RUSSIAN ECONOMY SLIPS TO BOTTOM OF CIS RANKINGS. The CIS Interstate Statistical Committee reported that during the first eight months of the year, the Russian economy performed worse than that of any other CIS nations, according to Interfax on 28 September. From January to August, according to the Committee, Russian GDP fell by 2.1 percent and industrial output slipped 2.6 percent compared with gains in GDP of 0.2 percent in Ukraine and 9.2 percent in Azerbaijan. The committee seems to be relying on the CIS nations' own economic reporting, since GDP in Belarus is recorded as having risen an unbelievable 11 percent, while "economic tiger" Tajikistan registered a 6.5 percent growth in GDP. JAC

UKRAINIAN FINANCIAL CRISIS DEEPENS... Ukrainian National Bank Chairman Viktor Yushchenko on 28 September pledged to keep the national currency within the new exchange rate corridor of 2.5-3.5 hryvni to $1, which was introduced earlier this month, AP reported. Yushchenko, however, gave no hint as to how he intends to prevent the currency from further devaluation. He had announced earlier that the National Bank will not use its hard-currency reserves to support the hryvnya. The hryvnya exchange rate fell to 3.37 to $1 on 25 September, compared with 2.25 to $1 at the beginning of this month. JM

...BUT EBRD PLEDGES TO CONTINUE COOPERATION. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development is determined to continue long-term cooperation with Ukraine despite the country's financial troubles. "The EBRD has a long-term commitment to Ukraine, we will remain involved in Ukraine," Reuters cited EBRD First Deputy Chairman Charles Frank as saying. He added that the bank will focus on support for Ukrainian small and medium-sized businesses, the energy sector, and the privatization of telecommunications and energy companies. Frank noted that Ukraine, unlike Russia, has not defaulted on its debt payments and has not permitted an insolvency crisis in the banking sector. He said Ukraine can count on $1 billion from the EBRD for various projects currently under consideration. JM

SELEZNEV URGES UKRAINE TO UNITE WITH RUSSIA, BELARUS... At a meeting with the Ukrainian Supreme Council leadership in Kyiv on 28 September, Russian State Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev urged Ukraine to unite with Russia and Belarus, AP and dpa reported. "It would be hailed by our people as the most important event of the 20th century," AP quoted him as saying. In their talks with Seleznev, both Ukrainian parliamentary speaker Oleksandr Tkachenko and Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk urged the Russian parliament to ratify the Ukrainian-Russian treaty, which was signed by the two countries' presidents in May 1997. Seleznev assured Tarasyuk that the Duma will resume debating ratification of the treaty by the end of this year. JM

...RECEIVES MIXED RECEPTION IN SUPREME COUNCIL. Interfax reported that the next day Seleznev failed to finish his address to the Ukrainian parliament. When the Duma speaker proposed that Ukraine should join the Russian-Belarusian union, mainly Popular Rukh deputies began shouting that his proposal was "provocative" and left the hall in protest. Earlier, the Rukh parliamentary caucus (47 deputies) refused to register for the session. By contrast, the communist parliamentary group (some 120 deputies) received Seleznev's speech with applause. Other deputies frequently interrupted the Russian official, particularly when he spoke disapprovingly about Ukraine's possible admission to NATO and the situation of the Russian language in Ukraine. JM

KUCHMA MEETS WITH KWASNIEWSKI. At an informal meeting in Crimea on 28 September, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma and his Polish counterpart, Aleksander Kwasniewski, discussed the Russian financial crisis and a wide range of bilateral and economic issues, DINAU reported on 28 September. Kwasniewski assured Kuchma that Poland, following its EU entry, "will not turn its back on Ukraine." According to Polish Radio, Kuchma assured that the reconstructed cemetery in Lviv for Polish youths who fell while fighting against Ukrainians in 1918 will be reopened this year. The cemetery was recently desecrated with paint smears and anti-Polish slogans, provoking a note of protest from the Polish Foreign Ministry. JM

UKRAINE, BELARUS PLAN LONG-TERM ECONOMIC COOPERATION. Ukrainian Premier Valeriy Pustovoytenko and Belarusian Premier Syarhey Linh said on 28 September in Kyiv that Belarus and Ukraine are strategic partners, ITAR-TASS reported. They expressed the need to draft a long-term program of economic cooperation. In Pustovoytenko's opinion, the program should be a ten-year one. The Ukrainian government's press service told the agency that the two leaders reached an understanding on several issues, including barter settlements between their countries. Pustovoytenko proposed to set up a banking consortium with the participation of Ukraine's Prominvestbank, Belarus's Promstroibank, and some Russian banks. According to Ukrainian Trade Minister Serhiy Osyka, the long-term cooperation program is already 70 percent complete and will boost Ukrainian-Belarusian trade by up to $700 million next year. JM