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MTS (HTTP://WWW.MTS.RU)/VIMPELCOM (HTTP://WWW.BEELINEGSM.RU/VC/) With nearly 10 million subscribers in Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine, Mobile TeleSystems (MTS) is the largest cellular operator in Eastern Europe. The rapidly expanding company posted a $302 million pretax profit in 2001, $207 million after taxes. With 6.2 million subscribers, Vimpelcom is another dynamic operator. Its 2001 pretax profit was $66 million, and its net profit $47 million. Many observers consider the mobile telecoms one of Russia's best run, fastest moving, and most competitive sectors.

BELARUSIAN LEADER CITES 'FUNDAMENTAL DISAGREEMENT' OVER CIS ECONOMIC INTEGRATION. President Alyaksandr Lukashenka said on 16 May that there is a "fundamental disagreement" over how Belarus, Russia, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan view their declared goal of forming a "joint economic space" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 February 2003), Belarusian Television reported. Lukashenka was speaking to the deputy prime ministers of those four CIS countries -- Andrey Kabyakou, Viktor Khristenko, Mykola Azarov, and Karim Masimov, respectively -- who were meeting in Minsk to discuss integration. "There are [controversial] issues of trade, of joining the World Trade Organization, and -- what worries me most -- there is a disagreement of conceptual character regarding the understanding of not only the process [of integration] but also the essence of a joint economic area and a free-trade zone, for example," Lukashenka said. "We are ready, in the event that our interests do not coincide, to quit [this group] so as to not hinder the three remaining states in reaching an agreement." JM

PRESIDENT URGES UKRAINIANS TO EMBRACE EUROPE AS 'HOME.' Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma said in a televised Europe Day address to the country on 17 May that Ukrainians need to realize that "Europe is our home," Ukrainian Television reported. "The times require all of us to make appropriate changes to our own political habits and likes, and to be ready to give up the authoritarian legacy of the past," Kuchma said. "An important tool in bringing Ukraine closer to European standards is political reform. Its aim is to plant into Ukrainian soil the parliamentary-presidential republic, the governance model that is predominant in Europe." Kuchma also asserted that Ukraine's drive to integrate with Europe in no way conflicts with the country's strategic partnership with Russia. JM

CRIMEAN TATARS DEMAND RIGHTS ON ANNIVERSARY OF DEPORTATION. Some 12,000 people took part in a rally in the Crimean city of Simferopol on 18 May to commemorate the 59th anniversary of the deportation of Crimean Tatars from Crimea by the Stalin regime, Interfax reported. The rally adopted a resolution demanding that the Ukrainian parliament pass a law on reinstating the rights of the Crimean-Tatar people by May 2004, the 60th anniversary of the deportation. "There can be no legal reason to justify seizing the land of Crimean Tatars, refusing their request to open Crimean-Tatar schools, and refusing to give the Crimean-Tatar language official status in Crimea," the resolution states. Some 275,000 Tatars currently reside on the Crimean peninsula, with at least that many believed to be in exile. JM

U.S. LAWYERS TO QUESTION UKRAINIAN OFFICIALS ABOUT FORMER PREMIER. Three U.S. lawyers defending former Ukrainian Premier Pavlo Lazarenko arrived in Ukraine on 17 May to question Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma; National Security and Defense Council Secretary Yevhen Marchuk; lawmakers Valeriy Pustovoytenko, Oleksandr Volkov, and Yuliya Tymoshenko; former Naftohaz Ukrayiny Chairman Ihor Bakay; and others, Interfax reported. "As regards Kuchma, I think the issue [of questioning him] will be solved at Ukraine's discretion. As for me, I intend to question him," U.S. lawyer Harold Rosenthal said, adding that he and his colleagues intend to stay in Ukraine for three to six weeks. Lazarenko is currently in custody in the United States, awaiting trial on money-laundering charges. JM