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ITERA EXPANDS COOPERATION, CUTS SUPPLIES (28 FEBRUARY) Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov has approved plans to boost cooperation with Itera International Group of Companies. In early February, Itera Chairman Igor Makarov and Niyazov agreed to expand a partnership with Itera as a seller of Turkmen natural gas. Niyazov expressed his satisfaction with Itera's activities in sales and distribution of Turkmenistan gas. According to an Itera statement, agreements were also made to increase gas volumes for Itera and to allow for Itera's participation in developing gas fields in Turkmenistan. For 2002, Itera has requested 10 (billion cubic meters (bcm) in Turkmen gas. In addition, a supply of 35 bcm will be managed by Itera in accordance with the Turkmenistan-Ukraine intergovernmental agreement.

Meanwhile, Itera has informed Tbilgas that it will suspend gas supplies due to the company's failure to make payments. Itera and Tbilgas operate under a joint venture to distribute gas to Georgia's capital, Tbilisi. Itera issued a warning to Tbilgas on 27 February after Tbilgas failed to make January payments. In addition, Tbilgas failed to provide bank guarantees for the payment of gas supplied by Itera in February and March 2002. Tbilgas' debt to Itera International Gas Company for supplies in January reached $800,000 and its debt to the whole Itera Group of Companies totals $9 million. Despite the ongoing negotiations and assurances of payment from Tbilgas and the Energy Department of Georgia, no actual steps have been taken to settle the debt. (JMR)

UKRAINE SEEKS TO LESSEN GAS DEPENDENCE ON RUSSIA (28 FEBRUARY) Ukraine's Energy Ministry is seeking to lessen the nation's dependence on Russian gas. Almost two-thirds of Ukraine's gas needs come from Russia. Ukraine and Russia often dispute the cost of gas debts and deliveries. Moscow has accused Kyiv of stealing gas from pipelines. Ukraine is looking toward suppliers in Central Asia, the Middle East, and Norway. The acting head of the oil and gas department at the Ukrainian Energy Ministry, Mykhailo Kalchenko, told Reuters, "If a country depends on one source...for its gas needs, then it is already economically dangerous.... One of the most important questions of Ukraine's existence as an independent state is to find different sources to cover our energy needs." Ukraine's demand for gas is rising. It needs large amounts of energy to power its steel and chemical sectors, and consumes about 70 billion cubic meters (bcm) of gas annually. Ukraine's consumption is set to almost double to 137 bcm by 2030 from 70.5 bcm in 2001. Ukraine produces about 18 bcm and imports the rest from Turkmenistan and Russia. Turkmen gas is transported to Ukraine via Russia by Itera, a trader linked to Russian gas giant Gazprom, increasing Ukraine's dependency on its neighbor. Experts say demand for gas is set to grow as the government lacks cash to restructure the economy, upgrade aging equipment, and improve poor energy efficiency. (JMR)

EASTWEST INSTITUTE UKRAINIAN CONFERENCE (5 MARCH) The EastWest Institute will hold a conference called "Ukraine and the West 2002: Policies for Progress" on 27 April in Kiev. The institute said the conference will bring together policymakers and thought leaders from Ukraine, Europe, and North America to focus on the strategic issues facing Ukraine and its integration into Western institutions. Former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari is chairing the conference and will give the opening presentation, entitled "A Vision for a Broader Europe: A Place for Ukraine." The conference will hopes to harness the political energy coming out of the March parliamentary elections and deal with the political, economic, and security agendas for both Ukraine and the West. (JMR)

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT ORDERS PENSIONS RAISED BY 10 PERCENT AS OF 1 APRIL. Leonid Kuchma has instructed Premier Anatoliy Kinakh's cabinet to increase pensions for some 13 million Ukrainian pensioners by 10 percent as of 1 April, UNIAN reported on 12 March. Most monthly pensions currently paid in Ukraine range between 79 and 129 hryvni ($15-$24). JM

UKRAINIAN PROSECUTOR-GENERAL REJECTS MOTION TO INVESTIGATE KUCHMA... Mykhaylo Potebenko told journalists on 12 March that a recent parliamentary motion to launch a criminal investigation of President Kuchma in connection with his alleged assistance to former Premier Pavlo Lazarenko in planning the murders of two lawmakers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 March 2002) is groundless, UNIAN reported. Potebenko also turned down the parliament's request to investigate commercial deals by presidential administration chief Volodymyr Lytvyn and State Tax Administration head Mykola Azarov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 March 2002). The prosecutor said the lawmakers' appeal was based on a forged letter, and vowed to investigate the letter's origin. JM

UKRAINIAN LAWMAKER ACCUSES KUCHMA OF SELLING ARMS TO IRAQ. Oleksandr Zhyr, the head of the temporary parliamentary commission dealing with the murder of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, told the "Ukrayinska pravda" website on 12 March that President Kuchma is responsible for selling $100 million worth of weapons to Iraq in contravention of 1990's UN Security Council resolution No. 661. "President Kuchma personally authorized this [weapons] supply, and this is confirmed in his conversation with [Valeriy] Malev," Zhyr said, adding that his commission has a recording of this conversation made secretly in Kuchma's office. Malev, who died in an automobile accident on 6 March, was the head of Ukrspetseksport, a state-run company trading in arms and military equipment. JM

POLL SAYS SIX PARTIES TO WIN SEATS IN UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT. The Razumkov Center of Economic and Political Studies found in a poll conducted from 28 February to 6 March among 2,010 Ukrainians that if parliamentary elections had been held at that time, six parties and blocs would have been able to overcome the 4 percent voting barrier. They are: Our Ukraine (23.9 percent of the vote), the Communist Party (16.8 percent), the Social Democratic Party (United) (8 percent), For a United Ukraine (7 percent), Greens (5.5 percent), and Women for the Future (4.1 percent). According to the center, chances of being represented in the parliament also remain for the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc (3.9 percent of the vote), the Socialist Party (3.7 percent), the Nataliya Vitrenko Bloc (2.8 percent), and Yabluko (1.7 percent). The poll's margin of error was 2.3 percent. JM