RED CROSS WARNS OF TUBERCULOSIS SPREAD. The Russian branch of the Red Cross warned on 12 March that Russia and neighboring Belarus, Moldova, and Ukraine may soon face a tuberculosis epidemic. Last year, 86,000 people in Russia alone contracted the illness. Boris Ionov, deputy head of the Russian Red Cross, told reporters that tuberculosis cannot be treated purely with medicine. According to Ionov, the disease primarily affects those citizens who are the least well off, such as the homeless, prison inmates, and low-income families. The Red Cross is trying to raise 9 million Swiss francs ($6 million) to fund a program to combat the disease by dispatching some 6,000 nurses to seven regions of Russia as well as Ukraine, Belarus, and Moldova. The money would also be used to equip clinics in regions where the situation is worst, such as eastern and western Siberia. For example, every fifth person in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk is suffering from tuberculosis (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 3 March 1999). JAC

LUKASHENKA PLANS TO BEEF UP MILITARY FOLLOWING NATO EXPANSION... Alyaksandr Lukashenka said in Kyiv on 12 March that in response to the entry of the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland into NATO, Belarus will reinforce its armed forces. "We are conducting very serious consultations with Russia, and I think Ukraine will be interested, too," Lukashenka added. Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma commented on NATO expansion by saying that "it is necessary today to take into account the realities existing on the European continent. Regardless of what we declare, of how loudly we shout, the position [of NATO] will not change." Some 1,000 Ukrainians formed a "live chain" in Kyiv on 12 March between the Polish, Czech, and Hungarian embassies to hail NATO expansion. One hundred or so Ukrainian nationalists who had gathered in front of the Belarusian embassy demanded that Lukashenka free political prisoners and protested his pro-Russian policies. JM

...PREACHES SLAVIC UNITY IN KYIV. "The Russian man is the one around whom we shall unite one day, or at least stand beside him," AP quoted Lukashenka as saying after his meeting with Kuchma on 12 March. Lukashenka added that Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine will hold consultations to work out a "memorandum on our strategic partnership in all areas, not just the economy." Kuchma said that Ukraine's economic relations with Belarus should be "continued and developed," but he declined to comment on further Slavic integration. Following his meeting with parliamentary speaker Oleksandr Tkachenko the next day, Lukashenka said he and Tkachenko are in "full agreementÖin the sphere of economy [and] development," Ukrainian Television reported. JM

KUCHMA DECREES REDUCTION OF CABINET STRUCTURE. Leonid Kuchma has decreed reducing the number of ministries from 21 to 18. The Ministry of Information, the Ministry of Science and Technology, and the Ministry for Youth and Family Affairs have been downgraded to the status of state committees. The edict also eliminated the State Committee for Oil and Gas and lowered the status of a dozen other state committees and agencies. "The main goal is to optimize state power and to cut out extraneous links in the government," Reuters quoted Kuchma's spokesman, Oleksandr Martynenko, as saying. Kuchma's edict is widely seen as a bid to appease the IMF, which has demanded radical administrative reform before it resumes releasing its $2.2 billion loan to Ukraine. JM