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ALEKSII CALLS FOR ORTHODOX UNITY IN UKRAINE. Russian Orthodox Patriarch Aleksii II has sent a letter to Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma supporting the latter's call for the unity of Orthodox believers in Ukraine, Interfax reported on 16 October. PG

KASYANOV BLESSES ACCORD BETWEEN UKRAINE, BASHKORTOSTAN. Prime Minister Kasyanov has approved the signing of an agreement between the government of Bashkortostan and the Ukrainian government on trade and scientific and cultural cooperation, Interfax reported on 16 October. PG

PRESIDENT SAYS AZERBAIJAN'S CASPIAN OIL COULD BE EXPORTED VIA UKRAINE. Meeting on 16 October with visiting Ukrainian Foreign Minister Anatoliy Zlenko, Azerbaijan's President Heidar Aliev said an unspecified amount of the oil Azerbaijan exports via the Baku-Supsa pipeline could be transported by tanker to Odesa and then exported to Western Europe via the planned Odesa-Brody pipeline, Interfax reported. LF

... SUGGESTS ALTERNATIVE TO RUSSIAN PEACEKEEPING FORCE. Shevardnadze told visiting ambassadors to the OSCE from 18 states in Tbilisi on 16 October that he has written to President Putin to thank him for the contribution made since 1994 by the Russian peacekeeping force deployed under the CIS aegis along the border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia, Caucasus Pres and ITAR-TASS reported. But at the same time Shevardnadze noted that the force "failed to achieve its primary objective." He therefore proposed replacing the CIS force with a multilateral one in which Russian officers would also serve. Also on 16 October, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Zlenko repeated in Baku the offer that Ukrainian officials have made repeatedly since 1997 to provide a peacekeeping contingent to serve in Abkhazia under the aegis of either the UN or the OSCE, Turan reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 July 1997 and 30 June 1999). Shevardnadze noted that Ukraine and other unnamed states have offered to send peacekeepers to Abkhazia, but no international organization has yet offered to sponsor such a force. LF

UKRAINE, BELARUS PLEDGE TO BOOST COOPERATION. Ukrainian Premier Anatol Kinakh and his Belarusian counterpart Henadz Navitski on 16 October spoke in favor of broadening bilateral economic and trade cooperation, Interfax reported. Navitski was in Kyiv on his first official trip in his capacity of prime minister. The two sides signed five agreements, including on cooperation in the spheres of security, on nuclear safety, on energy conservation, and on customs and border control. Kinakh told journalists that this December the two countries hope to resolve the issue of Ukrainian enterprises' debts to Belarusian partners, but failed to mention what amounts are involved. Trade turnover between both countries in January-July 2001 stood at $422 million, down 17 percent from the same period last year. JM

PICKETERS DEMAND OUSTER OF UKRAINIAN DEFENSE MINISTER. Some 120 people from the Socialist Youth Congress and the Ukrainian Communist Youth League (Komsomol) picketed the presidential administration building on 16 October, demanding that President Leonid Kuchma fire Defense Minister Oleksandr Kuzmuk over the recent downing of a Russian Tu-154 airliner by Ukrainian air-defense gunners, Interfax reported. "[The demonstrators] were trying to show that they are deeply sorry about the tragic accident with the Tu-154 plane as well as indignant at having such a president," said Yuriy Lutsenko, the coordinator of the Ukraine Without Kuchma movement. Meanwhile, a group of parliamentary deputies said the same day that Kuzmuk deliberately misled the public with denials that the Ukrainian air-defense troops were responsible for the crash of the airliner, dpa reported. "According to our information, the defense minister and air defense chief knew on the day of the accident that the plane was hit by a missile," they claimed in a letter to the Prosecutor-General's Office. JM