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MOSCOW LAYS PLANS FOR BRIDGE TO CRIMEAN PENINSULA. Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov announced on 12 December that he and Leonid Hrach, the leader of Ukraine's Crimean Autonomous Republic, and Oleh Osadchyy, the mayor of the Crimean city of Kerch, reached agreement on establishing a shareholding company for the construction of a bridge linking the Crimean Peninsula and Russia's Krasnodar Krai, RIA-Novosti reported. The construction of the 6-kilometer bridge over the Kerch Strait is expected to begin in the summer of 2002, and the $1.2 billion cost of the project will be covered by private Russian investors. Luzhkov said the "bridge between Ukraine and Russia is more than a technical project, but a symbol of the unity of two peoples." VY

POLL SHOWS WHICH FELLOW CIS STATES RUSSIANS REGARD AS 'FRIENDLY.' A poll of an unspecified number of Russian citizens conducted last month by the ROMIR Sociological Center indicates that 76.7 percent regard Belarus as the CIS state most friendly toward Russia, while 37.1 percent consider Georgia "unfriendly" or even "hostile" toward Russia, Turan reported on 12 December. Ukraine and Kazakhstan were ranked second and third among those states regarded as "friendly" to Russia by 37.5 and 35.3 percent respectively, followed by Armenia (28.1 percent), Moldova (25.4 percent), and Kyrgyzstan (21.3 percent.) Only 11.9 percent of respondents considered Azerbaijan friendly to Russia, while 18.1 percent regard Azerbaijan as unfriendly or hostile. Belarus and Kyrgyzstan were considered the least unfriendly. LF

UKRAINE WANTS TO BOOST TRADE WITH IRAN. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Anatoliy Zlenko called for a boost in trade with Iran during talks with his Iranian counterpart Kamal Kharrazi in Teheran on 12 December, Reuters reported. "We discussed the Iran-Ukraine-Europe gas pipeline project that would open up new markets for Iranian gas and diversify gas-supply routes to Europe if implemented," Zlenko told a news conference. Relations between Tehran and Kyiv suffered a setback in 1998 when Ukraine, under U.S. pressure, pulled out of a lucrative deal to sell Iran turbines for a nuclear reactor being built at Iran's southern port of Bushehr by Russian engineers. "We feel that there is much room for expansion of trade ties in the field of aircraft manufacturing, energy, chemicals, and agriculture," Zlenko added. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT VISITS CHORNOBYL PLANT, INTRODUCES NEW DIRECTOR. Leonid Kuchma paid a visit on 12 December to the Chornobyl power plant and the nearby town of Slavutych, where the plant's workers and their families live. Since December 2000, when the plant's last reactor was shut down, its staff of 10,000 was reduced to 4,200. Kuchma introduced the plant's new director, Yuriy Neretin, who will replace Vitaliy Tolstonohov. Kuchma implied in Slavutych that Tolstonohov was fired in connection with the suspected misuse of funds allocated for the closure of Chernobyl, STB television reported. Kuchma also divulged that he learned "only yesterday" that the previous cabinet of Viktor Yushchenko initialed an accord with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development for the completion of two nuclear reactors under "unacceptable terms" for Ukraine. According to Kuchma, the government will "soon" make a decision on whether to complete these two reactors with Western or Russian help. JM

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT OUSTS FIRST DEPUTY SPEAKER. The Ukrainian parliament on 13 December voted by 234 to 50, with 112 abstentions, to dismiss first deputy speaker Viktor Medvedchuk, AP reported. Lawmakers accused Medvedchuk, one of Ukraine's most powerful oligarchs, of abuse of power, biased treatment of the parliament's agenda, and procedural violations. Communist deputy Heorhiy Kryuchkov said he and his allies were determined to oust Medvedchuk for his role in getting the Land Code passed. Deputy Volodymyr Bondarenko from the Reform-Congress caucus said the previous day that the motion to oust Medvedchuk was signed by lawmakers from five caucuses, but refused to name them. Bondarenko also said the same caucuses demand that the parliament view a draft bill on holding obligatory television debates between candidates in the upcoming parliamentary election campaign. The bill was proposed by Fatherland Party leader Yuliya Tymoshenko, who has recently complained that Ukraine's major television channels refuse to give air to her party and broadcast the party's advertisements. JM

POLISH COALITION PARTY OPPOSES LAND SALES TO FOREIGNERS AFTER THREE-YEAR LEASE. Deputy Premier and Agriculture Minister Jaroslaw Kalinowski, who heads the Peasant Party (PSL) that is a coalition partner of the ruling Democratic Left Alliance, told journalists on 12 December that his party opposes giving the EU farmers the right to buy Polish agricultural land after leasing it for three years, PAP reported. Kalinowski added that such a concession would endanger Polish interests. This concession was presented as Poland's official stance in EU talks by Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz last month, causing considerable controversy in Poland (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 27 November 2001). "The PSL supports the recent shortening of the transition period on land sales to foreigners to 12 years from 18. But purchases after a [three-year] lease period are not acceptable," Kalinowski said. JM