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ENERGY AGREEMENT DEFROSTS RUSSIA-UKRAINE RELATIONS. Energy Minister Igor Yusufov and Ukrainian Energy Minister Serhiy Yermilov signed a protocol on 29 December for an agreement on cooperation in 2004 in developing the fuel and energy sectors, Russian media reported. The two countries reached agreement in principle on the plan in September. The two sides have agreed on the terms for supplying Russian fuel and energy to Ukraine, as well as for transiting Russian natural gas, oil, and electricity to Europe via Ukraine. The energy agreement follows a 24 December meeting between President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma in Ukraine's Black Sea port of Kerch, during which they moved closer to resolving a territorial dispute by signing a framework agreement on joint use of the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait. Under the agreement, Russia and Ukraine will set up a consortium to control joint use of the strait, Prime-TASS reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline Part II"). JB

BELARUS, NATO TO SEAL PARTNERSHIP PROGRAM. Belarus and NATO are expected to seal a 2004-05 individual-partnership program within two months, Belapan reported on 29 December, quoting Belarusian Defense Ministry aide Syarhey Bulyhin. The program, approved at NATO headquarters in Brussels on 26 November, provides for 183 events in 21 areas of cooperation, according to Bulyhin. It includes political consultations within the framework of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council and the Partnership for Peace, participation in the work of the main NATO bodies, staff talks with representatives of NATO headquarters, and participation in joint war games, exercises, and training, Bulyhin said. Belarus does not insist on the special partnership regime that NATO maintains with Russia and Ukraine, Bulyhin added. AM

UKRAINE, RUSSIA SIGN AGREEMENT ON USE OF KERCH STRAIT AND SEA OF AZOV. Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma and Russian President Vladimir Putin signed an agreement on the use of waters of the Kerch Strait and the Sea of Azov in the Crimean city of Kerch on 24 December, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline Part I"). The agreement defines the Sea of Azov as the internal waters of both Ukraine and Russia, and it provides for the free navigation of Ukrainian and Russian military and civilian vessels in the area, while third-flag vessels need the consent of both Ukraine and Russia to operate within those waters. The document also provides for delimitation of the state border on the bottom and the surface of the sea. The unclear status of the Azov and the Kerch Strait prompted a high-profile dispute between Kyiv and Moscow in October-November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 October 2003). AM

...AND SAYS COMMUNIST DICTATOR WAS DENIED ASYLUM BY SOVIETS. President Voronin also said in the 27 December interview with NIT that as a result of his former post as interior minister of the Moldovan Soviet Socialist Republic, he knows that Soviet authorities repeatedly denied permission to land in Bolhrad, Ukraine, to an airplane carrying former dictator Ceausescu and his family in 1989, Infotag reported. In an apparent attempt to discredit President Iliescu, who has denied links with the Soviet regime or former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, Voronin said: "In light of what happened recently in Iraq with Saddam Hussein, events in Romania [in 1989] acquire a different meaning. Why did Iliescu and Gorbachev not permit Ceausescu's airplane to land? Why does Iliescu not answer this question? Why is the Romanian president looking across the fence instead of looking at what happens in his own yard?" Voronin's statements mark the first time such an allegation about the 1989 Romanian events has been made. Ceausescu and his spouse Elena flew by helicopter from Bucharest on 22 December, but they are not known to have boarded any plane before being caught and brought by car to Targoviste, where both were executed on 25 December 1989. MS