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Ukraine, Russia agree to divide fleet

Russia and Ukraine agreed to split the Black Sea Fleet down the middle in hopes of ending the chronic disputes over its control that have riled sailors and set the two Slavic states against each other.

The agreement between Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Ukrainian leader Leonid Kravchuk amounted to an admission that they cannot abide by their previous plan to share the fleet for two years while they worked out its future.

Instead, Kravchuk told reporters, the 300-vessel fleet _ once the jewel of the Soviet navy _ will be divided beginning in September "on the principle of 50 percent to 50 percent."

The fleet includes 45 battleships, more than 150 aircraft and 28 submarines with nuclear capacity.

Yeltsin's spokesmen said the Russian president also made official his offer of security guarantees to Ukraine as an encouragement for it to ratify the arms treaties that obligate it to give its nuclear weapons to Russia. The United States too has offered Ukraine such guarantees.

The agreement on the fleet, which is subject to ratification by both parliaments, holds the promise of calming more than 200 crews that had begun raising the Russian naval ensign over their ships to protest their measly Ukraine salaries. It also is aimed at stemming complaints that Russia is trying to run the fleet by itself.

But the idea appears to worry some military experts.

"The fleet's dismemberment is now dangerous as never before," a former commander of the fleet wrote recently. "According to our assessments, within the next two to three years the Turkish navy will be able to attain exclusive domination in the Black Sea."

_ Information from Times files was used in this report.