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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russian Parliament Claims Sevastopol

The Russian parliament on Friday voted overwhelmingly to declare the Crimean port of Sevastopol part of Russia, prompting immediate cries of outrage in Ukraine on whose territory the city stands.

Parliament, by a vote of 160 to 0 with one abstention, adopted a resolution "to confirm the Russian (federal) status of the city Sevastopol - the main base of the Russian Black Sea Fleet".

The vote has brought to the surface what is potentially the most explosive issue in relations between Russia and Ukraine - the question of who owns the Crimean peninsula.

President Leonid Kravchuk of Ukraine dismissed the move as illegal, Reuters reported from Kiev.

"This decision violates all international norms and has no legal force, in-accordance with Helsinki and other accords", Kravchuk said on television. "Ukraine rejects it as it is at variance with the interests of the Ukrainian people and violates our territorial integrity".

Added to the Russian Empire in 1783, Crimea was given to Ukraine in 1954 when it was still part of the Soviet Union. But few Russians have accepted the validity of that transfer since the U. S. S. R. collapsed in 1991, for the first time giving the change real meaning.

The resolution called for Sevastopol to be written into the Russian Constitution as a Russian federal city like Moscow and St. Petersburg, but it did not propose any prior negotiations with Ukraine.

"There is no chance for negotiations to succeed", Yevgeny Pudovkin, the main author of the resolution, told reporters. "For that there must be desire on both sides and Ukraine does not want to discuss the issue".

Pudovkin added that if Ukraine wanted to challenge Russia's claim, it could take the case to international arbitration. "I am quite certain that we would win", he said.

To justify the resolution, Pudovkin said that there was no territorial claim involved, because Sevastopol had never belonged to Ukraine.

"Since Sevastopol was established in the 18th century, Russia has never given up her sovereignty over this city", he said.

A separate resolution expressed parliament's opposition to an agreement by President Boris Yeltsin and his Ukrainian counterpart Leonid Kravchuk to divide the Black Sea fleet.

The resolution said that the fleet should remain "single, united and glorious" and that its fate should be decided "by the people and not by certain politicians".

A third resolution authorized the Russian Central Bank to pay the salaries and benefits of all personnel connected with the 350-vessel fleet, which is based at Sevastopol. Pudovkin estimated that cost at 4. 5 billion rubles (about $4 millon) per month.

After the vote, a group of navy veterans seated in the balcony stood up to applaud, chanting "Thank you, thank you". Most navy officers have opposed splitting the fleet.

Ukrainian Ambassador Vladimir Kryzhanovsky, who was in parliament for the vote, said it was "a sad moment both for Russia and for Ukraine".

To take legal effect, the resolution must be written into the Russian Constitution. That could be a complicated process because it requires a decision by Russia's highest legislature.

It is also unlikely that Yeltsin - who was away in Tokyo during the vote - will support the resolution. Pavlychko noted to Interfax that the Russian parliament no longer reflects the views of the entire Moscow leadership.

In a sign that the governments, if not the legislatures, of the two counties are still trying to compromise, Itar-Tass reported that the prime ministers of Russia and Ukraine as well as Belarus will meet in Moscow Saturday to discuss furthering economic integration between the three countries.

The vote also comes at a time when - despite efforts at compromise by Yeltsin and Kravchuk - talks between the two countries on a long list of problems have soured, mainly due to moves by the two parliaments.

A week ago the Ukrainian parliament voted to claim ownership of the nuclear weapons that inherited from the former Soviet Union, exacerbating suspicions in both Moscow and Washington that Kiev may abandon pledges it has made to give up the weapons and become a non-nuclear state.