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MINSK TOUGH ON KYIV'S SOVIET-ERA DEBT. Ukrainian Premier Anatoliy Kinakh and his Belarusian counterpart Henadz Navitski met in Chernihiv, northern Ukraine, on 18 December to discuss trade and economic issues, Belarusian and Ukrainian media reported. The two premiers endorsed a plan of bilateral economic cooperation for 2002 calling for a rise in annual trade turnover to $1 billion from the current level of some $700 million. However, the sides did not address the contentious issue of Ukraine's Soviet-era debt to Belarus because an intergovernmental commission has failed to produce a relevant joint resolution. Navitski told Belapan that Minsk will not ratify the border agreement with Ukraine as long as Kyiv fails to repay its Soviet-era debt to Belarus. In 1997, Belarusian President Lukashenka said that debt amounted to $217 million. In a recent intergovernmental agreement, the figure shrank to $113 million, and Ukraine offered some property in Crimea to cover some of the debt. Navitski told Belapan that Ukraine is seeking to get rid of the clause for turning over the property, and wants the debt figure to be reduced to $51 million. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT HOPES FOR WORKABLE NEW PARLIAMENT... Leonid Kuchma on 18 December expressed hopes that a new parliament elected in the 31 March ballot will be more efficient in contrast to the current one, Interfax reported. He criticized the current legislature for inefficiency and political rows. "It's impossible to advance in economy and politics if the government has no support in the parliament," Kuchma noted. "I extremely dislike when ultra-leftists unite with ultra-rightists [in the parliament]," Kuchma said, referring to the recent ouster of first deputy parliamentary speaker Viktor Medvedchuk. JM

...INSISTS ON IMPLEMENTATION OF CONSTITUTIONAL REFERENDUM... Kuchma also said he is still hopeful that the results of the referendum held on 16 April 2000 will be implemented, UNIAN reported. The referendum approved proposals to grant the president the right to dissolve the parliament if lawmakers fail to create a stable parliamentary majority; cut the number of lawmakers from 450 to 300; abolish the lawmakers' immunity from prosecution; and introduce a second legislative chamber. "I will never sign another decree on holding a referendum, even if one is urgently needed, because I have no right to do so until the results of the previous referendum have been implemented," the president said. JM

...OPPOSES JOINT CHECKPOINTS WITH MOLDOVA ON BORDER WITH TRANSDNIESTER... "We are ready to consider joint border checkpoints with Moldova. But we cannot accept this on the border with the Transdniester region," Kuchma told journalists the same day. Kuchma recalled that Moldova wants "to place Moldovan customs officers on Ukraine's territory," and added that such a possible move should be approved by the Ukrainian parliament. However, he added that "we don't want to fight with the Transdniester region or impose an economic blockade on it." In a bid to tighten control over what Chisinau calls smuggling from and to Transdniester, the Moldovan government asked Kyiv earlier this year to allow its customs officers access to checkpoints located on the Ukrainian side of the border. JM

...PREDICTS RISE IN ELECTRICITY TARIFFS. Kuchma said Ukraine will have to increase tariffs for electricity consumption. He added, however, that the increase will not be implemented as "spontaneously" as envisaged in the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development's loan offer for completing two nuclear reactors in Ukraine to compensate for the closure of Chornobyl. Kuchma also said the tariffs will not be raised this winter. The Ukrainian president revealed that the recently signed accord on Russia's assistance in completing the two Ukrainian reactors provides for a Russian credit of $150 million in 2002. JM

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT WANTS PROBE OF PRESIDENTIAL STAFF CHIEF. The parliament on 18 December supported a motion that the ProsecutorGeneral' s Office launch a criminal case against presidential administration chief Volodymyr Lytvyn, deputy Ihor Bakay, and others, UNIAN reported. The motion is called "On investigating the circumstances of illegal appropriation by Lytvyn, Bakay, and other officials of state intellectual property worth hundreds of millions of hryvni and gross tax evasion, bringing the guilty individuals to book, and taking action to recover the losses incurred by the state." JM

...AS TATAR NATIONALISTS PROTEST CENSUS PLANS. The presidium of the moderate nationalist group Tatar Public Center has sent an appeal to the Tatar people protesting against the recent decision to divide ethnic Tatars into six separate groups in the countrywide census to be conducted next year, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 13 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 December 2001). According to the appeal, census organizers are attempting to "divide the [Tatar] nation." The previous day, former Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk told RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service that he does not believe it is possible for Tatarstan to become a "classic" independent state, and suggested that Tatarstan officials should instead seek more rights, freedoms, and broader national autonomy as part of the Russian Federation. Kravchuk also recalled that during negotiations for a new union treaty in 1991, Tatarstan's President Mintimer Shaimiev had a more "progressive, more democratic" point of view than the leaders of other autonomous republics, many of whom were trying to preserve the Soviet Union. JAC