Ministers Talk Tough Over Fleet

SEVASTOPOL, Ukraine -- The defense ministers of Ukraine and Russia on Thursday set out tough positions on carving up the Black Sea fleet, disagreeing over how to allocate ships and men and where to base them.


Russia's Pavel Grachev's main concern appeared to be separating the navies of the two countries and winning full control of the fleet's headquarters of Sevastopol.


Ukraine's Vitaly Radetsky said Kiev would not submit to pressure. He insisted it would keep or sell its half.


"We will do everything so that Sevastopol will be the chief base of the Russian fleet," Grachev told fleet commanders in Sevastopol before two days of ministerial talks got under way.


"We ought to do everything to preserve the Black Sea Fleet for Russia, so that this fleet would be the most battle-ready, and full-fledged grouping of Russian military forces."


Radetsky, speaking later in the day after the ministers turned over the talks to military experts, said Russia had no right to dictate terms to its southern neighbor. "Grachev and (Russian naval commander Felix) Gromov cannot dictate their will. They can only make recommendations," he said.


"This is our territory, our waters, our infrastructure. We were told to find the outlines of a solution and we will provide one form or other of a solution to our presidents," he added.


The talks were scheduled to continue on Friday. The dispute over the fleet has complicated resolution of another conflict between Russia and Ukraine -- the future of Crimea, where the majority Russian population is pressing for closer ties with Moscow.


Grachev and Radetsky were meeting less than a week after their two presidents agreed in principle on a 50-50 split and gave themselves 10 days to draw up a detailed plan.


Grachev said Russia's position would be to keep about 85 percent of the fleet and give Ukraine the remainder.


Ukrainian officials have said they want to keep up to 20 percent of the fleet and sell the other 30 percent to Russia.