U.S. TO CONTINUE ECONOMIC AID TO UKRAINE. Stephen Sestanovich, U.S. Secretary of State adviser on the newly independent states, assured Ukrainian Prime Minister Valeriy Pustovoytenko in Kyiv on 12 January that the U.S. will continue to provide economic assistance to Ukraine, Interfax reported. Sestanovich arrived in Kyiv to prepare a report for U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright on the economic situation and state of reform in Ukraine. U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Steven Pifer said the same day that the U.S. Congress has decided to allocate $195 million in aid to Ukraine to back its economic reforms. He added that 50 percent of this sum will become available to Ukraine only if Albright's report on Ukraine is favorable. That report is to be delivered to Congress on 18 February. JM

UKRAINIAN OFFICIAL DENIES SIPHONING OFF RUSSIAN GAS. Taras Freyuk, deputy head of Ukraine's Naftohaz company, denied allegations by Rem Vyakhirev, head of Russia's Gazprom, that Ukraine has illegally siphoned off Russian gas transported to Europe via Ukrainian pipelines (see RFE/RL Newsline," 12 January 1999), Interfax reported. "I state with full responsibility that in December 1998, Ukraine did not take a single cubic meter of Russian gas without prior approval," Freyuk said. He also denied that the Ukrainian government's debt for Russian gas has reached $1.6 billion (as suggested by Vyakhirev), saying it totals some $734.5 million. He admitted that private Ukrainian importers owe another $347.7 million but stressed that the government is not responsible for that debt. Freyuk assessed Vyakhirev's allegations as "very rude in tone," but he expressed the hope that they constitute only an "unpleasant incident" with no harmful consequences for Naftohaz or Gazprom. JM

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT VOTES AGAINST MOTION ON ABOLITION OF PRESIDENCY. The Supreme Council on 12 January failed to secure enough votes to proceed with the motion on abolishing the presidency (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 January 1999), Ukrainian News reported. The motion to abolish the presidency, drawn up by Communist leader Petro Symonenko, was supported by 205 votes instead of the 226 required for the motion to pass. JM

TKACHENKO OPPOSES LIFTING PARLIAMENTARY IMMUNITY. At a Supreme Council session on 12 January, speaker Oleksandr Tkachenko spoke out against recent calls for parliamentary deputies' immunity to be abolished, ITAR-TASS reported. Tkachenko told lawmakers that the heads of some local executive bodies have called for a referendum on doing away with such immunity and on prolonging the president's right to issue economic decrees without the legislation's approval. He added that such actions by local governments violate the Ukrainian Constitution. JM