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RUSSIA REMAINS AMONG MOST CORRUPT COUNTRIES. According to the annual Transparency International ratings of government corruption, Russia is 79th from the top, being slightly more corrupt that Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan and slightly less corrupt than Ukraine and Azerbaijan, Interfax reported. Meanwhile, "Izvestiya" reported on 28 June that the Russian bureaucracy remains so corrupt that some people are prepared to pay up to $2 million for positions in which they can make far more. And an article in "Novaya gazeta," No. 43, documents corruption among military contractors involved with the Chechen conflict. PG

PUTIN SEEKS CLOSER TIES WITH KYIV. In a message to Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma on the fifth anniversary of the Ukrainian Constitution, Putin said that he is "confident" that ties between the two countries will "consistently develop further," ITAR-TASS reported on 28 June. Putin said that Kuchma "has done a lot for building a stable and prosperous Ukraine which remains committed to democratic ideals and principles as proclaimed in the constitution." PG

RUSSIA, UKRAINE TO INTEGRATE ELECTRIC GRIDS. Unified Energy Systems head Anatolii Chubais, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko, and Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Oleh Dubina have agreed to integrate their two power systems following Kyiv's agreement to a Russian demand that Moscow be allowed to export its electricity via the Ukrainian grid, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 28 June. VY

MOSCOW TO SEND DISASTER ASSISTANCE TO BAKU, KYIV. The Russian government has provided 9.1 million rubles ($300,000) for earthquake relief in Azerbaijan and 19.1 million rubles for humanitarian assistance to regions of Ukraine that have suffered natural disasters, ITAR-TASS reported on 28 June. PG

...BUT POWER TURNED OFF AT CIS RADAR SITE FOR OVERDUE BILLS. Ukrainian electricity producers turned off the power to a Russian and CIS radar site on 26-27 June because Moscow had not paid its electricity bill, ITAR-TASS reported on 28 June. But Russian officials insisted they had paid and the power has since been turned back on. PG

LUKASHENKA INVITES HIS OPPONENTS TO COMPETE IN RUNNING. Following his proposal last week to check the health conditions of potential presidential candidates (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 26 July 2001), Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has invited leaders of political parties as well as aspirants seeking to register for the presidential race to take part in a relay race in Minsk on 3 July, Belapan reported. Participants in the race are free to choose among competing on foot, roller skates, or roller skis. Lukashenka will run on roller skis. According to the agency, Lukashenka's race proposal has met with a cool response. Social Democratic Party leader Stanislau Shushkevich commented: "If Lukashenka invited handicapped [former U.S. President Franklin D.] Roosevelt, he would surely win. But should he compete with the American president in mental ability, he would surely lose. The public wants Lukashenka's mental health tested, not physical." JM

PROTEST MARKS UKRAINE'S CONSTITUTIONAL ANNIVERSARY. Some 1,000 protesters marched in Kyiv on 28 June, carrying a mock coffin to denounce alleged violations of the constitution by President Leonid Kuchma, AP and Reuters reported. The protest was timed to the fifth anniversary of the adoption of the country's constitution. Later, the demonstrators unsuccessfully tried to reaffix a marble plaque commemorating seven journalists, including Heorhiy Gongadze, who were slain or disappeared under unclear circumstances in independent Ukraine. They abandoned their efforts after they found that the generator they planned to use to hoist the monument had been stolen. JM

POLAND TO HELP UKRAINE FORGE CLOSER TIES WITH EU. Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski and his Ukrainian counterpart Kuchma on 28 June met in Lancut, southeastern Poland, to discuss Pope John Paul II's recent pilgrimage to Ukraine and U.S. President George W. Bush's visit to Poland, Polish media reported. Kuchma called the pope's trip a historic event, adding that it has greatly contributed to strengthening Ukraine's European aspirations. Kuchma stressed that it has been a tragedy for Ukraine to be "denied European development for decades," UNIAN reported. "The recent weeks, with Warsaw's speech by the U.S. president and the pope's visit, have been very good for Ukraine and its pursuit of closer ties with Europe. Poland wants to strongly contribute to this process," Reuters quoted Kwasniewski as saying. JM