Black Sea Fleet Pact Starts to Sink

Pressed by mounting debt and the coming winter, Ukraine's president has agreed to sell his country's portion of the Black Sea Fleet to Russia. But intense criticism at home may force him to renege.

THE deal reached by the Ukrainian and Russian leaders to resolve the contentious issue of the fate of the former Soviet Black Sea Fleet is threatening to further inflame the relations between the two neighboring former Soviet republics.

In Ukraine, street demonstrators, opposition nationalist politicians, and even key figures in the government are joining to denounce President Leonid Kravchuk for betraying the country's interests.

Mr. Kravchuk is widely perceived as having unexpectedly yielded to Russian pressure tactics in agreeing, in principle, to trade part or all of Ukraine's half of the fleet to pay for Russian supplies of oil and gas.

``This is tantamount to high treason,'' said Vyacheslav Chornovil, head of Ukraine's main opposition party, the nationalist Rukh.

Ukrainian officials say the Russians took them by surprise at the Sept. 3 summit near the Crimean resort of Yalta with the proposal to effectively reverse three earlier summit decisions to split the fleet.

Instead, Russia intends to keep a united fleet by buying all the Ukrainian ships and the fleet's massive shore facilities in the Crimean port of Sevastopol. The Russian delegation, in what Ukrainian officials described as far from diplomatic behavior, offered to offset Kiev's $2.5 billion debt for oil and gas shipments since last year with the sale of the fleet.

The Russians also linked supply of uranium fuel for Ukraine's nuclear power plants to an agreement to return some 1,600 nuclear warheads from the former Soviet armed forces based in Ukraine.

In effect, the Russians used Ukraine's virtual total dependence on them for energy to gain acquiescence to their demands. Kravchuk officials unhappy

Even senior officials in Kravchuk's government were deeply unhappy with the deal. According to sources in the Ukrainian delegation, both Defense Minister Konstantin Morozov and Foreign Minister Anatoly Zlenko oppose it. Parliamentary leaders are warning that the legislature may move quickly to reverse the deal, as well as revive suspended plans to hold a late September referendum on Kravchuk's rule.

Kravchuk himself, while defending his decision, moved to back away from the agreement almost immediately. In a Saturday interview, Kravchuk insisted that no decision to barter the fleet was taken. A joint commission will estimate the value of the fleet and only after that will Ukraine ``decide what particular ships to sell,'' he claimed. ``I would like to stress once again that the question has yet to be solved. It has only been raised.''

At the same time, Kravchuk argued that the fleet will have to be sold simply because Ukraine cannot afford to keep most of it. Ukraine's desperate economic conditions, characterized in recent weeks by raging inflation, a collapsing currency, and bread lines, has made it vulnerable, he retorted to his critics. ``If we had been a bit richer and gone to the Crimea with a billion dollars in the bank, perhaps our opponents could have had something to say.''

Russian President Boris Yeltsin, for his part, engaged in no such contortions. In a Saturday night television interview, he blissfully claimed it was all a done deal. After the accounts are settled, Mr. Yeltsin said, ``We'll have our own fleet.''

At the summit itself and in the talk that followed, both men made clear that they were motivated far more by domestic political pressures than by statesmanship.

``On the eve of September battles with the parliament, Yeltsin needs to present himself as an adamant defender of Russia's interests,'' the daily Komsomolskaya Pravda wrote on Sept. 4. ``Kravchuk, being under the guillotine of a referendum, needs guarantees of oil and gas supplies to Ukraine on the eve of the coming winter.''

Yeltsin's aides did little to conceal their desire to use the Ukrainian capitulation as a weapon against the president's foes in the parliament, who in their latest move rejected Yeltsin's decree removing his arch-rival, Vice President Alexander Rutskoi, from all his official duties.

Referring to Yeltsin and his delegation, presidential spokesman Vyacheslav Kostikov on Sept. 4 said: ``Their real work, aimed at defending Russia's interests, makes even more ridiculous, speculative, and unscrupulous the efforts by the Supreme Soviet to discredit the executive branch.'' Early elections stalled

President Yeltsin has been stalled in pushing through his plans to hold early elections for a new, two-chamber parliament, a change included in his similarly bogged down new draft constitution for Russia. The existing parliament strongly opposes any such move and is threatening to use a November session of the Congress of People's Deputies, the country's supreme body, to pass its own draft constitution.

The latest way out of this dilemma coming out of the Yeltsin camp is a move to create a Federation Council to be formed out of two representatives - one from the legislature and one from the executive authorities of each of the 88 subjects of the Russian Federation, comprised of 67 largely Russian administrative regions and 21 autonomous republics and territories formed to represent minority nationalities.

The Council would then become the upper chamber of a new parliament, while the current parliament could become the lower chamber.

Yeltsin aides claim that while the consent of the existing parliament to this is preferable, it is not necessary. ``The Federation Council comprising representatives of all subjects of the federation, their leaders, and officials who signed the treaty on formation of the Russian state, can make such a decision without the Supreme Soviet's consent,'' Deputy Premier Oleg Lobov told reporters.

But some observers warn that Yeltsin, by again trying to use the regions and autonomies against his enemies, is being forced to yield a dangerous amount of power to them.

``There is a certain dramatic contradiction that Boris Yeltsin doesn't have the right to ignore,'' wrote Sergei Parkhomneko, political analyst of the newspaper Segodnya on Sept. 3. ``Namely, the body that has such a wide range of authority does not need any president whatsoever.''

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