UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT PASSES BALANCED 2001 BUDGET... The parliament on 7 December voted by 249 to 126 with four abstentions to approve a zero-deficit budget for 2001 in the third and final reading. The bill projects consolidated budget revenues at 52 billion hryvni ($9.6 billion) and forecasts inflation at 23 percent. Finance Minister Ihor Mityukov commented that the 2001 budget is the "most realistic" budget since Ukraine declared its independence. A balanced budget is crucial if the IMF is to resume its 2.6 billion loan. JM

...APPROVES BANKING LAW IN SECOND READING. The same day, lawmakers approved a bill on banks and banking activities in the second reading, the "Eastern Economist Daily" reported on 8 December. The bill stipulates that the minimum statutory reserves of a regional bank must be at least 1 million euros ($880,000) or 3 million euros for banks operating in "larger areas." The statutory reserves of a nationwide bank must be at least 5 million euros. The adoption of the banking law was one of the IMF's requirements for resuming its loan to Kyiv. JM

EBRD APPROVES CONDITIONAL LOAN FOR UKRAINE'S NUCLEAR POWER PLANTS. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development has approved a $215 million loan for completing the construction of two nuclear reactors, at the Khmelnytskyy and Rivne power plants, the "Eastern Economist Daily" reported on 8 December. The bank made the loan conditional on the closure of the Chornobyl plant, the IMF's resumption of its loan to Ukraine, and Kyiv's written pledge to enhance nuclear safety standards. The loan is to be repaid over 18 years at a LIBOR+1 percent interest rate. The total cost of the reactors' completion is estimated at $1.48 billion. Euroatom, the largest creditor of the construction project, is expected to make a decision next week on a $585 million loan. JM

UKRAINE TO PRIVATIZE ALL COAL MINES IN 2001. Deputy Premier Yuliya Tymoshenko told journalists on 7 December that the government intends to privatize all Ukrainian coal mines by mid-2001, Interfax reported. She said all coal mines will be divided into four groups, according to their potential to attract investment: profitable mines, "potentially profitable" ones, loss-making ones, and mines that are to be closed. There are currently 196 coal mines in the country. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT PROVIDES BODYGUARDS FOR OPPOSITION POLITICIAN. Leonid Kuchma has issued a decree ordering the secret police to protect Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz's life for three months, Interfax reported on 7 December. The presidential press service said Moroz has addressed a letter to the State Protection Directorate requesting such protection. Last week, Moroz publicized an audio recording that allegedly reveals Kuchma's complicity in the disappearance of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 5 December 2000). Meanwhile, the Prosecutor-General's Office said it has not yet begun evaluating the recording because Moroz refuses to say whether he provided the "original" tape or a "copy" tape. JM