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GAZPROM TO INVEST $5 BILLION IN NORTHERN EUROPEAN PIPELINE. Gazprom Chairman Aleksei Miller has announced that the state gas giant has finalized plans to construct a new strategic natural-gas pipeline from the St. Petersburg region across the Baltic Sea to Germany and then continuing on to the United Kingdom, RTR reported on 3 December. The 3,000-kilometer pipeline will bypass the problematic countries of Belarus and Ukraine, Miller noted. The pipeline will eventually have branches providing gas to Finland, Denmark, Sweden, and other countries and will be integrated in a pan-European pipeline network. Gazprom expects to invest up to $5.7 billion in the project, and the first stage of construction will be completed in 2007, Miller said. VY

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT MULLS FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION. The Verkhovna Rada on 4 December gathered for a hearing titled "Society, Media, Authorities: The Freedom of Expression and Censorship in Ukraine," Ukrainian media reported. Deputy parliamentary speaker Oleksandr Zinchenko, who opened the debate, said the hearing should result in specific changes to legislation on Ukrainian media. More than 50 representatives from the government, parliament, and the media asked to speak at the hearing. A poll conducted last month by the Oleksandr Razumkov Center for Political and Economic Studies among 727 Ukrainian journalists revealed that 61.6 percent of them have come into contact with "manifestations of political censorship," UNIAN reported on 3 December. According to the poll, the most common forms of political censorship in Ukraine are self-censorship of journalists for fear of reprisals and removal of politically sensitive passages from texts by editors. JM

POLL SAYS 79 PERCENT OF UKRAINIANS REGARD THEMSELVES AS POOR. According to a survey conducted by the International Labor Organization and Ukraine's State Statistics Committee among 9,400 Ukrainian households earlier this year, 79 percent of respondents consider themselves "poor," UNIAN reported on 3 December. The poll found that more than 50 percent of Ukrainians have monthly incomes below 300 hryvnyas ($56). According to respondents, 510 hryvnyas is the minimum monthly income that would guarantee "normal existence." The official subsistence level in Ukraine is 342 hryvnyas per month. JM

LITHUANIA, UKRAINE ESTABLISH INTERPARLIAMENTARY FORUM. A delegation from the Ukrainian legislature, the Verkhovna Rada, headed by Chairman Volodymyr Lytvyn began a two-day visit to Vilnius on 3 December with a meeting with Lithuanian parliamentary head Arturas Paulauskas, ELTA reported. In a speech to lawmakers in the Seimas, Lytvyn announced that the countries' legislatures will establish a bilateral parliamentary forum similar to the one Lithuania has with Kaliningrad Oblast's Duma. Valerijus Tretjakovas and Oleksandr Tretyakov, representatives from the respective parliaments, signed an agreement establishing the forum prior to an official dinner in honor of the visit. In subsequent talks with Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas, Lytvyn discussed domestic- and foreign-policy issues and ongoing reforms. He expressed dissatisfaction with Ukraine's imminent status as an EU neighbor, noting that his country will seek to become an EU associate member. On 4 December, Lytvyn was scheduled to meet with President Valdas Adamkus and Vilnius Mayor Arturas Zuokas before flying to the Estonian capital, Tallinn. SG

SLOVAK PRESIDENT CONCLUDES UKRAINE VISIT. At the conclusion of his two-day visit to Ukraine, Slovak President Rudolf Schuster on 3 December said the two countries have not realized their full potential for bilateral trade, TASR reported. Accompanied by Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, Schuster visited the Pivdenmash rocket plant, which during the Cold War produced the majority of the former Soviet Union's nuclear missiles. The Ukrainian National Pedagogic University also awarded Schuster an honorary doctorate for literature, and he attended a session of the Ukrainian-Slovak economic forum. BW