A photograph of Soviet Rear Adm. Nikolai Markov published yesterday was misidentified as showing Adm. Konstanin Makarov. (Published 2/15/88)

MOSCOW, FEB. 13 -- Soviet Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennadi Gerasimov today protested yesterday's collision of U.S. and Soviet warships off the Soviet Black Sea coast, saying the incident was the fault of the American vessels.

"We cannot help but view this serious and dangerous incident as undermining recent improvements in relations," Gerasimov told a press conference.

"We can only hope that this incident will not hinder the process of improvement in relations between our two countries, and in particular the forthcoming meetings between our defense and foreign ministers and the summit."

Gerasimov was referring to scheduled meetings between Soviet Defense Minister Dimitri Yazov and U.S. Defense Secretary Frank C. Carlucci March 16-17, between Secretary of State George P. Shultz and Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze Feb. 21-23, and a summit meeting between Mikhail Gorbachev and President Reagan, planned for later in the spring.

Gerasimov and Adm. Konstantin Makarov, first deputy commander in chief of the Soviet Navy, gave the Soviet version of the incident, which conflicted with the official U.S. version.

Two U.S. ships, the cruiser Yorktown and the destroyer Caron, entered Soviet coastal waters off the southern tip of the Crimean Peninsula and began approaching two Soviet frigates, Gerasimov said.

"Despite warning signals given by approaching Soviet vessels, the American ships did not react," Gerasimov said.

"Having intruded, the U.S. vessels maneuvered dangerously, and this led to a collision," he said.

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

Yesterday, American officials protested the incident to Soviet Ambassador Yuri Dubinin in Washington. They said that the two Soviet ships had deliberately rammed the U.S. vessels beyond the three-mile limit that the U.S. recognizes for Soviet territorial waters. The Soviets, however, claim a 12-mile limit.

A Pentagon official acknowledged that the two U.S. ships were within 12 miles of the Soviet coast but said the ships were "exercising the right of innocent passage" in those waters.

Makarov said today that Soviet law does not recognize any such right in its Black Sea waters.

A similar incident occurred in March 1986, when the Yorktown and Caron were also charged with entering Soviet waters.

The Soviet Union protested at the time and said that, if repeated, the incident could lead to dangerous consequences.

Recalling the previous incident, Gerasimov said, "When our relations start to get better, we always see a military provocation." He cited as an example the downing of an American U2 spy plane in 1960 shortly before a scheduled U.S.-Soviet summit meeting. The pilot of the plane, Francis Gary Powers, was captured, and the summit was canceled.

Gerasimov did not indicate, however, that yesterday's incident would hinder the upcoming series of U.S.-Soviet talks.