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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Black Sea Fleet Leader Says Raise Soviet Flag

The commander of the disputed Black Sea Fleet on Wednesday ordered its ships to hoist the flag of the former Soviet Navy in an attempt to end a protest by officers over a decision by Russia and Ukraine to split the 350 vessels between them.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk warned naval officers they had to accept an agreement to split the fleet equally between Russia and Ukraine or resign.

"The fleet serves the state. The state is not to serve the fleet", he said during a news conference with Slovak President Michal Kovac.

Fleet commander Eduard Baltin sent a message to his warships telling them to disregard the demands of officers who wanted to raise Russia's St. Andrew's flag over all of the force's ships, Itar-Tass reported.

"The maritime flag went through the Second World War with honor and was never lowered even in the most difficult combat and battles", read Baltin's message, according to Itar-Tass. "The fleet is not controlled by political organizations, meetings and rallies but by its High Command".

A group of navy officers on Tuesday threatened to block an agreement reached in June by President Boris Yeltsin and Kravchuk to split the fleet between their two countries by 1995.

The officers, in a statement issued from the fleet's port of Sevastopol in the Ukrainian peninsula of the Crimea, said the deal went against the interests of both former Soviet republics and demanded the fleet's transfer to exclusively Russian jurisdiction.