Talks on the transfer of Russian naval ships and shore infrastructure to Ukraine are resuming, the Ukrainian naval command announced yesterday. Scheduled for transfer are a total of 52 ships, including several frigates and escort ships, some missile cutters, one submarine (which will be Ukraine’s first), some auxiliary ships and shore-based helicopters and artillery, the assets of some marine infantry units, and coastal infrastructure mainly in Feodosia and Kerch. The Russian and Ukrainian naval commanders in the Black Sea, Adm. Viktor Kravchenko and Rear-Adm. Mikhailo Yezhel, have agreed to begin discussing the details of the handover. The transfer of assets, if carried out, would significantly enlarge Ukraine’s navy. The fleet is currently comprised of 30 warships and 80 auxiliary ships, Yezhel said April 5 on the Ukrainian navy’s fifth anniversary.
According to Yezhel, Kravchenko agreed to the participation of two or three Ukrainian ships in the concluding stage of a large-scale Russian naval exercise, scheduled for the second half of April. Yezhel called that consent a "breakthrough," considering the Russian side’s previous refusals to allow Ukrainian participation in Russian naval exercises off Crimea. (Interfax-Ukraine, Ukrinform, Russian agencies, April 6-9)
The tentative decision on the ships’ handover in effect restarts the partition of the Russian-controlled Black Sea Fleet. That process had been suspended last November by the Russian government, after Ukraine had rejected Moscow’s demand for exclusive basing rights in Sevastopol. The Russian government’s November decision was backed up by a Kremlin-encouraged Duma resolution mandating the suspension of the fleet’s partition. The Kremlin’s latest shift follows the talks between Presidents Boris Yeltsin and Leonid Kuchma during the recent CIS summit. Yeltsin evidenced for the first time in four years a willingness to defuse this dispute and to improve overall relations with Ukraine, while Kuchma agreed to discuss a long-term Ukrainian lease of naval bases in Sevastopol to Russia (but not basing rights). Last week, Kiev demonstrated restraint in response to Russian airforce intrusions into Ukrainian airspace over the Black Sea. Russian naval aviation was apparently not involved. (See Monitor, April 4, 7)
Nevertheless, the unresolved dispute over Sevastopol may once again impede real progress on the Black Sea Fleet’s partition. And Moscow’s reluctance to carry out the partition has tended to obscure its asymmetrical character, with Ukraine due ultimately to receive only 20 percent of the ex-Soviet Black Sea Fleet’s floating assets.
Snowballing Revelations on Russian Arms Deliveries to Armenia.