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Yeltsin 'Ashamed' at Move to Grab Port : Politics: Russian leader derides his legislators' claim to the Ukrainian naval port of Sevastopol.

July 11, 1993|RICHARD BOUDREAUX | TIMES STAFF WRITER. Times special correspondent Mary Mycio in Kiev contributed to this article

MOSCOW — President Boris N. Yeltsin said Saturday that he was "ashamed" of Russia's Supreme Soviet for laying claim to the Ukrainian naval port of Sevastopol and made it clear that Russia will make no move against the city.

The legislature's resolution, though not backed by force, raised tensions between the two powerful former Soviet republics and further dimmed prospects for Ukraine's ratification of a treaty to give up its nuclear weapons.

Russian lawmakers acted by a 166-0 vote Friday while Yeltsin was in Tokyo with leaders of the world's seven richest industrialized nations. There, he and President Clinton agreed to ask Ukraine to negotiate a three-way accord on nuclear disarmament.

Worried that the territorial claim could undermine such an effort, Yeltsin told reporters in Siberia on his way home: "I am ashamed of our (legislature). Serious legislators do not behave in this way."

Yeltsin was in Listvyanka, a resort on the shore of Lake Baikal, for a weekend of relaxed talks with German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, who was also on his way home from Tokyo.

The Russian leader said the status of Sevastopol and the former Soviet Black Sea naval fleet, which is based there under joint command, "must be discussed gradually and peacefully. Otherwise, in the end, what would you have me do--declare war on Ukraine?"

Yeltsin and Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk have made progress in negotiations, agreeing to divide the 384-ship fleet in half by 1995 and coming close to an understanding on security guarantees for a non-nuclear Ukraine.

On Saturday, the prime ministers of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus vowed to coordinate their economic policies more closely as they move toward a free market.

But events in recent weeks have highlighted the threat to peace posed by hard-line nationalists in both Russia and Ukraine.

First, the fleet's mostly Russian officer corps has raised Russian flags to protest the presidents' decision to divide it.

Then, on July 2, Ukraine's Parliament declared "ownership" of the 176 nuclear missiles the country inherited from the Soviet Union. That step defied the pressure on Ukraine by the United States and Russia to join them in ratifying the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Friday's vote in Moscow appeared to be retaliation for Ukraine's action.

Several hundred Russian residents of Sevastopol rallied Saturday in support of the vote, demanding that Ukrainian naval officers leave and that only Russian flags fly on public buildings.

Ruslan I. Khasbulatov, chairman of the Russian Parliament, said Saturday that the Crimea's transfer was made by the ruling Communist Party leadership but never ratified by any state body and is therefore void.

"What shall we do now?" he asked at a meeting with foreign reporters. "This does not mean that the armed forces will be ordered to establish our control there. We are talking here about peaceful negotiations."

Even so, the vote deepened Ukrainians' fear that Russia is bent on reabsorbing its smaller neighbor. Ukrainian lawmakers met in special session Saturday and called on the U.N. Security Council and NATO to stop Russia from aggressive acts.

"The United States must take a stand for Ukraine's security (against Russia's) territorial claims," said Tatiana Jakheeva, a member of the Ukrainian Parliament's Disarmament Commission. "Otherwise, how can we talk about nuclear weapons or trust the United States at all?"

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