GEORGIAN, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTS REAFFIRM PARTNERSHIP... Leonid Kuchma met with his Georgian counterpart, Eduard Shevardnadze, in Tbilisi on 15 March, Caucasus Press reported. The two presidents signed a joint statement on extending bilateral cooperation within the framework of a relationship that Kuchma described as "deeper than just a special partnership." Shevardnadze, for his part, told journalists after his talks with Kuchma that the two countries' interests "completely coincide," according to Interfax. Those interests include the possible transport of Caspian oil to international markets via Ukraine and the TRACECA transport project. Ukraine is also likely to be formally included in the Friends of the UN Secretary-General Group, which is seeking to mediate a solution of the Abkhaz conflict (see " RFE/RL Newsline," 5 January 2000). Kuchma is to meet with Minister of State Vazha Lortkipanidze and parliamentary speaker Zurab Zhvania on 16 March before flying to Baku. LF

...DISCUSS GUUAM. At their joint press conference on 15 March, Shevardnadze said that he and Kuchma want regional cooperation within GUUAM (Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, and Moldova) to serve the interests of all its members, Caucasus Press reported. The Georgian president noted that the doors of that group are open to new members. But he stressed that the alignment is primarily economic and that military cooperation between its members plays only a minor role. LF

...GETS SUPPORT IN EUROPEAN CAPITALS. Sweden's Social Democratic Party held rallies in Stockholm and Kiruna on 15 March to coincide with the Freedom March-2 and opened a Web site to raise public awareness of the opposition movement in Belarus, AP reported. RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported that rallies of solidarity with the Minsk march took place in front of the Belarusian embassies in Brussels, Warsaw, and Kyiv. The Kyiv picket, which was organized by Youth Rukh activists, also protested the Ukrainian authorities' intention to hold a constitutional referendum and warned against "repeating the Belarusian scenario" in Ukraine. JM

UKRAINE'S CREDITORS ACCEPT DEBT RESCHEDULING OFFER. The Dutch ING Barings bank, which advises Ukraine on managing its debt, announced on 15 March that it has convinced 88 percent of Ukraine's foreign creditors to accept the $2.6 billion debt rescheduling plan offered by Kyiv last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 February 2000). "We analyzed the situation very carefully, and I think investors saw that the offer...was a good one. Also, the Ukrainians did an exceptional job at getting the word out," dpa quoted ING Barings Kyiv Director Robert Grant as saying. The acceptance of the rescheduling plan reduces the threat of a Ukrainian default and increases Kyiv's chances of receiving further support from the IMF and the World Bank. JM

UKRAINE HOPES FOR IMF LOAN RESUMPTION, DESPITE RESERVES CONTROVERSY. Economy Minister Serhiy Tyhypko said on 15 March he is confident that Ukraine and the IMF will agree next month on the resumption of the fund's $2.6 billion loan program, Interfax reported. Tyhypko added that arguments for the loan's resumption are the 6 percent increase in Ukraine's GDP in January-February 2000 and the successful rescheduling of Ukraine's foreign-debt repayment. He refused to comment on the IMF statement the previous day saying that Ukraine provided the fund with inaccurate data on its hard currency reserves (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 March 2000). Meanwhile, Ukraine's National Bank and the government have expressed their readiness to clarify all questions included in the IMF statement. Finance Minister Ihor Mityukov and National Bank Chairman Volodymyr Stelmakh are currently in Washington for talks with the IMF and the World Bank. JM

UKRAINE, RUSSIA SIGN DOCUMENTS ON RUSSIAN BLACK SEA FLEET. Russian Admiral Vladimir Kuroedov and Ukrainian National Defense and Security Council Deputy Chairman Oleksander Belov have signed seven agreements on the Russian Black Sea Fleet, based in Sevastopol, AP reported on 16 March. The documents regulate issues connected with the fleet's debt for port facilities, schooling for Russian sailors' families, and housing for retired officers. They also provide for Ukraine's monitoring of the fleet's military activities. The fleet owes Ukraine some 40 million hryvni ($7.24 million) for various facilities and repair work. One of the documents provides for writing off this debt with Russian gas supplies to Ukraine. JM

SLOVAKIA IMPOSES VISAS ON UKRAINE, RUSSIA, BELARUS. The Slovak government decided on 15 March to impose visa restrictions on Ukraine, Belarus, Russia, and Cuba, TASR reported. Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda said the move is aimed both at protecting Slovakia's labor market and decreasing the number of illegal migrants in the country. Ukraine announced that it will take reciprocal action. VG

HUNGARY, ROMANIA, UKRAINE SIGN ENVIRONMENT PACT. Representatives from Hungary, Romania, and Ukraine gathered in the eastern Hungarian city of Debrecen to sign an agreement to prevent environmental pollution. Under the protocol, each country will list potential sources of risk to the environment. The three countries are also to cooperate with the International Danube Commission and a special EU task force set up after a cyanide spill from a Romanian gold mine in January spread through several European rivers. The representatives also discussed a second spill in Romania, which released heavy metals pollution into the Tisza River last weekend. The Romanian representative said that a new wave of heavy metals pollution reported by Ukraine on 14 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 March 2000) did not result from yet another spill but rather from the leak reported earlier. VG