MOSCOW -- The commander in chief of the Soviet navy announced yesterday that the number of vessels in his country's fleet would be cut by between 20 percent and 25 percent within the next decade, the official news agency Tass reported.
Adm. Vladimir N. Chernavin said that the Soviet fleet, one of the world's largest, would maintain defensive sufficiency despite the cuts.
"Combat capabilities of the navy will be maintained thanks to the qualitative renewal of all branches of the service," he told Tass.
The announcement of planned naval cuts came during a visit to the Soviet Union by Gen. Colin L. Powell, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, who praised recent cuts in the Soviet armed forces and the planned reductions of the U.S. and Soviet nuclear arsenals.
Western diplomats in Moscow said that the cuts probably reflected a decision to decommission old ships and reshape the fleet to emphasize quality instead of quantity.
Admiral Chernavin said that the latest Soviet ships, particularly Typhoon-class guided missile submarines, third-generation attack submarines, Kirov-class cruisers and new Sovremenny-class destroyers, would form the basis of the fleet.
The authoritative London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies said that the Soviet navy in 1990 had 323 submarines, 227 principal surface combatants, 395 patrol and coastal combatants, 331 mine warfare ships and 77 amphibious craft.
In the last few years, the Soviet navy has been reducing its overseas presence as part of a military strategy that aims at de-emphasizing offensive capabilities while maintaining defensive stability, according to the U.S. Defense Department's annual survey, "Soviet Military Power."
For the last three years, the Soviet Union has been pushing for navies to be included in Soviet-U.S. and multilateral arms reduction negotiations and has been decommissioning some of its old ships each year in goodwill gestures directed toward its neighbors in Europe and Asia.
The United States has so far refused to include naval forces in arms reduction talks, contending that its economy requires a strong navy to protect shipping lanes. The Soviet economy, by contrast, depends largely on land transport.