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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Black Sea Officers Refuse to Split Fleet

Naval officers from the disputed Black Sea fleet said Tuesday they would refuse to split their forces, threatening a key agreement in which the presidents of Russia and Ukraine had appeared to settle ownership of the former Soviet fleet.


The announcement came one day after Russian Vice President Alexander Rutskoi, renewing his attacks against his former running mate, called on the fleet's servicemen to oppose the pact between Presidents Boris Yeltsin and Leonid Kravchuk to divide the 350-vessel fleet.


A meeting of naval officers issued a statement in the port of Sevastopol calling for the fleet to be placed under exclusive Russian jurisdiction, according to Reuters.


"We appeal to the command not to adopt any orders on dividing the fleet, as officers will not implement them", the statement read. "We ask for the fleet to be transferred to Russian jurisdiction pending adoption of an acceptable decision".


Rutskoi, a former high-ranking Soviet air force officer, had urged the servicemen to oppose the agreement and keep the fleet together, denouncing the agreement, which awaits ratification by the two countrie's parliaments, as a "national and historic tragedy".


Rutskoi's attack was only one of his latest on the president, with whom he broke politically in March. Since then, Yeltsin has stripped Rutskoi of all of his official duties and most of his staff.


Rutskoi escalated his criticism of Yeltsin and his supporters Tuesday, denouncing the Russian Foreign Ministry for supporting Sunday's air strike by the United States on Iraq.


His spokesman said that the vice president was not urging open revolt by the Black Sea fleet, but that Rutskoi believed dividing the fleet was unrealistic.


"He is simply in favor of an acceptable decision for both sides", Vasily Titov, his press spokesman, said. "The question is how do you physically divide the base and its crews? There is only one repair station, in Sevastopol. Who would get it? "


On the Iraq issue, Rutskoi released a sharp statement saying it was regrettable that Russia had been one of the first countries to approve the strike, condoning it without consulting parliament.


"Once again, Russia, thanks to the efforts of the radical democrats, is bobbing along in the wake of American policy, ignoring not only its own national interests but also renouncing any idea of morality or decency in foreign policy", he said.


The United States fired 23 missiles at Baghdad on Sunday in what it called retaliation for an alleged Iraqi plot to kill former President George Bush, who visited Kuwait in April. Iraq denied the charge and denounced the raid, which killed at least six civilians.


Although it once enjoyed the support of the Soviet Union, which was its main weapons supplier through the late 1980s, Iraq also failed to win Moscow's support in the 1991 Gulf War, launched by the United States in response to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait.


The Russian Foreign Ministry said Sunday that the strike, which was made on Iraq's intelligence headquarters, was justified. But Ukraine, which has clashed with Washington over its possession of nuclear weapons, criticized the move.


Conservatives in the Russian parliament have strongly protested Russia's pro-Western stand on Iraq, and at least one delegation of hardliners has traveled to Iraq in recent months for official meetings.


Rutskoi, who now champions the parliamentary opposition, called the U. S. justification of the strike a "mockery" and said the use of force to condemn international terrorism could not be condoned.


"Under whatever pretext this military action against a sovereign state was taken, it cannot be morally or politically justified", he said. "This is a unilateral police action by the United States, overturning international norms of state behavior".


Rutskoi was backed up by one of the parliament's houses, the Council of the Republic, Tuesday, when it adopted a resolution condemning the strike.