RUSSIAN MINISTER DISCUSSES ENERGY COOPERATION IN KAZAKHSTAN. Visiting Astana on 21-22 February, Russian Fuel and Energy Minister Viktor Kalyuzhnyi discussed bilateral cooperation in the energy sector with Prime Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev and President Nursultan Nazarbaev, Russian agencies reported. Toqaev said after those talks that the Caspian Pipeline Consortium is "a national priority" for his country and the most feasible of all export pipeline options. Kalyuzhnyi told journalists that Russia may raise the current 9.5 million ton ceiling on exports of Kazakh crude via the Atyrau-Samara pipeline, whose throughput capacity will be increased to 15 million tons by the end of this year. Also discussed were the prospects for creating an energy union of which Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Belarus, and possibly Ukraine would be members, according to "Kommersant-Daily" on 23 February. Those states would coordinate a schedule for the supply and demand of oil, gas, coal, and electricity. LF

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT URGES PARLIAMENT TO COOPERATE WITH CABINET. In a 22 February address to the parliament, Leonid Kuchma urged the legislature to cooperate with the executive in pushing the country's reform process ahead, AP reported. Kuchma praised the formation of a center-right majority in the legislature, saying he hopes it will make the legislative process more effective. According to ITAR-TASS, the president also said he is not opposed to signing a cooperation agreement with the parliament and cabinet as long as those institutions pledge to engage in "joint deeds, not slogans." And he urged the government to aim to ensure annual economic growth of 6-7 percent by 2005. VG

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT SCRAPS CAPITAL PUNISHMENT. The Ukrainian parliament has voted to strike capital punishment from the country's criminal code, dpa reported on 23 February. In so doing, the parliament supported a December Constitutional Court decision. Ukraine has been criticized by the Council of Europe for maintaining the death penalty. VG

UKRAINE TO INVESTIGATE CHECHEN INFO BUREAU. Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ihor Hrushko said the "competent bodies" in Ukraine, including the Interior Ministry, will launch an investigation into the Chechen information bureau in Odessa, ITAR-TASS reported on 22 February. Hrushko said the activities of the bureau will be suspended if it is found to be breaking Ukrainian law. He said the Foreign Ministry is dealing with the issue because it concerns Ukraine's relations with Russia and has "diplomatic nuances." VG

UKRAINE, RUSSIA MAKE PROGRESS ON DEBT TALKS. Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko on 22 February said that during talks in Kyiv, he and visiting First Russian Deputy Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov reached a "mutual understanding" over Ukraine's energy debts to Russia. The ministers said they reached an agreement on the size of the Ukrainian debt but refused to provide overall figures, saying only that the gas debt amounts to $1.4 billion, ITAR-TASS reported. Yushchenko said the payment terms for the debt will be worked out in the second round of talks with Russia on the issue. Kasyanov also held a closed-door meeting with Ukrainian President Kuchma to discuss, among other things, the Black Sea Fleet and the division of Soviet-era debts and assets. VG