LUZHKOV PROMISES HELP FOR BLACK SEA FLEET. While visiting Ukraine, Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov promised that the city of Moscow will help the Black Sea Fleet and do "everything possible" to make sure that Russian sailors in the fleet "do not feel cut off from their motherland," ITAR-TASS reported on 10 December. Luzhkov noted that Moscow has funded construction of some 500 apartments in Sevastopol, where the fleet is based. He also called for restoring economic cooperation between Russia and Ukraine at least to 1987 levels. Luzhkov has repeatedly claimed that Sevastopol is a Russian city. He recently appointed Konstantin Zatulin as his adviser on CIS matters, "Russkii telegraf" reported on 6 December. Zatulin, former chairman of the Duma's CIS Affairs Committee, has long championed the cause of ethnic Russians living abroad. He campaigned unsuccessfully for the Duma in 1995 on the party list of the Congress of Russian Communities. LB

OFFICIALS DISAGREE ON STATE OF UKRAINE'S ECONOMY. Anatoliy Galchinskiy, an advisor to President Leonid Kuchma, gave an upbeat assessment of Ukraine's economy, Interfax reported on 10 December. He said Ukraine had come very close to economic stabilization in 1997. He predicted that inflation for the year would be under 10 percent. But Serhiy Tyhypko, the deputy prime minister in charge of economic reform, was less optimistic. Speaking to journalists in Kyiv on the same day, he suggested that Ukraine's economic situation was now so desperate that the country might finally become serious about reform. PG

COUNCIL OF EUROPE MAY SUSPEND UKRAINE FOR EXECUTIONS. Tunne Kelam, an Estonian member of the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly, said in Kyiv on 10 December that the council might be forced to suspend Kyiv because Ukraine had executed people after President Leonid Kuchma had promised that there would not be any more executions, Ukrainian media reported. But Kelam added that his group would be "very unhappy" if that happened because Ukraine has made significant progress on a variety of other human rights questions. PG

BELARUSIANS PROTEST CLOSING OF INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPER. More than 1,000 Belarusians assembled in Minsk 10 December to protest the closing of "Svaboda" by the authorities and new laws limiting freedom of assembly and the press, Interfax and RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. They carried signs reading "No to Dictatorship." The demonstration was sanctioned by the police, and there was no official interference. Meanwhile, the U.S. embassy in Minsk released a statement in Russian noting that "normalization of relations with other nations for Belarus must begin with a return to a full observance of human rights." Also on 10 December, coordinated press conferences were held in Warsaw, Kyiv, Moscow and Vilnius to publicize the Belarusian opposition movement Khartia 97, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. PG