...ANNOUNCES OPERATION TO LIBERATE VLASOV. Stepashin also said that Russian and Chechen Interior Ministry forces will launch a joint operation in the next few days to secure the release of Valentin Vlasov, the Russian presidential envoy to Chechnya abducted on 1 May. Senior Ukrainian government official Nikolai Brichko, who was in Chechnya to conclude agreements on rebuilding work, has also been abducted in Chechnya, Interfax reported on 29 May. LF

GEORGIA CONDEMNS ABKHAZ STATE OF EMERGENCY. The Georgian Foreign Ministry issued a statement on 29 May saying the state of emergency imposed by Ardzinba in Gali and parts of two neighboring raions two days earlier is a violation of the Georgian Constitution, Caucasus Press reported. The statement said the state of emergency could hinder the implementation of the 25 May agreement on a cease-fire and the return of Georgian fugitives to their homes. In addition, the ministry rejected Ardzinba's claims that Ukrainian mercenaries participated in the recent fighting alongside Georgian guerrillas, according to ITAR-TASS. Also on 29 May, Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Boris Pastukhov told Interfax that Russia opposes any peaceenforcement operation in Gali Raion. Pastukhov rejected charges that Russian peacekeepers supplied Abkhaz Interior Ministry troops with the heavy artillery they used during the fighting. LF

KUCHMA SAYS CONSULTATIONS WITH BONN "OUTSTANDING EVENT." Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma has hailed the political consultations between Ukraine and Germany, which were launched by his 28 May meeting with German Chancellor Helmut Kohl in Bonn, as an "outstanding event in the history of relations of the two countries," Ukrainian Television reported. He added that Ukraine counts on German support in its aspirations toward European integration. Kohl, for his part, advised that Ukrainian ties with the EU and NATO should not be too hastily developed. "I am strictly against naming concrete dates," dpa quoted the German chancellor as saying. But he was more upbeat about the prospects of building a large German-Ukrainian-Russian transport aircraft, based on the Russian-Ukrainian An-70 aircraft, saying the decision will be taken next year following a feasibility study by aviation experts. JM

UKRAINE, GAZPROM SET UP OIL, GAS EXPLORATION COMPANY. Ukraine's Chornomornaftohaz oil and gas company on 29 May signed a deal with the Russian monopoly Gazprom on creating a joint venture to prospect for oil and gas deposits in the Black and Azov Seas, ITAR-TASS reported. According to the Chornomornaftohaz director Mikolay Ilnitskyy, those deposits are estimated at 1.5 billion tons and may be tapped by the new joint venture "in a year or two." The deal provides for the equal role of the two companies in the undertaking and the joint use of gas fields around Crimea. JM

BULGARIA, RUSSIA 'SATISFIED' WITH RELATIONS. Foreign Ministers Nadezhda Mihailova and Yevgenii Primakov, meeting in Luxembourg on 29 May, said they are now "satisfied" that bilateral relations have improved after the signing in April of the agreement on Russian gas deliveries to Bulgaria. They added that preparations are now under way for "speeding up" the visit to Moscow by President Petar Stoyanov. The two countries' premiers are also to meet. Primakov said Russia "fully shares" Bulgaria's position that "economic sanctions" over Kosova "can only have an adverse effect on the economies of Yugoslavia's neighbors" and are "a dubious instrument" for pressure on Belgrade. In other news, Deputy Industry Minister Stefan Stavrev and his Ukrainian counterpart, Valeriy Subarev, meeting in Plodviv on 29 May, agreed on closer cooperation between the two countries' arms industries in order to produce new equipment and sell it to third countries, dpa reported. MS