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Soviets Blame ‘Dangerous Maneuvers’ of U.S. Warships for Collisions

February 13, 1988 GMT

MOSCOW (AP) _ Two U.S. warships collided with Soviet ships in the Black Sea when they violated Soviet territorial waters, ignored warnings from patrol craft and made ″dangerous maneuvers,″ a Soviet admiral charged Saturday.

The spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, Gennady I. Gerasimov, called the Friday incident off the Crimean peninsula an American ″military provocation″ and likened it to the 1960 downing of a U-2 spy plane that forced cancellation of a superpower summit.

″We hope that this will not hinder the process of improvement in Soviet- American relations″ Gerasimov said of the warship collisions.

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Gerasimov and Rear Adm. Nikolai P. Markov appeared at a noon news briefing to give the first detailed Kremlin version of the grazing of the cruiser USS Yorktown and the destroyer USS Caron by two Soviet navy vessels.

The Soviet Defense Ministry on Friday night accused the American vessels of violating Soviet waters, but did not mention any physical contact between them and Soviet ships.

U.S. Navy officials said the Yorktown and the Caron were deliberately bumped while exercising their right to pass through international waters.

But Markov and Gerasimov told reporters the U.S. warships were knowingly violating Soviet waters, and that the collisions were solely the fault of the American captains.

″If we look back at history, always when there is a tendency toward improvement in our relations we see some military provocation,″ Gerasimov said.

Soviet anti-aircraft units downed the spy plane piloted by Francis Gary Powers on May 1, 1960 near Sverdlovsk. The resulting uproar doomed a meeting planned that year between Soviet Premier Nikita S. Khrushchev and President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Gerasimov said U.S. Ambassador Jack Matlock had been summoned to the Foreign Ministry Saturday morning, where Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Bessmertnykh read him a ″strong protest″ over the Black Sea incident.

″The Soviet side cannot but view the actions of the United States Navy as aimed at undermining the process of improvement in Soviet-American relations which has appeared recently,″ Gerasimov said, reading from the protest.

Unlike the United States, which claims a three-mile territorial limit, the Soviet Union claims a 12-mile limit along its coast.

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U.S. Navy Cmdr. Richard Schiff, a lawyer, said Friday in Washington that any country claiming a 12-mile territorial limit ″must allow for innocent passage by the ships of all nations.″

But Markov and Gerasimov said Soviet law does not provide for the right of innocent passage in Black Sea waters, which the Soviets have longed claimed as their own.

Markov referred repeatedly to ″dangerous maneuvers″ by the U.S. warships. When asked to explain, he said the Yorktown and Caron had been warned both before and after entering Soviet waters.

He said the two Soviet warships, identified by Pentagon officials as a Krivak-class frigate and a Mirka-class patrol boat, were on a ″basically parallel course″ with the U.S. vessels when the grazings occurred.

The larger Krivak-class vessel brushed the left side of the Yorktown, while the Caron was grazed on the same side by the patrol craft, U.S. officials said.

U.S. officials said the grazings were intentional, but Markov said the captains of the Soviet ships ″did not have such an intention.″

Markov did not name the Soviet warships, but a small chart displayed at the briefing identified them as the frigate Bezzavetny and the patrol ship SKR-6.

The official news agency Tass later quoted the captain of the Bezzavetny as saying the Soviet ships came within two yards of the American vessels when ″they demanded anew that they leave the USSR’s territorial waters.″

″Without receiving an answer, the Bezzavetny and the SKR-6 came close to the U.S. warships’ sides with a view to ousting them,″ the captain, Vladimir Bagdashin, was quoted as saying. ″No damage was caused to either the Soviet or the U.S. ships.″

Defense Department spokeswoman Susan Hansen said the two U.S. ships have continued what she called ″routine″ operations. The Pentagon has declined to say when the ships were to leave the Black Sea.

Markov said the Friday incident was the third of its kind in recent years.

In March 1986, the same two ships, the Yorktown and the Caron, violated Soviet territorial waters in the Black Sea, he said, and two American warships penetrated Soviet waters in the Far East last year.

Secretary of State George P. Shultz is scheduled to arrive in Moscow next Sunday to talk about a U.S.-Soviet summit meeting tentatively scheduled in the Soviet capital in the spring.