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UKRAINE, RUSSIA AGREE ON GAS TRANSIT FOR NEXT YEAR. In Moscow on 10 December, Ukraine's Naftohaz Ukrayiny and Russia's Gazprom signed a package of agreements on mutual cooperation and Russian gas transit through Ukraine, Interfax and ITAR-TASS reported. The accords stipulate that Russia pump 110 billon cubic meters of gas via Ukraine's gas-pipeline system in 2003. Gazprom reportedly is to provide 26 billon cubic meters of gas to Ukraine as a fee for the use of transit pipelines, while the rest of the fees will be paid in cash. Both companies also agreed that Gazprom will replace Itera next year as the operator of Turkmen gas exports to Ukraine. According to the agreement, Ukrainian expenditures on the transit of Turkmen gas in 2003 will fall to 38 percent of the cost of the gas, compared to 41 percent in 2002. JM

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT WANTS EMBEZZLEMENT PROBE. The Verkhovna Rada on 10 December endorsed a motion by lawmaker Hryhoriy Omelchuk to request that Prosecutor-General Svyatoslav Piskun launch an investigation into the alleged embezzlement of $42 million by state officials in 2000, UNIAN reported. According to Omelchuk, the sum was stolen by managers of Naftohaz Ukrayiny (headed at the time by current lawmaker Ihor Bakay) and Ukrhazbank (headed in 2000 by current lawmaker Vasyl Horbal) during payment transactions for gas supplies between Naftohaz Ukrayiny and Itera International Energy. JM

DUMA AND NATIONALITIES MINISTRY HASH OUT MIGRATION POLICY. State Duma deputies and officials from the office of Vladimir Zorin, the Russian minister in charge of nationalities policy, met on 9 December to hammer out a draft state policy toward legal and illegal migrants. Officials from Zorin's office brought along data indicating that more than 7 million people had come into Russia over the last decade while only 3 million had left the country, with one in four Russians moving within the country during the same period. According to official estimates, around 3 million foreigners live in Russia illegally, costing the state 8 billion rubles (more than $250 million) per year. "We have migrants and will always have them," Zorin said. "The main thing is that the state must do everything it can to make migration in Russia controlled and orderly." Andrei Chernenko, head of the Interior Ministry's Federal Migration Service, called for increasing fines on employers who hire illegal immigrants. The working conditions for migrants, he said, are "horrible," with employers feeding them "kitchen waste." When caught, the illegal immigrants themselves, Chernenko said, should be deported according to the legally stipulated procedure.

The Duma deputies agreed on the need to bring migration under control. Dmitrii Rogozin, chairman of the Duma's Foreign Affairs Committee, called for toughening the law on citizenship. "Do you have any idea what people will do to get citizenship? I heard of a girl born in 1986 who ostensibly fell in love with and married young Chinese men 27 times," Rogozin said. "Today, you can enter Russia using 18 different types of documents. How would you like, for example, the passport of a Tajik sailor? I was in Tajikistan. I saw mountains, but no sea." Rogozin and his colleagues called for a legal mechanism for deportation, for interstate treaties to prevent illegal immigration, and for clearly defined procedures and rules for applying for Russian citizenship, as well as for registering and giving work permits to migrants who have already lived in Russia for a long time. Oleg Mironov, Russia's human rights ombudsman, said that any official migration policy must specifically discuss Chechnya and the North Caucasus, which "engender the main migration processes in the country," reported on 9 December.

Meanwhile, a migration expert with the Russian Academy of Sciences, Zhanna Zaionchkovskaya, told "Izvestiya" that 3 million to 4 million illegal immigrants from CIS countries are currently living in Russia. Last year, she said, 300,000 people from CIS countries, a third of them Ukrainians, entered Russia legally. At the same time, some 4 million ethnic Russian are living in other CIS countries, mainly Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan.

The issue of migration is also a hot topic in Primorskii Krai. The region's governor, Sergei Darkin, said on 5 December that Russia's Far East was ready to take 5 million people from other parts of the country over the next five years, reported. Specialists in the region are working on a project to create 5 million new jobs for the newcomers. The issue, Darkin said, has been discussed with the Kremlin's Security Council, and the federal government has allocated 300 million rubles (nearly $10 million) to finance a program in Primorskii Krai to build low-cost housing for young families with children. (Jonas Bernstein)