Hawaii's World

By A.A. Smyser

Tuesday, September 17, 1996

Pacific Fleet chief's visit
to Vladivostok

ADM. R.J. (Zap) Zlatoper, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet since 1994, spent 26 of his Navy years thinking the only way he'd see Russia's secret naval base at Vladivostok would be to take off from a U.S. carrier in an A-6 aircraft, drop 28 500-pound bombs on it, and zoom away as fast as possible.

So guess what? He instead went to Vladivostok July 26-30 as an invited guest to mark the 300th anniversary of the Russian Navy. Building on earlier post-Cold War contacts, he had become a friend rather than enemy of his counterpart, Adm. Vladimir Ivanovich Kuroyedov, commander of the Russian Pacific Fleet, whom he describes as "remarkably polished, astute and outgoing."

Vladivostok is Russia's only ice-free port on the Pacific, has its only naval academy east of the Urals, and has been the seat of Russian naval activity in the Pacific since 1865. Until recently it has been a closed city.

Invited along with Zlatoper were his deputy and soon-to-be-successor, Vice Adm. Archie Ray Clemins, commander of the U.S. Seventh Fleet, based in Yokosuka, Japan. Also attending were commanding admirals and ships from China, Japan and South Korea.

Things got so friendly that an international admirals' team of the two American and three Russian admirals played basketball at the Russian naval academy against enlisted men from the USS Blue Ridge, the Seventh Fleet command ship. The younger Blue Ridgers had practiced together and won, no score announced.

In a chat over problems, Kuroyedov spoke of his difficulties in working with bosses in Moscow seven time zones away and primarily focused on Europe. Me, too, Zlatoper said. Most of his bosses are six time zones away in Washington and Europe-oriented, too.

Zlatoper was allowed to tour the entire Vladivostok base, see its spy ships and inspect Russia's newest cruiser. Kuroyedov said the U.S. Navy projects power primarily with aircraft carriers while Russia does it primarily with submarines.

Groundwork for the Vladivostok reception was laid in 1991. That June Zlatoper brought the carrier Ranger and its squadron home to San Diego from the Gulf War and was asked to show visiting Russians around it. Relations started stiffly but warmed up.

Zlatoper asked chief petty officers to explain their duties to the Russians. They were so fluent the Russians thought they were officers in disguise.

From there Zlatoper was transferred to a personnel assignment in Washington and asked to oversee reducing the Navy from 600,000 sailors to 400,000, something he feels went off rather smoothly.

When Zlatoper was assigned to command the Pacific Fleet in 1994, the U.S. and Russian fleets engaged in a joint exercise off Vladivostok but Zlatoper did not attend.

IN 1995 three Russian ships came to Hawaii. They took part in the parade of ships off Waikiki to mark the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II. They also joined four U.S. ships in a joint landing exercise at Bellows Air Station, simulated as being for humanitarian purposes.

I have a personal recollection that jibes with Zlatoper saying the U.S., Russian, Chinese, Japanese and South Korean admirals gathered at Vladivostok found that men and women in uniform, whatever the uniform, have a bond of many common values.

Twenty-five years after the Pearl Harbor attack I was an intermediary in a dinner meeting of the attack leader, Capt. Mitsuo Fuchida, with U.S. intelligence officers who had been on the ground here that day. They, too, were rather shocked at the common high regard they developed for each other.

"There are very few bad people," Zlatoper says, "but there are an awful lot of bad communications."

A.A. Smyser is the Star-Bulletin's contributing editor.
His column runs Tuesday and Thursday.

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