FOREIGN MINISTRY CONCERNED ABOUT RIGHTS OF RUSSIAN SPEAKERS IN UKRAINE. The Russian Foreign Ministry sent a note to the Ukrainian Embassy in Moscow on 28 January protesting the worsening conditions for the Russian language in Ukraine, according to ITAR-TASS on 1 February. The note called on Ukraine to observe the treaty of friendship, cooperation, and partnership between Russia and Ukraine and to guarantee the right of Russians freely to express and preserve their ethnicity and culture and "to maintain and develop their culture without being subjected to any attempts at assimilation against their will." Unidentified diplomatic sources at Russia's Foreign Ministry told the agency that the ministry is concerned about the toughening of administrative and other measures in Ukraine against the preservation and development of Russian language and culture. According to ministry sources, schools that taught primarily in Russian have been closed in Ternopol, Rovno, and Kiev regions in Ukraine. JAC

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENTARY MAJORITY ELECTS NEW LEADERSHIP. By a vote of 255 to one, the parliamentary majority on 1 February elected Ivan Plyushch of the Popular Democratic Party as parliamentary speaker. Viktor Medvedchuk of the Social Democratic Party (United) became first deputy speaker and Stepan Havrysh of the Revival of Regions caucus deputy speaker. The majority, which held its session in the Ukrainian House, also elected heads of 21 parliamentary committees, who were without exception deputies from the majority. The leftist minority, which is led by former speaker Oleksandr Tkachenko and held a parallel session in the parliamentary building, has launched a hunger strike. According to Tkachenko, the protest will continue until the entire legislature convenes in the parliamentary building. JM

UKRAINE'S NEW SPEAKER WANTS TO AVOID EARLY ELECTIONS. Following his election, Ivan Plyushch told supporters of the right-center majority who had gathered in front of the Ukrainian House, that the majority was formed "to end any confrontation, assume responsibility, and follow the path the people voted for," according to the "Eastern Economic Daily." He added that Ukraine will soon experience "positive changes." Later that day, Plyushch told journalists that the Supreme Council must do everything possible to avoid early parliamentary elections. President Leonid Kuchma commented that the election of the parliament's new leadership was a "momentous" event. He added that the government will seek cooperation with the legislature to show Ukrainians that the "six-year confrontation" in the country is over. JM

UKRAINIAN CABINET SETS BUDGET TARGETS, POLICIES. The government on 1 February announced that GDP is expected to grow 0.5 percent this year and industrial production to increase by 3.2 percent. Inflation was set at 15.9 percent. In a memorandum that is to be reviewed by the president and submitted for parliamentary approval, the cabinet formulated seven main principles of budgetary policy. In particular, it pledges to implement a zero-deficit budget in 2000, strictly observe budgetary discipline, accept budget payments in monetary form only, and revoke some tax privileges. JM

UKRAINIAN OFFICIAL CONFIDENT RUSSIA WILL WITHDRAW TRANSDNIESTER ARSENAL. Visiting Ukrainian Deputy Foreign Minister Dmitro Tkaci said on 1 February that Ukraine is confident Russia will honor its obligation to withdraw its arsenal from the Transdniester by 2002, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. He said the arsenal is worrying to his country not only because of Ukraine's capacity as a guarantor of agreements on the separatist region's future but also because "no country wants 42 tons of munitions stationed at its borders." Tkaci met with President Petru Lucinschi and Prime Minister Dumitru Barghis to discuss bilateral relations and the implementation of various agreements. He said he is confident that the Ukrainian parliament will ratify the Ukrainian- Moldovan border treaty. Tkaci is traveling to Tiraspol on 2 February to meet with separatist leaders to discuss "giving a new impetus" to the talks on the conflict's resolution. MS