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UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT FIRES SENIOR FUEL AND ENERGY OFFICIAL. President Leonid Kuchma on 5 December dismissed Deputy Prime Minister Vitaliy Hayduk, who was responsible in Viktor Yanukovych's cabinet for issues relating to the fuel and energy sector, Interfax reported. Yanukovych attributed Hayduk's dismissal to "many problems [in the fuel and energy sector] that have not been resolved as expeditiously and consistently as was needed." Hayduk's sacking came immediately after he told journalists that "consultants" have concluded that it is inexpedient for Ukraine to pass the management of Ukraine's gas-pipeline network to a joint Ukrainian-Russian consortium. "The issue of a consortium for managing [Ukraine's gas-transport system] has been removed from the agenda," Hayduk said. The intention to set up such a consortium was announced by Moscow and Kyiv last year. Hayduk also said the purchase of stakes in Ukrainian regional power distributors by Russia's Unified Energy Systems (EES) recently announced by EES head Anatolii Chubais (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 December 2003) is against the law. "We are planning privatization, not the transfer of property from one government to another," Hayduk added, referring to the fact that EES is a Russian state-controlled company. JM

ROMANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER REASSERTS BUCHAREST'S ROLE IN MOLDOVAN SETTLEMENT PROCESS. Romanian Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana told journalists in Brussels on 5 December that Bucharest has so far "deliberately subdued" its role in the Moldovan conflict, and that Romania's role in resolving the conflict "should become a little more prominent" now that Russia's proposed resolution plan has failed to gain acceptance, Reuters reported. Geoana said that "Romania is an important and influential player, and continuing to believe that we don't have a legitimate interest [in Moldova] -- at least as important as those of Ukraine and Russia -- would be a counterproductive illusion." Geoana also said Romania believes the "explicit involvement of the European Union and the United States under the aegis of the OSCE" would provide a new impetus to the negotiations (see also "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 December 2003). MS

EU ENLARGEMENT COMMISSIONER ANNOUNCES PLAN FOR CLOSER EU-MOLDOVA RELATIONS. Guenter Verheugen said in Chisinau on 5 December following talks with President Vladimir Voronin and Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev that the two sides will jointly work out within six months an "action plan" for closer cooperation between Moldova and the EU, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Verheugen said Moldova is closer to EU accession than Ukraine, Russia, or Belarus, which are also part of the EU's New Neighborhood Policy approved in March 2003. However, he said that to facilitate the country's EU-accession efforts, Moldovan authorities must initiate broad economic and political reforms, improve Moldova's business climate to attract foreign investment, and act more resolutely in combating corruption. Verheugen said the EU is against changing the current five-party format of negotiations for a settlement of the Transdniester conflict by being added as a mediator alongside Russia, Ukraine, and the OSCE. However, he said, the EU might consider participation in post-settlement peacekeeping in the region, in offering security guarantees, and in helping Moldova overcome its economic difficulties by allowing access of Moldovan goods into EU markets. MS