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U.S. AMBASSADOR PRESENTS CREDENTIALS IN MINSK. U.S. Ambassador to Belarus George Krol, who arrived in Belarus on 3 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 September 2003), presented his credentials to President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 22 October, Belarusian Television reported. "[Belarus] is a country of talented and hardworking people, which is known for its religious and ethnic tolerance [and its] love for beauty and orderliness.... My government is steadily following its consistent policy of respect for and support to the sovereignty and independence of the Republic of Belarus," Krol said in Belarusian. Lukashenka responded in Russian: "Our country will always be an [independent] state. No matter what unions we will enter,... the sovereignty and independence of out state will be [preserved]." The same day, Lukashenka also accepted credentials from Petro Shapoval, a new Ukrainian ambassador to Belarus. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT VIEWS CONSTRUCTION OF CONTENTIOUS RUSSIAN DAM... President Leonid Kuchma, who interrupted his Latin American tour due to the ongoing Ukrainian-Russian border dispute (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 October 2003), visited Tuzla island in the Kerch Strait on 22 October to watch the construction of a Russian dam that is reportedly some 100 meters from the Ukrainian border, Ukrainian and international news agencies reported. Kuchma also met with Ukrainian border guards on the island. Following a telephone conversation with Kuchma, Russian President Vladimir Putin reportedly requested that authorities of Russia's Krasnodar Krai halt construction of the controversial dike, Interfax reported on 23 October, quoting Kuchma's press service (see Russia items, "RFE/RL Newsline Part I"). Ukrainian Premier Viktor Yanukovych is scheduled to discuss the situation in the Kerch Strait with his Russian counterpart Mikhail Kasyanov in Moscow on 24 October. Meanwhile, 17 Ukrainian jet fighters deployed in Crimea held an exercise on 22 October involving missile firings into the water in an area not far from Tuzla, ITAR-TASS reported. JM

...AS PARLIAMENT WANTS TO INTERNATIONALIZE DISPUTE WITH RUSSIA. The Verkhovna Rada voted 369 to five on 22 October to pass a resolution calling for "the removal of the threat to Ukraine's territorial integrity" posed by the construction of the Russian dam in the Kerch Strait, Interfax reported. The resolution recommends that Ukraine's delegation to the current session of the UN General Assembly raise the dam dispute at that forum. Moreover, the resolution requests that the parliamentary speaker appeal to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly to send international observers to the Kerch Strait area. "Tuzla symbolizes a fundamental crisis in our relations [with Russia]. We have never discussed so actively the possibility of an armed conflict even when we were dividing the Black Sea Fleet," Reuters quoted Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko, a likely presidential candidate next year, as saying. Our Ukraine lawmaker Yuriy Yekhanurov said during debate in parliament that Ukraine needs to restore its nuclear arsenal. "Naturally, we cannot afford an arms race, but our country is not too poor to create anew a small nuclear arsenal that would be able to serve as a factor of deterrence for some 'excessively friendly' neighbors," Interfax quoted him as saying. JM

PUTIN ORDERS TEMPORARY HALT TO CONTROVERSIAL DAM PROJECT... Presidential spokesman Aleksei Gromov announced on 23 October that President Putin and Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma have spoken by telephone and have agreed that the two countries' prime ministers will meet on 24 October to discuss the conflict over a controversial dam being built by Russia in the Kerch Strait (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3, 14, and 21 October 2003 and "End Note," 16 October 2003), Russian media reported. Putin will ask the administration of Krasnodar Krai to halt construction of the dam until the dispute with Kyiv is resolved. Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said on 22 October that the project is dictated "exclusively by economic and ecological considerations and has nothing to do with Ukrainian-Russian talks about border delimitation in the Azov Sea," RTR reported. VY

...AS PARLIAMENTARIAN SAYS DISPUTE WILL BE RESOLVED. Duma Deputy Dmitrii Rogozin, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, said the conflict over the dam is "the result of Ukraine's ambitions to join NATO," RTR and NTV reported on 22 October. Ukraine claims that the Tuzla islet is its territory and that it is threatened by the dam. "In fact, there is no Tuzla islet at all," Rogozin said. "It is merely the above-water part of a seabed sand spit that reaches far out into the Kerch Strait." He added that if Russia and Ukraine are unable to agree on the status of the Azov Sea, it could acquire the status of international waters and other countries, including NATO countries, could gain the unrestricted use of it. "I am sure that President Putin has levers to deal with this problem," Rogozin said. "I am sure he can just call Leonid Kuchma and say a few words. President Kuchma understands Russian better than Ukrainian," Rogozin said. VY