Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Deputies Vote to End Fleet Talks

Signaling a political battle ahead, Russian lawmakers gave overwhelming initial approval Tuesday to a bill that would end government attempts to reach an accord with Ukraine on dividing the Black Sea Fleet.

The lawmakers voted 370 to 5 to approve the legislation on first reading, Itar-Tass said.

President Boris Yeltsin's representative Alexander Kotenkov warned beforehand that the president would veto such a law. But the nearly unanimous vote showed that the State Duma, or lower house, might ultimately be able to override a veto.

The bill says divvying up the fleet would run counter to Russia's national security interests and its relations with Ukraine.

"A division cuts the formerly powerful fleet like living flesh," said Alexander Tyagunov, who proposed the legislation.

The Duma must still pass the legislation one more time before it goes to the Federation Council or upper house.

Oleksandr Bolichevtsev, a Ukrainian Foreign Ministry representative in fleet negotiations with Russia, said from Kiev the decision was "very, very strange." But he said it wasn't too worrying because "Yeltsin is unlikely to approve such an extreme step."

The Black Sea Fleet has been a sticking point in relations between Russia and Ukraine since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Both nations claimed rights to the former Soviet fleet, based on the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea.

The two countries have already reached preliminary agreement on the fleet and have divided up much of its equipment. Amid continuing negotiations, Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin said last month he hoped to visit Ukraine in October to sign an accord resolving the long-running dispute.

But the nations remain at odds over the status of the city of Sevastopol, the fleet's base, and what to do with many of the facilities.

Russian security chief Alexander Lebed recently urged the Kremlin to stake claims to Sevastopol, a city founded by Catherine the Great and still populated mainly by ethnic Russians.