naval bases. He called for ridding other piers of warships in order to make room for merchant ships, and urged a parallel Russian and Ukrainian withdrawal of marine infantry units from the city in order to encourage foreign trade and investment. However, Kuchma ruled out giving the port city the status of a free economic zone, as has been urged by some local Russian and leftist groups.
Expressing confidence that Russian president Boris Yeltsin and prime minister Viktor Chernomyrdin do not support territorial claims on Ukraine, Kuchma reminded both Russian leaders of their repeated promises to visit Kiev for finalizing and signing a good-neighborly relations treaty. The two visits have recently been rescheduled for late May-early June. Kuchma said he sought equitable relations and "reasonable compromises" with Russia, but would stop short of "vassalage." (UNIAN, Ukrinform, Interfax-Ukraine, April 25-26)
In response, and in a gesture of insubordination to Yeltsin, the Russian Black Sea Fleet’s military council "categorically" protested yesterday against a decoupling of negotiations on the fleet’s basing rights in Sevastopol from the negotiations on the Russian-Ukrainian good-neighborly relations treaty. Moscow had held the latter hostage to the former, but Yeltsin last month promised Kuchma to decouple them in order to unblock the negotiations. The fleet’s commander, Adm. Viktor Kravchenko, announced yesterday that the military council had cabled its objections to Yeltsin and Chernomyrdin. (Interfax, April 28)