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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Yeltsin Demands Funding for Cruiser




President Boris Yeltsin on Tuesday ordered the government to find the money to complete repairs on a battleship that is the pride of Russia's Black Sea Fleet but has been sitting in dock under repair for the past six years.


The Black Sea Fleet has been without the 11,000-ton missile cruiser Moskva since 1993 when it was sent to a repair dock in the Ukrainian Black Sea port of Nikolayev. Some money has been spent on the job over the years, but the Ukrainian shipbuilders say they need another $10 million to finish.


Even though Yeltsin's order gave no hint as to where Russia's cash-strapped government is to find the money, Viktor Stavitsky, who oversees the repairs of the Moskva at the 61 Kommunar Dock, was hopeful that Tuesday's order could bring the Moskva's ordeal to an end.


"It is gratifying news for all of us, of course," he said in a telephone interview.


Stavitsky said that repairs were about 80 percent completed and the $10 million would cover both the cost of final repairs and outstanding debts. Once the money was paid, the ship could be ready and set sail for the Black Sea Fleet's main base in Sevastopol within five months.


The embarrassing delay in repairing the Moskva is part of the general decay of Russia's Black Sea Fleet, which has been a hostage to a bitter dispute between Russia and Ukraine.


Russia has been forced to divide the fleet it inherited from the Soviet Union, handing over scores of vessels to Ukraine in exchange for rights to use strategic naval bases in the Crimea and elsewhere in Ukraine. Russia has cut funding to the fleet partly because of the uncertainty over ownership.


Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, who advocates taking back the Crimean port of Sevastopol from Ukraine, took up the cause of the Black Sea Fleet in 1993, even though this is usually a matter for the federal government.


He has donated large sums from the Moscow city budget to help the fleet, including, of course, substantial aid to fund repairs on the ship that bears his city's name.


Luzhkov had provided a total of 28 million rubles for repairing the Moskva as of late last year, compared with a mere 2.7 million rubles from the poorly-funded Black Sea Fleet itself.


Commissioned in 1982, the Moskva cruiser remains the most powerful battleship of Russia's Black Sea Fleet, Russian navy spokesman Dmitry Minakov said.


The cruiser, which is designed to fight enemy naval vessels, including aircraft carriers, boasts a maximum speed of 32.5 knots and a range of 12,000 kilometers.


Alexander Pikayev of the Moscow Carnegie Center said the Black Sea Fleet needs the Moskva to maintain at least "some kind of a parity" with the naval forces of Turkey, a member of NATO.


A small Russian naval unit overseeing the repairs at Nikolayev has been most embarrassed by the chronic funding shortages.


Ukrainian utility companies have cut off the unit's water and power and the Ukrainian tax service has seized the unit's bank accounts. The unit has been hanging on for six years waiting for funds and once the Moskva is finished, it will be disbanded. "It is the cruiser that keeps us here," the repair brigade's duty officer Sergei Titchenkov said by telephone on Tuesday.


Both Titchenkov and Stavitsky denied rumors that the cruiser could be sold off by the 61 Kommunar Dock to scrap merchants if the fleet doesn't pay its debt soon.


Two Black Sea Fleet warships - the Tashkent and the Nikolayev - have already been sold off for scrap after the fleet failed to pay for their repairs at the Nikolayev docks.


Some of the Russian navy's rusted warships and submarines have sunk at their moorings after waiting years to be repaired.