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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Time for Civilized Split of Black Sea Fleet

The uproar over the Black Sea Fleet does no credit to either Russia or the Ukraine. Outmoded, cumbersome, inefficient, and ruinously expensive to maintain, the fleet would seem to be more of a burden than a prize. Nevertheless, both sides have used the issue as a rallying cry for nationalist forces.


The Russian Duma's Wednesday resolution freezing the division of the fleet is unlikely to have any real effect on the ultimate distribution of ships and other resources. Unfortunately, neither will the agreement reached by the Russian and Ukrainian presidents Thursday.


In fact, "agreements" on the Black Sea Fleet are a common occurrence: The politicians have announced that the problem has been solved at least three times, only to founder days after the breakthrough was achieved.


What is at stake is more than the fate of several hundred nearly useless hunks of metal. The problem of the fleet is the problem of Crimea, of its port city, Sevastopol, and of Russia's acceptance of Ukraine as an independent nation.


Ukraine's hairtrigger nationalism, nurtured by generations of cultural and political domination by its heavy-handed neighbor, will not allow its leaders to give way on Sevastopol. And the Duma's chest-thumping assertions that Russia will never hand over control of the port city will only aggravate an already tense situation.


In fact, the grandstanding on both sides engenders suspicion that neither Russia nor Ukraine is interested is resolving the issue. Nationalists on both sides may prefer to have a relatively safe issue close to hand at which they can effectively demonstrate their super-patriotism.


But, in the end, the fleet will have to be divided. While Russia and Ukraine bicker, the fleet is becoming even older and more decrepit.


Neither side can afford to keep it up alone, and after the conflicts of the past few years, it is painfully obvious that no type of joint control is possible. The difference between Russia and Ukraine on security policy are too great.


Some agreement will have to be reached on Sevastopol. Russia may end up leasing the port, which has been home to the fleet for decades.


But it must be in a legal quid pro quo with the consent of Ukraine. Russia may have to back down on its demands that it occupy the whole territory of Sevastopol.


It is high time for Russia and Ukraine to show that they are capable of more than nationalist rhetoric. Real compromise is the only way out of the present dead-end.