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EES HEAD CALLS FOR RUSSIA TO BECOME A 'LIBERAL EMPIRE'... Speaking at the St. Petersburg Engineering Economics Institute, Union of Rightist Forces leader and Unified Energy Systems (EES) head Anatolii Chubais said the main goal for Russia in the 21st century is to develop "liberal capitalism" and to build up a "liberal empire," ORT,, and reported on 25 September. The most direct way to form such an empire, he said, was through the creation of a joint economic space with Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan. He also said that Russia should strengthen its position in the CIS by providing increased economic aid. Commenting on EES, Chubais said it plans to participate in "anti-crisis management" of the energy grids of Georgia, Armenia, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan. VY

...AS PUTIN OPENS THE WAY FOR CIS CITIZENS TO SERVE IN RUSSIAN MILITARY... President Putin on 24 September introduced to the State Duma a bill that would pave the way for citizens of CIS countries to serve in the Russian military, "Vremya novostei" and reported on 25 September. According to the bill, CIS citizens would be granted Russian citizenship after three years' service in the Russian military. The Russian General Staff believes that many CIS citizens would be enticed into the Russian military by the prospect of Russian citizenship and by the comparatively high wages Russian contract soldiers receive. "Vremya novostei" quoted one General Staff representative as saying that some CIS officers have expressed a willingness to serve as ordinary soldiers in the Russian Army. However, the paper commented, the bill conflicts with legislation in many CIS countries. Ukraine, for instance, treats its citizens who perform foreign military service as mercenaries, which is punishable by up to eight years' imprisonment. The Georgian Constitution bars citizens from serving in foreign armies, the paper wrote. VY

...AS OPPOSITION SAYS PENAL SYSTEM OVERCROWDED AND UNDERFUNDED. Commenting on 25 September on the adoption of the revised amnesty law, lower house Committee on Judicial Issues Chairman and prominent opposition parliamentarian Azimbek Beknazarov said the amnesty would affect about 5,000 convicts, most of whom would have their sentences reduced by one-third, RIA-Novosti reported. About 500 convicts -- including women over 58 years old; men over 65; and veterans of World War II, the Soviet war in Afghanistan, and the cleanup of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident -- are to be freed from prison. Beknazarov added that the Kyrgyz prison system presently holds about 19,000 convicts, a number which considerably exceeds its capacity. In the first eight months of 2003, the national prison administration received only 26 percent of the funds needed to care for prisoners. This means the system can spend only the equivalent of $0.10 per day to feed each prisoner. BB

GAZPROM REPORTEDLY SEEKING TO NEARLY TRIPLE GAS PRICE TO BELARUS. Gazprom head Aleksei Miller told the director of Belarusian gas-pipeline operator Beltranshaz in Moscow on 25 September that Belarus should pay $80 per 1,000 cubic meters of Russian gas in 2004, Belapan reported, quoting the Gazprom press service. Under this year's deal, Gazprom is supplying Belarus with 10.2 billion cubic meters of gas at a preferential price of $30 for 1,000 cubic meters. The Belarusian and Russian presidents agreed earlier this month to adopt market prices in contracting purchases of Russian gas (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 16 and 23 September 2003). In response to this suggested price hike, Minsk is expected to raise duties on the transit of Russian gas across Belarus. JM

UKRAINIANS IN LVIV DISTRUST TAX INSPECTORS. Some 5,000 people gathered at the Lviv Oblast Council on 25 September to demand the dismissal of Lviv Oblast Tax Administration head Serhiy Medvedchuk, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reported. In June, Lviv Oblast councilors supported a no-confidence vote in Serhiy Medvedchuk, charging that he has used his position in the State Tax Administration to exert pressure on companies and organizations opposed to the Social Democratic Party-united, including Viktor Yushchenko's Our Ukraine. State Tax Administration head Yuriy Kravchenko did not sack Medvedchuk. The Social Democratic Party-united is led by Serhiy Medvedchuk's brother, presidential administration head Viktor Medvedchuk. Yushchenko, who attended the Lviv Oblast Council session on 25 September, called on Serhiy Medvedchuk to step down. The same day, Lviv councilors supported a vote of no confidence in Lviv City Tax Administration chief Myroslav Khomyak. JM

IMF APPROVES EARLY REPAYMENT OF UKRAINE'S LOANS. Ukrainian Economy Minister Valeriy Khoroshkovskyy told journalists in Kiev on 25 September that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has agreed to the repayment of Ukraine's $1.8 billion debt within two years, some six years before the last payment is scheduled to be made, Interfax reported. Khoroshkovskyy said the agreement came after talks with IMF representatives earlier this week in Dubai. Ukrainian National Bank head Serhiy Tyhypko declared in August that Ukraine can repay its full debt to the IMF by the end of 2003. JM

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT TAKES TWO STEPS BACK, NONE FORWARD. President Vladimir Voronin on 25 September denied media reports that Moldova might leave the CIS, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Voronin reiterated that his criticism of a decision by four countries participating in the recent CIS Yalta summit to set up a Single Economic Space does not mean Moldova "intends to be the grave digger" of the CIS. He said he merely intended to emphasize that the decision by Russia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, and Belarus will affect the CIS in view of the fact that they are among its largest members (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 September 2003). Voronin also stressed that his appeal to the EU to participate in the resolution of the Transdniester conflict is linked to the recent invitation to the EU to open an office in Chisinau. He said the EU should participate in finding solutions to Moldova's problems, and those are not limited to the Transdniester problem. As for EU participation in a peacekeeping force under the aegis of the OSCE, the possibility should be examined only after a political solution has been agreed on, he said. Peacekeepers should have a "peace to keep" and EU participation cannot simply mean that "some troops (i.e., Russian) are displaced by other troops," he added. MS

TRANSDNIESTRIANS TO SING ANTHEM IN THREE LANGUAGES. The Transdniester Supreme Soviet approved on 25 September the first reading of a resolution stipulating that the national anthem is to be sung in all three official languages -- Russian, "Moldovan," and Ukrainian, Infotag reported. The resolution says the three languages have equal status and the singing of the anthem in Russian alone -- as was hitherto customary -- would infringe on the rights of speakers of the other two languages. Translation into "Moldovan" and Ukrainian are to be commissioned for this purpose, according to the resolution. MS