MOSCOW -- Ukraine's decision to sell its share of the disputed Black Sea Fleet and relinquish its nuclear warheads to Russia came under furious political assault yesterday, raising serious questions about whether the deal will stand.
Ukrainian nationalists denounced the move as an act of "national betrayal" and demanded the resignation of President Leonid Kravchuk, who concluded the agreement in a meeting with Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin on Friday. Several Ukrainian Parliament members said they would try to block the deal when it comes up for legislative review, according to reports from Kiev by the Itar-Tass and Interfax news agencies.
Mr. Kravchuk also seemed to be wavering, telling journalists Friday night that no final decision had been made on trading Ukraine's half of the 380-ship fleet for Russia's forgiveness of a multibillion-dollar trade debt. And the text of a joint communique signed by the two presidents, which was released by Mr. Yeltsin's office yesterday, made no specific mention of the sale.
But Russian officials exultantly called the agreement a done deal and began attempting to reap political benefits from it. "The Black Sea Fleet with its entire infrastructure . . . will be used by Russia," Defense Minister Pavel Grachev said. "The ships will raise Russian flags."
Mr. Yeltsin, who is locked in a furious power struggle with opponents who accuse him, among other things, of compromising Russia's national interests, appeared on national television calling the agreement a "breakthrough." His press secretary, Vyacheslav Kostikov, made it clear that Mr. Yeltsin would seek to use the deal as a weapon in the political wars.
The deal -- if it stands -- would settle two of the thorniest problems that have divided the two republics since the collapse of the Soviet Union. For more than a year their leaders have quarreled over the status of the fleet and of the 176 long-range missiles and 1,240 nuclear warheads based in Ukraine.
According to the terms announced by Mr. Yeltsin and Mr. Kravchuk, Ukraine will sell its 50 percent share of the fleet to Russia to clear a multibillion-dollar debt it owes to Moscow for oil, gas and other trade. It also will ship the nuclear warheads to Russia to be dismantled, receiving in return reprocessed nuclear fuel for use in its electrical generating plants.
Ukraine is in desperate economic straits, with a monthly inflation rate of 40 percent and a currency that is plunging in value, and Mr. Kravchuk left no doubt that this played a major role in his decision. "If we had a billion dollars in the bank, the opposition could criticize us," he said, according to Interfax.
But Vyacheslav Chornovil, chairman of the nationalist movement Rukh and a prominent member of Parliament, called the deal a sellout. "Having robbed the state, Ukraine's supreme Communist power has started to sell off national property in order to receive oil," he said.