UKRAINE LIFTS RESTRICTIONS ON RUSSIAN MILITARY PLANES. Ukraine has agreed to lift restrictions on Russian military planes flying over its territory. The Russian Defense Ministry announced on 5 April that the decision followed a telephone conversation between Russian military chief of staff Gen. Viktor Samsonov and his Ukrainian counterpart, Alexander Zatynaiko. Ukraine temporarily restricted Russian military planes from its skies after what it described as a series of unannounced Russian flights into air space over the Black Sea under Ukraine's jurisdiction. Russia's air force denied the accusations. Russia says its aircraft were flying over "neutral waters." Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma told a press conference in Kyiv on 5 April that actions taken by "individual officials," as in the case of the Russian planes, should not be allowed to damage relations between Ukraine and Russia.
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT ON SLOW PACE OF REFORMS.... Kuchma says the country's reform process has stagnated and that both the government and the parliament are to blame. Speaking to journalists in Kyiv on 5 April, Kuchma argued that the government's and parliament's actions are an inadequate response to the "level of tension in society." He also noted that the parliament's productivity is low and that approval of important economic laws and land reform is being blocked. Kuchma confirmed a government reshuffle will be announced next week. He said there will also be a reduction in the number of state agencies and civil servants.
...AND ON SPEEDING UP TREATY WITH ROMANIA. Kuchma says he wants to meet with his Romanian counterpart, Emil Constantinescu, in order to expedite the conclusion of the basic treaty between the two countries, RFE/RL's Romanian Service reported on 6 April, citing the independent Mediafax agency. The last round of treaty talks took place in Bucharest at the end of March. Since then, the talks appear to have stalled.
STOWAWAYS FOUND ON SLOVAK-UKRAINIAN BORDER. A spokesman for the Ukrainian State Border Protection Committee has told journalists that Ukrainian border guards yesterday detained 55 Chinese citizens who allegedly planned to cross into neighboring Slovakia on the back of a truck. The spokesman said the group was found hiding in a canvas- covered truck on a road outside the city of Uzhgorod, near the Slovak border. Four people were hospitalized with signs of carbon dioxide poisoning. The rest have been taken into custody by the border service.
SMIRNOV WANTS TRANSDNIESTER TO JOIN UKRAINE. Igor Smirnov, the leader of Moldova's breakaway region, says he would have "no objection" to the Transdniester's joining Ukraine. "If Ukraine shifts its border to the Dniester [River], I will not intervene," Smirnov said in an interview with the Ukrainian newspaper Kievskiye Vedomosti last week. He emphasized that 250,000 of the Transdniester's inhabitants are Ukrainian, which, he said, "cannot be simply overlooked." In other news, Interfax reported that Smirnov flew to Moscow yesterday to try to persuade Russian Foreign Minister Primakov to include Tiraspol during his scheduled visit to Moldova on 10 April. The agenda provides for a meeting with Smirnov in Chisinau.
UKRAINIAN NUCLEAR UPDATE. State Nuclear Committee Deputy Chairman Vasyl Katko says Ukraine's nuclear power plants will be unable to afford annual repairs this summer because energy consumers are not paying their bills, RFE/RL reported. Katko estimates that Ukraine's five nuclear stations can undertake only 30% of the necessary repair work. Interfax quotes Environment and Nuclear Safety Minister Yuri Kostenko as describing the safety situation at the country's nuclear power plants as "unsatisfactory." He told the parliament yesterday that the safety of the concrete sarcophagus covering the fourth reactor at Chornobyl has deteriorated because of moisture buildup, insufficient monitoring, and inefficient contingency plans for a chain reaction. The ministry's nuclear control administration says the number six reactor at the Zaporozhye atomic power station was switched off yesterday because of a malfunction in the reactor unit, UNIAN reported.