SINGLE CURRENCY PROPOSED FOR RUSSIA, UKRAINE. Ukrainian parliamentary speaker Oleksandr Tkachenko told reporters in Moscow on 18 December that "Russia and Ukraine must join not only political efforts but create a common economic space through sharing currency," ITAR-TASS reported. Tkachenko was visiting the Russian State Duma as part of an official delegation. Meanwhile, Oleg Sysuev, deputy head of the presidential administration, voiced concern about recent statements by Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 19 December. After seeing Lukashenka's latest interview on Russian Television, he said "closer integration with a country whose president is preaching such ideas scares me" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 December 1998). However, he added that "integration between the peoples of Russia and Belarus should be continued." JAC

KUCHMA ASKS PARLIAMENT TO ABOLISH DEATH PENALTY. Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma has asked the Supreme Council to pass a law abolishing the death penalty in accordance with the country's international obligations, AP reported on 19 December. Ukraine agreed to abolish capital punishment in 1995 when it joined the Council of Europe. It introduced a moratorium on executions in March 1997. This year, Ukrainian courts have sentenced more than 80 people to death, but none has been executed. JM

LAZARENKO RETURNS FROM SWITZERLAND TO UKRAINE. Ukrainian former Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko, who has been indicted for alleged money-laundering in Switzerland but freed on bail (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 December 1998), returned to Ukraine on 19 December. Viktor Omelich of the Hromada party, which is headed by Lazarenko, told Ukrainian Television that Lazarenko has been "degraded, insulted, and completely destroyed by [Ukraine's] authorities" and "will be continually working to show the [true] reason for his arrest to the entire public." Meanwhile, parliamentary deputy Hryhoriy Omelchenko told Ukrainian Television the day before that Lazarenko deposited some $200 million in several bank accounts in Switzerland over the past three years. JM

UKRAINIAN CENTRAL BANK CUTS DISCOUNT RATE. The Central Bank has lowered the discount rate from 82 percent to 60 percent as of 21 December and ordered commercial banks to adjust their interest rates to the new figure, AP reported on 18 December. The decision came several day after National Bank Chairman Viktor Yushchenko said Ukraine's currency market has started to show signs of stabilization following the onset of Russia's financial and economic crisis. JM