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PUTIN HOPES LEFTIST POLISH GOVERNMENT ENHANCES BILATERAL RELATIONS. President Putin met with visiting Polish Prime Minister Leszek Miller on 20 December in Moscow (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 19 December 2001) and told him relations between the two countries "have been far from normal" for a long time, and that he hopes Poland's new leftist government "improves them radically," the BBC reported. In particular, Russia would like to reduce the imbalance in its trade with Poland, which results from large-scale Russian gas and oil supplies to Poland, and to diversify its exports. Miller's primary aim in coming to Moscow is to finalize the details of new Russian gas pipeline that will go to Europe via Poland, circumventing Ukraine, the BBC added. VY

RUSSIAN EXPERT PROPOSES COMMON MARKET FOR EASTERN EUROPE. Sergei Markov, the director of the Institute of Political Research who is known for his close ties to the Kremlin, said the recent improvement of relations between Russia and Ukraine is the result of a calculated policy, and is intended to result in the creation of a closed economic alliance that will facilitate the entrance of the two countries into the EU, "Komsomolskaya pravda" reported on 20 December. "Russia and Ukraine are poor countries and need at least 50 years to join the EU separately. However, by creating an Eastern European common market" -- which he said could include countries that are "unwanted by Europe," such as Belarus, Moldova, and probably Turkey -- "they can go their way much more quickly," according to Markov. VY

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT ADOPTS 2002 BUDGET... The parliament on 20 December voted by 250 to 114, with 18 abstentions, to adopt a 2002 budget bill setting revenues at 45.36 billion hryvni ($8.57 billion) and spending at 49.64 billion hryvni, Interfax reported. Communist deputies voted against the bill, while socialist lawmakers abstained from the vote. The bill limits the size of Ukraine's foreign debt by the end of 2002 to $8 billion. The parliament also passed a new Customs Code. JM

...BUT FAILS TO PASS BILL ON COMBATING CD PIRACY... The same day the parliament voted twice but failed to approve a bill aimed at combating the piracy of compact discs in Ukraine, Interfax reported. In the first voting the bill was supported by 220 deputies (six votes short of the required majority of 226 votes), while in the second attempt only 204 deputies backed it. JM

...WHICH LEADS U.S. TO IMPOSE SANCTIONS ON UKRAINE. On 20 December, the U.S. imposed sanctions on $75 million worth of Ukraine's imports to the U.S. in an immediate response to the Ukrainian parliament's failure to pass an antipiracy bill, Reuters reported. The action, which takes effect on 23 January, follows repeated U.S. warnings over the past two years that Ukraine could face sanctions unless it cracked down on unlicensed copying of compact discs, which is a thriving industry in that country. "We hope Ukraine will now redouble its efforts to deal with intellectual property rights and pass the legislation needed to allow us to lift sanctions," U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick commented. Zoellick added that the sanctions will come in the form of "prohibitive tariffs" on metals, footwear, and other imports from Ukraine. Zoellick also warned that Ukraine will find it difficult to become a member of the World Trade Organization unless it addresses the issue of protecting intellectual property rights. JM

U.S. CONGRESS GRANTS $154 MILLION TO SUPPORT DEMOCRACY IN UKRAINE. The U.S. Congress on 20 December approved $154 million in aid to Ukraine to carry out democratic reform in 2002, Interfax reported. Initially, U.S. President George W. Bush recommended that $169 million be granted to Ukraine. JM

POLISH PROSECUTORS SEEK TO LIFT LEPPER'S PARLIAMENTARY IMMUNITY. The District Prosecutor's Office in Warsaw asked ProsecutorGeneral Barbara Piwnik on 20 December to submit a motion to the Sejm to lift the parliamentary immunity of Self-Defense leader and former deputy speaker Andrzej Lepper in connection with the legal proceedings concerning the slandering by Lepper of five politicians (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 4 and 11 December 2001), PAP reported. Lepper said he wants the Sejm to vote for lifting his immunity. He added that he would like to know who will vote against him and how those who do so will react when he presents material incriminating politicians from the Civic Platform, the Polish Peasant Party, the Democratic Left Alliance, and Law and Justice. Earlier this month, Lepper pledged that he will give up his parliamentary immunity if such a motion to strip him of it is submitted to the Sejm. JM