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OPPOSITION APPEALS FOR INTERNATIONAL SUPPORT FOR UKRAINIAN DEMOCRACY. The "Ukraine Without Kuchma" Public Committee and the Forum for National Salvation have called on the world's democratic communities, parliaments, and governments to support democracy in Ukraine, Interfax reported on 2 March. A joint statement accuses Ukrainian authorities of the failure to conduct a civilized dialogue with society; "grave crimes against man and humanity;" as well as corruption and embezzlement of state property. The statement notes that President Leonid Kuchma is "the obstacle upon Ukraine's path to democratic Europe [and] the free world." Addressing the Ukrainian people, the anti-Kuchma opposition appeals to them to "create structures of resistance in every town and village, on every plant and at home." JM

UKRAINIAN PREMIER UPBEAT ON RESTRUCTURING FOREIGN DEBT. Viktor Yushchenko on 2 March said he believes there is a good chance that the Paris Club of creditor nations will decide to restructure Ukraine's debts, AP reported. Yushchenko added that Ukraine sent a restructuring proposal to the Paris Club on 1 February for the country's $1 billion debt to that group. Ukraine's foreign debt now stands at $10.35 billion. Meanwhile, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development told Yushchenko that Kyiv will receive money to complete the construction of nuclear reactors at the Rivne and Khmelnytskyy power plants only after it comes to terms with the Paris Club on a debt restructuring plan, the "Eastern Economist Daily" reported on 5 March. JM

UKRAINIAN LAWMAKER PREDICTS MOUNTING CRISIS. Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz told a briefing at RFE/RL's Washington office on 2 March that Ukraine is now at "a turning point in its national history" and may either move toward a criminal dictatorship or become a democratic state. Moroz said President Kuchma has blocked reforms in the economy, cultivated an authoritarian political style, and actively interfered in the country's national and religious life. According to Moroz, the current political crisis in Ukraine, which was provoked by the recent outcry over the disappearance last year of Kuchma critic Heorhiy Gongadze, will peak in late spring or early summer, with public participation in demonstrations growing and with the parliament becoming evermore assertive. Moroz, who visited the U.S. last week, said he was not seeking to have the U.S. and other countries stop their assistance programs to Ukraine, but rather to change their Ukrainian partners and build cooperation with non-governmental groups. JM

UKRAINE'S CHIEF TAX INSPECTOR GOES INTO POLITICS. At its congress on 3 March, the Party of Ukrainian Regions elected State Tax Administration head Mykola Azarov as its chairman, Interfax reported. The Party of Ukrainian Regions, which until the 3 March congress bore the name of the Party of Regional Revival-Labor Solidarity of Ukraine, was created in November 2000 in a merger of five smaller parties. Azarov said after the congress that his party opposes the recently voiced proposal to create a "coalition government" and supports dialogue between the government and the opposition. Audio tapes published by former presidential bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko implicate Azarov in blackmailing kolkhoz managers over unpaid taxes to muster support for Kuchma during the 1999 presidential elections. JM

...WHILE DEFENSE MINISTERS HAVE CORDIAL MEETING. Hungarian Defense Minister Janos Szabo and his Romanian counterpart Ioan Mircea Pascu, meeting in Satu Mare, Transylvania, on 2 March, said they are satisfied with bilateral relations between their ministries. They discussed military reforms underway in the two countries and the prospects of NATO's further expansion. Pascu and Szabo also discussed planned exercises by the joint Romanian-Hungarian peacekeeping battalion and the prospects of setting up a "humanitarian intervention unit" formed by solders from their countries, as well as Slovakia and Ukraine. Pascu said Romania "has no reason" to be apprehensive over Hungarian plans to lease F-16 aircraft from the U.S., emphasizing that "Hungary is a NATO member and we want to become a member of that organization." MS

GORBACHEV SAYS RESTORING USSR 'REACTIONARY' SLOGAN. In an interview with Kyiv's "Fakty" newspaper on 2 March, which was also his birthday, former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev said that he is "decisively against the slogan of the restoration of the USSR. This is a reactionary slogan; it can blow apart those processes which are proceeding even with difficulty." In other comments, Gorbachev told the BBC on 3 March that he supports President Vladimir Putin's approach in Chechnya. He added that he will work to create the Social Democratic Party but does not seek any posts for himself. PG

RUSSIANS BACK KUCHMA AGAINST ATTACKS. Premier Kasyanov said on 2 March that Moscow is ready to back Ukraine in the restructuring of its debts, Russian agencies reported. Party leaders in the Duma -- including pro-Kremlin "Unity" head Boris Gryzlov and Communist leader Gennadii Zyuganov -- criticized U.S. threats to cut off aid unless Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma pushes for greater democratization and economic liberalization, Interfax reported on 2 March. Meanwhile, Duma Foreign Relations Committee head Dmitrii Rogozin said that the case of murdered journalist Heorhiy Gongadze is being used to try to prevent a rapprochement between Ukraine and Russia, Interfax reported. He said that if Gongadze had been murdered on Kuchma's order, "the body would never have been found in the woods." PG

RUSSIA SEEN CAUGHT BETWEEN INSTINCTS FOR EMPIRE AND FOR FREEDOM. Writing in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 2 March, Rafail Khakimov argued that Russia today is caught between its "great-power traditions" and a desire for democracy. He said that President Putin exploited the "imperial instinct" to attract support in the wake of the Soviet collapse but that the "instinct of freedom" remains strong. Khakimov said that empires exhausted themselves in the 20th century and that efforts to turn back the clock are doomed. At the same time, he suggested that there are limits: "It is possible to imagine Russia without Kyiv but it is impossible to imagine it without Kazan." PG