UKRAINE'S NEW SPEAKER ELBOWS HIS WAY INTO OFFICE... Together with his bodyguards, Ivan Plyushch, who was recently elected parliamentary speaker by the center-right majority, used his elbows and shoulders on 3 February to force his way through leftist deputies trying to keep him from entering former speaker Oleksandr Tkachenko's office, Reuters reported. Later the same day, Premier Viktor Yushchenko met with Plyushch and other majority leaders in that office to discuss prospects for adopting a budget for this year. Leftist deputies tried to break into the office during the meeting but were prevented from doing so by guards. Interfax reported that following the meeting, Yushchenko ordered that a 2000 draft budget be submitted to the parliament on 4 February. He then went on sick leave. JM

...WHILE LEFTISTS LAWMAKERS CONTINUE PROTEST. Tkachenko on 3 February opened a session of the leftist minority, at which an appeal to the international community was adopted, Interfax reported. The leftist lawmakers said all the decisions taken so far by the parliamentary majority are illegal, therefore Ukraine "will not bear any responsibility" for any legislative acts passed by its split parliament. The leftists added that the current "coup d'etat" in Ukraine was inspired by the president and is fraught with unpredictable social consequences. Meanwhile, a group of radical leftist deputies headed by Natalya Vitrenko spent another night in the parliament. "I think that finally the authorities will throw us out of this building by force," Vitrenko told Reuters, adding that "the parliament of Plyushch will collapse anyway due to internal tensions." JM

UKRAINIAN LAWMAKER SAYS NO REASON TO DISBAND PARLIAMENT. Stepan Havrysh, who was elected deputy speaker by the parliamentary majority, told Interfax on 3 February that several "factors set in the referendum [decree]" and the behavior of the majority render early parliamentary elections "unnecessary." Havrysh added that the proposed vote of no confidence in the parliament during the 16 April referendum "has lost its sense from a legal viewpoint" since the majority voted to change the numbering of Ukraine's consecutive legislatures. On 1 February, the majority decided that independent Ukraine's legislatures be renumbered to make the current Supreme Council the third rather than the 14th. Meanwhile, lawmaker Serhiy Holovatyy said the same day that Ukraine's National Security and Defense Council, headed by Yevhen Marchuk, has advised the president to dissolve the parliament. Marchuk denied making such a statement. JM

UKRAINIAN CABINET PLEDGES TO PAY PENSION ARREARS IN 2000. Labor and Social Policy Minister Ivan Sakhan said on 3 February that in its 2000 budget draft the government provides for the payment of all overdue pensions, totaling 1.3 billion hryvni ($237 million), Interfax reported. Sakhan noted that the cabinet also has "serious intentions" to repay overdue wages and social allowances but added that "this is a problem of draft laws that were submitted to the Supreme Council." Sakhan said that as of 1 January, total wage arrears in Ukraine stood at 6.3 billion hryvni. Also on 3 February, some 1,500 war veterans, miners, and nuclear power sector workers picketed the parliamentary building to demand that the government revoke its decision to cancel a number of benefits and social allowances for which they are eligible. JM

U.S. ENERGY SECRETARY CALLS FOR BALTIC UNITY. During a visit to Vilnius on 3 February, Bill Richardson called for a unified Baltic approach to energy and environmental issues. "A 'Baltic' approach, rather than three national approaches, will put the Baltic countries in a much stronger position vis a vis their Nordic and European neighbours, as well as Russia," Reuters quoted him as saying. Richardson and representatives of all three countries signed a joint statement on cooperation, BNS reported. The U.S. secretary also hailed the decommissioning of Lithuania's Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant and stressed the importance of privatizing that sector. "There are so many economic and social benefits that flow from a market-based economy," Richardson said. Richardson is also scheduled to visit Latvia, Estonia, and Ukraine. MH