KUCHMA CRITICIZES RUSSIA FOR NOT IMPLEMENTING FREE TRADE ACCORD... At a meeting with raion administration leaders in Kyiv on 8 October, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma criticized Russia for failing to meet halfway Ukraine's proposals to implement the bilateral free trade agreement, Interfax reported. Kuchma said the Russian State Duma, unlike the Ukrainian parliament, has not ratified the agreement. He also recalled that Russia introduced value-added tax on Ukrainian goods in 1996 and "cut its market of Ukrainian sugar." JM

...SLAMS NATIONAL BANK FOR 'ARTIFICIALLY CURBING INFLATION'... Commenting at the same forum on the current crisis in Ukraine, Kuchma admitted for the first time that not only the Russian crisis but also the Ukrainian leadership should be blamed. He explained that those leaders have made "a lot of mistakes," Ukrainian Television reported. The primary reason for the crisis, he argued, is the National Bank's attempt to artificially maintain the hryvnya exchange rate. "Boasting of the fact that the hryvnya is more stable than the dollar, the mark, or the yen is a pleasant thing. But artificially curbing inflation is not protecting" the country from inflationary trends, he commented. JM

...SAYS HE WILL NOT SIGN 'UNREALISTIC BUDGET.' Kuchma also announced that he will not sign an "unrealistic budget" for 1999. He admitted, however, that under the current forces in the parliament, the chances of adopting a realistic budget are "scarce." He warned against pinning hopes on foreign credits, saying they are primarily used for "consumption" (meaning covering the budget deficit). According to Kuchma, the country's foreign debt amounted to $10.243 billion on 1 September. JM

UKRAINE OFFERS MEDIATION IN KOSOVA. Kuchma said at a meeting with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk on 8 October that Ukraine is ready to mediate in the Kosova crisis, Interfax reported. "The only way to defuse the crisis is to start peace talks immediately and resolve all issues by political means," Kuchma's press service quoted him as saying. He added that Ukraine supports the territorial integrity of Yugoslavia and broad autonomy for Kosova. JM