AZERBAIJAN-GEORGIA OIL PIPELINE OFFICIALLY INAUGURATED... The presidents of Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Ukraine, together with senior U.S. government officials, attended a ceremony at the oil terminal in Georgia's Black Sea port of Supsa on 17 April to mark the departure of the second tanker loaded with Azerbaijani oil exported via the Baku-Supsa pipeline. Speaking at the ceremony, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze described the commissioning of the pipeline as "the forerunner to a new epoch" in Georgia's history. His Ukrainian counterpart, Leonid Kuchma, expressed the hope that some Azerbaijani oil will also be routed through the OdessaBrody pipeline, noting that "oil is a powerful foundation for a nation's development. It is the backbone of national security," according to AP. LF

RAIL-FERRY SERVICE OPENS BETWEEN GEORGIA, UKRAINE. The first rail-ferry left Supsa for the Ukrainian port of Ilichevsk on 17 April. The ferry service, which will be extended to Novorossiisk and ports in Turkey, Romania and Bulgaria, is funded by the EU within the framework of the TRACECA project aimed at linking the states of Central Asia with Europe via the Transcaucasus and intended to provide landlocked countries in the region with access to the sea. LF

GEORGIAN, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTS, MINISTERS SIGN COOPERATION AGREEMENTS. Meeting on 16 April at the presidential residence at Krtsanisi, Shevardnadze and Kuchma signed a 10-year economic cooperation agreement, which Shevardnadze subsequently told journalists raises bilateral cooperation to "a qualitatively new level," ITAR-TASS reported. The two presidents also discussed the Russian State Duma's 16 April approval of Yugoslavia's application to join the RussiaBelarus Union. Shevardnadze predicted that the decision could negatively affect CIS member states. Also on 16 April, the Georgian and Ukrainian ministers of defense and internal affairs signed separate bilateral cooperation agreements, according to ITAR-TASS and Caucasus Press. LF

UKRAINE INVITES RUGOVA TO KYIV. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk on 16 April said Ukraine has asked Yugoslavia to allow Albanian leader Ibrahim Rugova to come to Kyiv and freely express his opinion on the Kosova conflict. Tarasyuk said Ukraine wants to "dispel doubts that Rugova had spoken earlier [in Yugoslavia] without any pressure," AP reported. Tarasyuk added that Ukraine is also ready to grant shelter until the end of the conflict to the three U.S. soldiers captured by Yugoslav forces last month. JM

KUCHMA FIRES ENERGY OFFICIALS. Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma on 16 April fired deputy energy ministers Yuriy Ulitych and Serhiy Kuzmenko for "abuse of authority" and Zinoviy Busyo, head of the National Commission for Energy Regulation, for "serious negligence" in his work, Ukrainian Television reported. Kuchma also instructed the energy minister to dismiss directors of two energy companies. Kuchma made the personnel decisions after reading preliminary findings of an investigation into alleged abuses in the energy sectors. JM

UKRAINIAN REPORT ON POSITIVE INVESTMENT CLIMATE QUESTIONED. A Ukrainian delegation --including Finance Minister Ihor Mityukov and National Bank Chairman Viktor Yushchenko--has told a European Bank for Reconstruction and Development board meeting in London that Ukraine is an attractive place for foreign investors, an RFE/RL correspondent reported on 18 April. Several Western business leaders publicly questioned Kyiv's assessments and urged speedier reforms. They said administrative hurdles, foreign exchange restrictions, and an incomplete legal framework make Ukraine difficult and risky for foreigners. JM