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Russian gas monopolist Gazprom is poised to begin purchasing all of Turkmenistan's exportable natural gas, though questions remain about prices and existing contracts with other companies, "Vremya novostei" reported on 3 April. According to a 1 April Gazprom press release, CEO Miller reached an agreement the same day with Turkmenistan President Saparmurat Niyazov on a "long-term contract to buy Turkmen gas." According to the press release, the signing will take place "in the near future" in the context of an agreement on gas-sector cooperation between Turkmenistan and Russia. That agreement is likely to be inked during Niyazov's upcoming visit to Moscow in mid-April. According to "Vremya novostei," Turkmenistan currently produces 60 billion cubic meters of gas annually: 11 billion for its own use, 36 billion for sale to Ukraine's Naftohaz Ukraine through Eural TG, 10 billion for sale to Itera, and 3 billion-4 billion for sale to Iran. Current contracts expire in 2004, opening the door for Gazprom to acquire 45 billion-50 billion cubic meters of gas annually from Turkmenistan. Previous attempts by Gazprom to squeeze out competitors and purchase all of Turkmenistan's gas foundered on price disagreements, "Kommersant" reported on 2 April. "Vremya novostei" and "Gazeta" reported that this time Turkmenistan insisted on $42-$44 per 1,000 cubic meters, a price that industry analysts deemed high. A long-term agreement to purchase Turkmen gas would allow debt-strapped Gazprom to maintain current export levels without investing substantial sums to develop new fields. DK

IRAQI OPPOSITION LEADER TELLS MOSCOW TO FORGET ABOUT IRAQ'S DEBTS... Muwaffak Fattuhi, a leader of the Iraqi opposition and a member of the Central Committee of the Iraqi National Congress, said Russia should give up hope that Iraq will repay its Soviet-era debts and should begin relations with a new post-Hussein government with a blank slate, "Izvestiya" reported on 8 April. "Countries like Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus were friends of Saddam Hussein, and they worked against the interests of the Iraqi people," Fattuhi was quoted as saying. He added, though, that the new Iraqi government will respect Russia and will not exclude it from among its potential trading partners. According to the Economic Development and Trade Ministry, Iraq's debts to Moscow exceed $8.5 billion, "Izvestiya" reported. VY

KAZAKH NATIONAL BANK CHAIRMAN OPPOSES RUBLE AS COMMON CURRENCY. Kazakhstan National Bank Chairman Grigorii Marchenko has said he will resign if the Russian ruble becomes the common currency of the unified economic space that is being set up by Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine, the Kazakhstan supplement to "Izvestiya" reported on 8 April. Marchenko said choosing the ruble as the common currency would be a threat to the national sovereignty of the three countries. For this reason, he would refuse to be involved. Also, he argued, the member states would have no influence over the actions of the Russian Central Bank, which would presumably continue to be motivated by Russian national interests. In Marchenko's view, a supranational central bank should be set up in the unified economic space to manage the single currency. Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev has proposed creating a new currency for the four countries that would be called the altyn, the Kazakh word for gold. BB

UKRAINIAN PREMIER URGES DIRECT TRADE WITH GREECE. Ukrainian Premier Viktor Yanukovych met with his Greek counterpart Konstandinos Simitis and Greek businessmen in Athens on 8 April, Ukrainian media reported. Yanukovych said after the meetings that Ukraine must overcome negative trends and cut out intermediaries in trade with Greece. "There have been some unhealthy relations recently.... In some cases, Ukrainian products are supplied to Greece via offshore zones, and the Ukrainian economy does not benefit from such operations," Interfax quoted Yanukovych as saying. JM

UKRAINIAN CABINET UPBEAT ON MAINTAINING ECONOMIC GROWTH. The Verkhovna Rada's Economic Policy Committee on 8 April endorsed a government action plan and will recommend that the legislature approve it, UNIAN reported, quoting First Deputy Premier Mykola Azarov. The plan aims for economic growth of 5-6 percent in 2003 and 8 percent in 2004. It also calls for raising the minimum monthly wage gradually to reach the subsistence minimum of 342 hryvnyas ($64) in early 2007. JM

UKRAINIAN JOURNALIST, GEORGIAN OFFICIAL DIE IN CAR CRASH. Prominent Ukrainian journalist Oleksandr Kryvenko, the president of Public Radio, and Georgian Foreign Ministry official Gizo Grdzelidze, an OSCE project officer in Ukraine, died in a car accident in the early hours of 9 April, Interfax reported. Details were not immediately available. JM

POLISH PRESIDENT BACKS PREMIER AHEAD OF EU PLEBISCITE. President Aleksander Kwasniewski said on Polish Radio on 8 April that in the run-up to the referendum on joining the European Union and in view of the need for public-finance reform, it is necessary to cooperate with Prime Minister Leszek Miller. Kwasniewski stressed that it is unrealistic that the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) could run a minority government without Leszek Miller as prime minister. "In my opinion, opposition calls for the SLD to change prime ministers are even more unacceptable than the proposal to hold early elections [this year]," Kwasniewski said. Last week, Miller announced that he sees a need for early parliamentary elections in June 2004, simultaneously with the elections to the European Parliament, and Kwasniewski supported that stance (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 8 April 2003). JM

1903 POGROM REMEMBERED IN CHISINAU. An international symposium marking the centennial of the 1903 pogrom was held on 8 April in Chisinau under the auspices of the Moldovan Department of Interethnic Relations, Infotag reported. The pogrom was triggered by a blood libel, according to which Jews had killed a Christian boy in the town of Dubasari in order to prepare unleavened bread for Passover. Forty-nine Jews lost their lives, more than 500 were injured, and some 1,500 Jewish-owned homes and shops were plundered. Israeli Knesset parliamentary deputy Avigdor Liberman, who was born and raised in Moldova, told the forum that the Chisinau pogrom was the first of its kind in the 20th century in which the atrocities against the Jews were initiated by the (tsarist Russian) authorities themselves. Participants in the symposium included representatives of Jewish organizations from Belarus, Great Britain, Israel, Moldova, Romania, Russia, and Ukraine. MS