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RUSSIAN PRESIDENT OFFERS FREE-TRADE ZONE TO UKRAINE... Vladimir Putin announced after meeting on 28 November with his Ukrainian counterpart Leonid Kuchma, who was in Moscow for the meeting of CIS leaders, that the two countries have agreed to sign a treaty on establishing a "free economic zone" within the next six months, RIANovosti reported. Ratification of Russian-Ukrainian accords last summer stimulated the development of trade relations between the two countries in many areas. Russia also offered to help Ukraine in the reconstruction of the Rivne and Khmelnytskyy nuclear power plants, Putin added (see Ukrainian item, Part II). VY

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT ENDORSES ANTIPIRACY BILL... The parliament on 29 November voted by 227 to 115 to pass on first reading a government-sponsored bill aimed at combating the piracy of compact discs, Interfax reported. In particular, the bill provides for issuing licenses to domestic producers and exporters/importers of CDs and imposes fines on those producing CDs without licenses. The U.S. has repeatedly threatened economic sanctions against Ukraine for its failure to protect copyrights in the sphere of CD production and sales. The Ukrainian government estimates that the country may lose at least $400 million annually if such sanctions are imposed. JM

...CIVIL, TAX, COMMERCIAL CODES. The same day the parliament concluded the adoption of a Civil Code that, if signed by the president, will come into effect in 2003. The adoption of such a code was part of Ukraine's commitment as a member of the Council of Europe. The parliament also passed a new Commercial Code that regulates relations in the country's business and economic sphere. Moreover, the parliament endorsed a Tax Code on second reading. The code lowers corporate income tax from 30 percent to 25 percent, VAT from 20 percent to 17 percent, and the maximum personal income tax rate from 40 percent to 25 percent. In addition, the code reduces the total number of taxes levied in Ukraine. JM

WESTERN PLAN TO HELP UKRAINE COMPLETE TWO REACTORS REPORTEDLY COLLAPSES. A $1.5 billion Western project to help Ukraine complete two reactor blocks at the Rivne and Khmelnytskyy nuclear power plants collapsed on 29 November, the "Financial Times" reported on 30 November. The Ukrainian government told the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and the EU's Euroatom agency that it will not sign a relevant agreement by 7 December as planned, and simultaneously asked to renegotiate terms attached to EBRD and Euroatom credits, including planned increases in electricity prices. "Many [EBRD] members would not be willing to reopen a discussion, and in particular would not want to relax the condition on tariff increases," the daily quoted EBRD spokesman Jeff Hiday as saying. Meanwhile, President Leonid Kuchma said the same day in Moscow that the Western conditions mean "eternal slavery for Ukraine," and proposed that Russia take part in the completion of the two reactors "on any conditions [Russia likes]," Interfax reported (see Russian item, Part II). JM

PICKETERS WANT UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT TO RISE MINIMUM WAGE, EDUCATION FUNDING. Several thousand people representing the Ukrainian Federation of Trade Unions, the Communist Party, and other organizations picketed the parliamentary building on 29 November to demand that lawmakers increase the minimum wage and public education funding in the budget draft they are currently debating, Inter television reported. The trade unions want the minimum wage to be established at 165 hryvni ($31) per month in January-June 2002, and increased to 183 hryvni beginning on 1 July 2002, while the government and the deputies suggest that the 2002 minimum wage should be 140 hryvni. JM

POLISH PARLIAMENT SACKS LEPPER FROM POST OF DEPUTY SPEAKER... Following a stormy debate, the Sejm on 29 November voted by 318 to 74, with 21 abstentions, to dismiss Self-Defense farmers union leader Andrzej Lepper from his post as deputy speaker over his insulting remarks about Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz last week (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 27 November 2001). The motion to sack Lepper was supported by the ruling Democratic Left Alliance-Labor Union bloc as well as by the opposition Civic Platform and Law and Justice. Lawmakers from the Peasant Party, the ruling coalition partner, were split in their vote on Lepper, while those from the opposition League of Polish Families either supported Lepper or abstained. "Deputy Andrzej Lepper was not recalled because he fought against wrong and injustice, but for the fact that he praised and called for the infringement of the law and also publicly insulted and humiliated people. Today, unfortunately, he has also given proof of this," parliamentary speaker Marek Borowski said of the vote and of Lepper's speech preceding it. JM

UKRAINE REFUTES MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT'S ALLEGATIONS. Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ihor Dolhov said on 28 November that Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin's allegations that his country is aiding Transdniester in smuggling "do not correspond to reality," Infotag reported. Dolhov said that " the transportation of commodities without custom controls and appropriate documentation. However, all cargoes coming from both Moldova and the Transdniester over to Ukraine and via Ukraine have the necessary customs documents." He said declarations such as those made by Voronin "do not promote the ongoing negotiations [between Kyiv and Chisinau on joint custom checkpoints] and "cast doubt on the significant progress already achieved" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 November 2001). On the other hand, the new U.S. ambassador to Moldova, Pamela Hyde Smith, told Voronin on 28 November that Washington "supports Chisinau's efforts" to set up the joint customs checkpoints aimed at curbing smuggling generated by the separatist region. MS


LAWMAKERS TO ASK COUNCIL OF EUROPE FOR HELP IN GONGADZE CASE. The ad hoc parliamentary committee investigating the murder of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze said on 27 November that it will appeal to the Council of Europe to help organize an international commission to probe the Gongadze case, Interfax reported. Committee head Oleksandr Zhyr said the international commission is necessary because the Ukrainian authorities, including President Leonid Kuchma, have thus far been uncooperative in the case. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 28 November)

WEBSITE CENSORED. On 26 November, the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) conducted a search of the home of Oleh Yeltsov, editor of the website "Criminal Ukraine." They presented a court order for the search and informed Yeltsov that the search was authorized to "prevent the release of confidential information." After the search, Yeltsov's computer was disabled. Recently, Yeltsov's website had been running Ukrainian translations of items from "RFE/RL's Crime, Corruption and Terrorism Watch." (RFE/RL Ukrainian Service, 26 November)

U.S. OFFERS $200,000 TO REGIONAL PRESS... U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Carlos Pascual and U.S. Assistance Coordinator for Europe and Eurasia William Taylor have announced a $200,000 assistance program to help improve the Internet capacity of Ukrainian regional print media, AP reported on 28 November. The U.S. Embassy in Ukraine said in a statement that the program opens a nationwide competition for local nongovernmental newspapers and seeks up to 25 winners. The program will fund new Internet connections or upgrade existing information websites, as well as cover the cost of new equipment, training, and online charges. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 29 November)

...AND WARNS OF SANCTIONS FOR FAILURE TO CURB CD PIRACY. Pascual on 28 November said Ukraine will face U.S. trade sanctions if the parliament fails to approve legislation aimed at combating piracy of compact discs by mid-December. The parliament failed to pass such a law in mid-November and is currently considering a new bill that was hastily submitted by the government. RFE/RL Newsline, 29 November)

RUSSIAN MEDIA CENTER OPENS. A Russian media center -- founded by the Media Soyuz journalist organization, the Public Council of the Ukrainian-Russian Cooperation, the Internet newspaper, and other organizations -- opened in Kyiv on 26 November, Inter television reported. "Our countries are present in each other. The problem of our past was that we could not find a form for this presence, or we proposed wrong forms. We have to find the right forms that would be convenient for us," Project Director Gleb Pavlovskii said of the center's tasks. The center is headed by Inter television presenter Oleksandr Kolodiv. Media Soyuz President Aleksandr Lyubimov said Kolodiv was chosen because a Ukrainian journalist "will not be associated with Russian imperialism." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 November)