CLINTON, PUTIN TO MEET IN JULY. U.S. President Bill Clinton called Russian President-elect Vladimir Putin on 15 April to congratulate him on the Duma's ratification of the START-II treaty. Clinton said that the vote was an "important step toward the reduction of nuclear arms" and that now the two countries can work towards START-III. According to a White House spokesman, the two leaders also discussed economic reform, nuclear non-proliferation, and the conflict in Chechnya. During the telephone conversation, the two agreed to meet in Okinawa, Japan on 21 July before the Group of Seven plus Russia summit, Interfax reported on 16 April citing unidentified Kremlin sources. Speaking from Kyiv on 14 April, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said that the U.S. is very glad that the START II Treaty was ratified and that now is the time for an entirely new U.S.- Russian relationship, different than that which existed during the Cold War. (See also Part II for an item on Putin's visit to Minsk.) JAC

ALBRIGHT VISITS KAZAKHSTAN... U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright flew from Kyiv to Astana on 15 April where she assured President Nursultan Nazarbaev of the U.S.'s ongoing support and promised an additional $3 million for measures to bolster Kazakhstan's security. Albright also told Nazarbaev that Washington hopes Kazakhstan will make a commitment to exporting oil via the planned Baku-Ceyhan pipeline. A Kazakh oil sector official said earlier this month that his country is unlikely to be in a position to do so before 2008 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 April 2000). Albright expressed "surprise and disappointment" at the recent promotion of a senior Kazakh security official who played a key role in the illegal sale last year to North Korea of decommissioned Kazakh MiG fighters, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 April 2000). Albright also met for over an hour with leading members of several pro-government and three Kazakh opposition parties, RFE/RL's Astana bureau reported. LF

UKRAINIAN REFERENDUM APPROVES MORE POWERS FOR PRESIDENT. Ukrainians overwhelmingly approved all four questions in the 16 April referendum, giving President Leonid Kuchma more levers to control the country's parliament, news agencies reported. The Central Electoral Commission said on 17 April that the referendum turnout was nearly 79 percent, far above the 50 percent required to make the poll valid. Of those voting, more than 84 percent gave the president the right to dissolve the parliament if it fails to pass a budget within one month or form a majority within three months. More than 90 percent wanted to cut the number of lawmakers from 450 to 300, and 81 percent supported the introduction of a bicameral legislature. The abolition of deputies' immunity from criminal prosecution was backed by 89 percent of voters. JM

U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE BACKS UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT IN REFORM BID. Madeleine Albright praised President Leonid Kuchma in Kyiv on 15 April, saying his re-election last year has given fresh impetus to reforms in Ukraine. "I was very impressed by President Kuchma's...desire to move the reform process forward and by the work the prime minister, [Viktor Yushchenko], is undertaking," AP quoted Albright as saying. The U.S. government granted $195 million in aid to Ukraine last year and requests $219 million for 2000. Albright said she was "heartened" by Kuchma's reiterated pledge to close the Chornobyl nuclear power plant this year, adding that "it would be very useful to have the date set." According to the "Eastern Economist Daily," Albright pledged $78 million to build new power production capacities at Ukraine's other nuclear plants as compensation for closing Chornobyl. JM