CHORNOBYL CLOSURE DATE TO BE SET THIS MONTH. Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma on 17 May said the date for the closure of the Chornobyl nuclear power plant will be determined this month, Interfax reported. Kuchma recalled that he had created a commission under Premier Viktor Yushchenko to analyze various consequences of the Chornobyl closure and propose a closure date. Meanwhile, Reuters reported that wild fires in Ukraine have stirred up radioactive elements remaining in the environment from the 1986 Chornobyl nuclear disaster and raised radiation levels downwind in Belarus. The Chornobyl plant has reduced its power by 50 percent for repairs and maintenance. Reuters quoted plant and government officials as saying that Chornobyl is operating normally and there have been no incidents. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT TO AMEND CONSTITUTION IF PARLIAMENT FAILS TO DO SO. Kuchma told journalists on 17 May that he will personally amend Ukraine's Constitution in line with the 16 April referendum if the parliament fails to do so, Interfax reported. Kuchma added that he has "various mechanisms" for making such amendments, adding that they do not "overstep the framework of legislation." JM

AUSTRIA BACKS UKRAINE'S 'EUROPEAN ORIENTATION.' "We back the European orientation of Ukraine," Austrian President Thomas Klestil said in Kyiv on 17 May, following talks with Kuchma, AP reported. Klestil also pledged that an estimated 43,000 Ukrainians who worked as slave laborers for the Nazis in Austria during World War II will "soon" receive compensation payments, following "very positive" results of a conference on the issue held in Vienna this week. JM

BAKU SEES RUSSIA PRESSURING GUUAM STATES. Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Vilayat Guliev said in Kyiv that Russia will pressure the GUUAM countries in order to prevent the five member states (Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, and Moldova) from forming a free trade zone, Interfax-Ukraine reported. "But the strength of our organization is in its ability to resist this pressure," he said. Meanwhile, the ambassadors of these five states told an RFE/RL seminar in Washington on 17 May that they plan to expand contacts with one another because that reflects the specific needs of their populations. PG