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AZERBAIJAN, UKRAINE SIGN DEFENSE COOPERATION PROGRAM. Ukrainian Defense Minister Volodymyr Shkydchenko ended a two-day visit to Baku on 30 January after signing, together with his Azerbaijani counterpart Colonel General Safar Abiev, a cooperation plan between their respective ministries for 2003, Turan and ITAR-TASS reported. That plan envisages cooperation in staff training and in the military-technical sphere. Shkydchenko told journalists on 30 January that Ukraine is committed to what he termed the long and difficult process of securing an invitation to join NATO. He also said Ukrainian troops could, if asked, help guard the planned Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan export pipeline for Azerbaijan's Caspian Sea oil, according to Caucasus Press. Shkydchenko met separately on 30 January with Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev, Turan reported. LF

RUSSIAN PRESIDENTIAL ADMINISTRATION HEAD VISITS UZBEKISTAN. Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov met in Tashkent on 30 January with Aleksandr Voloshin to discuss unspecified issues relating to bilateral cooperation and regional security, Interfax and reported. Voloshin also briefed Karimov on the informal CIS summit in Kyiv earlier this week, which Karimov did not attend as he was on an official visit to Spain (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 January 2003). Voloshin conveyed Russian President Vladimir Putin's birthday greetings to Karimov, who turned 65 on 30 January. LF

BULGARIAN PRESIDENT VISITS UKRAINE. Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov told his Ukrainian counterpart Leonid Kuchma in Kyiv on 30 January that Bulgaria supports Ukraine's efforts to integrate into the European Union, BTA and Ukrainain media reported. Parvanov was speaking at the start of a three-day official visit to Ukraine. Kuchma urged Parvanov to ease Bulgarian visa policy vis-a-vis Ukrainians. Some 70,000 Ukrainian tourists spent holidays at Bulgarian resorts in 2001, according to official estimates, but that number declined by more than 40 percent in 2002. The two sides signed accords on 30 January on cooperation to protect intellectual-property rights and monitor nuclear-energy safety, as well as in the areas of environmental protection and culture. JM

KYIV SAYS KUCHMA'S CIS LEADERSHIP WON'T ALTER FOREIGN POLICY. The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry on 30 January issued a statement saying the recent election of President Kuchma as head of the Council of CIS Heads of State (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 January 2003) will not change Ukraine's strategic priorities in foreign policy, UNIAN reported. The expansion of Ukrainian ties with the CIS in general and the Russian Federation in particular guarantees the country's successful integration into Europe and NATO, the statement asserts. The ministry also said Kuchma's CIS appointment testifies to the fact that the post-Soviet commonwealth has given priority to developing its "economic vector." Kuchma is the first non-Russian leader to head the CIS Council. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT CREATES BODY FOR 'EUROPEAN, EURO-ATLANTIC INTEGRATION.' President Kuchma has set up a State Council for Issues of European and Euro-Atlantic Integration, UNIAN reported on 30 January. According to the presidential decree, the council is to coordinate efforts toward implementing the country's strategic political goals. Those goals include "ensuring Ukraine's entry into the European political, economic, security, and legal area [and] creating preconditions for Ukraine's admission to the EU and NATO." The council is to be headed by the president and will include the prime minister, the head of the presidential administration, the secretary of the National Defense and Security Council, the foreign minister, the speaker of the Verkhovna Rada (whose participation is optional), and several other government officials. JM

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT SUGGESTS WAYS TO CUT COSTS OF RUSSIAN GAS DELIVERIES. President Voronin has suggested that Russian gas supplies to Moldova be delivered directly via Ukraine, thus bypassing the current route over territory controlled by the Transdniester separatists and making it possible to reduce costs for Russian gas, ITAR-TASS reported on 30 January. The agency said the proposal was made to Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma at this week's Commonwealth of Independent States' summit in Kyiv. MS