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PUTIN MEETS WITH KUCHMA IN MOSCOW... President Vladimir Putin met in Moscow on 17 March with Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma to discuss bilateral economic and political relations, "Izvestiya," RTR, and other Russian media reported. Topics of discussion included the proposed creation of a joint economic zone including Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belarus; the creation of a Russian-Ukrainian natural-gas consortium; and the resolution of a border dispute in the Azov Sea and the Kerch Straits. Speaking to journalists, the presidents said that the agreements reached on these issues last year have been submitted to both countries' parliaments for ratification. Putin and Kuchma also discussed the situation in Georgia, and Kuchma congratulated Putin on his "tremendous victory" in Russia's 14 March presidential election. VY

...AND IS EAGER TO MAKE DEALS. "Izvestiya" on 17 March commented that despite the niceties, many unresolved issues remain between the two countries. Although the presidents were able to defuse the Kerch Straits crisis in December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 December 2003), no permanent solution has been found, particularly on the issue of delimiting the common border in the Azov Sea. Nevertheless, Putin is interested in reaching as many agreements as possible with Kuchma quickly because later this year, Ukraine's Verkhovna Rada might well adopt political reforms that could drastically reduce the power of the Ukrainian president and transform the country into a parliamentary republic. VY

TAJIK GENERAL ANTICIPATES BORDER CHANGES BY SUMMER. Lieutenant General Abdurahmon Azimov, head of the Tajik Border Protection Committee, told ITAR-TASS on 17 March that Tajikistan is ready to take a 600-kilometer section of the Tajik-Afghan border under its own jurisdiction. According to Azimov, Russian troops could depart as early as this summer, leaving only "military advisers at all frontier posts and commandants' offices." He allowed, however, that the number of remaining Russian advisers could be "quite large." Azimov will discuss the issue on 9 April with Russian Federal Security Service First Deputy Chairman Colonel General Vladimir Pronichev, who heads the Russian border-guard service, at a meeting of CIS border-troop commanders in Kyiv. Azimov also noted that one of the most difficult issues to be resolved is the wage disparity between Russian border guards and their Tajik counterparts, who earn significantly less. DK

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BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION LEADER CHARGED FOR DEFAMING LUKASHENKA. Belarusian prosecutors have instigated criminal proceedings against United Civic Party leader Anatol Lyabedzka, accusing him of defaming President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on a Russian television channel, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 17 March. Lyabedzka is accused of slandering the Belarusian president in an interview he gave to Zerkalo television on 21 February, during an ongoing gas-supply row between Minsk and Moscow. Lyabedzka reportedly criticized Lukashenka for pursuing a shortsighted economic policy, maintaining a "shadow budget," and covering up the truth about political disappearances in Belarus. "[Lukashenka] needs censorship not only in the media but also among politicians," Lyabedzka told RFE/RL. "Naturally, [the charges against me] are connected with the activities of the Popular Coalition Five Plus." Lyabedzka's United Civic Party is a member of the Popular Coalition Five Plus, an opposition bloc seeking to field candidates in this fall's parliamentary elections (see "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report," 16 March 2004). JM

UKRAINIAN CONSTITUTIONAL COURT OKAYS POLITICAL REFORM. The Ukrainian Constitutional Court ruled on 18 March that the constitutional-reform bill that was preliminarily adopted on 24 December and amended on 3 February in the country's legislature (see "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report," 10 February 2004) does not contradict the Ukrainian Constitution, Interfax reported. The ruling paves the way for final passage of the reforms by the Verkhovna Rada, which would require at least 300 votes. The bill provides for shifting the balance of power from the presidency to the prime minister and parliament, and prescribes a proportional, party-list system and five-year terms for parliament from 2006. JM

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT SCHEDULES PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION FOR LATE OCTOBER. In accordance with its constitutional prerogative, the Verkhovna Rada passed a resolution on 18 March setting the date of the country's presidential election as 31 October 2004, Interfax reported. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT URGES POLITICAL CONTINUITY AFTER ELECTIONS... President Leonid Kuchma said in his annual message to the Verkhovna Rada distributed among deputies on 17 March that this year's presidential election should ensure continuity in the country's political and socioeconomic spheres, Ukrainian news agencies reported. "Acknowledging the inevitability of some correction in the state policies in accordance with the programmatic and ideological guidelines of a future president, it is necessary to do everything to secure continuity of the state course as an indispensable condition for maintaining positive achievements and strengthening favorable trends in the social development," Kuchma said. "I will do everything to hold the election of a new head of state in a civilized way [and] democratically, in full accordance with the legislation in force." JM

...AND 'EUROPEAN' PARTY SYSTEM IN UKRAINE. President Kuchma also said in his message to the Verkhovna Rada on 17 March that Ukraine's future party system should be based on several "powerful" parliamentary parties of a "European model," Ukrainian news agencies reported. According to the president, building an efficient party system should be a priority in the transformation of Ukraine into a more democratic state. Kuchma noted that the current party system in Ukraine is immature and weak, with parties reflecting the interests of business groups and part of the administration apparatus rather than those of the electorate. Kuchma proposed that lawmakers hold a parliamentary hearing on the formation of a "European" party system. He also called on the Verkhovna Rada to adopt a law on political opposition in Ukraine. JM


The Washington-based International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES) ( has recently presented an interesting and thought-provoking report called "Attitudes and Expectations: Public Opinion in Ukraine 2003," authored by Rakesh Sharma and Nathan Van Dusen. In particular, the report includes findings from a survey carried out by IFES in Ukraine among 1,265 respondents on 10-19 September and covering a wide range of issues related to Ukraine's progress toward a more democratic state. It was the 12th survey of this kind in Ukraine by IFES, which established its presence in Kyiv in 1994. The 2003 survey and report were made possible through a grant from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

The report, which provides a plethora of tables with survey findings, examines public attitudes and expectations in the following areas: confidence in government and judicial institutions, corruption, political and economic reform, interest in politics, attitudes toward political parties and nongovernmental organizations, contacts with local officials, and perceptions of media. It also provides a summary of regional and social variations of political attitudes in Ukraine.

The survey found that the overwhelming majority of Ukrainians are either very dissatisfied (47 percent) or somewhat dissatisfied (38 percent) with the overall situation in the country. The current economic situation in Ukraine is assessed as bad or somewhat bad by 86 percent of respondents, while only 9 percent rate it as good.

IFES says its surveys since 2000 have shown a consistent preference for a market-driven economy over a centrally planned one. In 2003, 31 percent said they prefer a market economy, 21 percent a centrally planned economy, and 30 percent chose a neutral point in between. However, there are still large objections to privatization of key industries and sectors in Ukraine. The privatization of the electricity sector is opposed by 65 percent of Ukrainians, the coal industry by 59 percent, and collective farms by 45 percent.

Corruption is perceived as a major problem. A considerable majority of Ukrainians believes that that corruption is very serious or somewhat serious problem in hospitals (85 percent), the police (83 percent), universities (79 percent), courts (74 percent), customs authorities (67 percent), and tax authorities (66 percent).

Asked to choose five from a list of 10 statements or terms representing the meaning of democracy, respondents primarily pointed to human rights (66 percent), "everyone has work" (60 percent), "retirees are looked after by the state (55 percent), and "no official corruption" (48 percent). IFES registered a marked increase in the percentage of Ukrainians who say that Ukraine is not a democracy: 47 percent in 2001, 53 percent in 2002, and 64 percent in 2003.

One of the IFES findings is revealing in the context of the ongoing constitutional reform in Ukraine: 62 percent of Ukrainians are unaware of the existence of a bill, or bills, mandating constitutional amendments that would change the balance of power between the presidency and parliament, while a minority of 38 percent are aware of the issue.

The president is the least trusted among those institutions about which respondents were asked: 70 percent said they have little or no confidence in President Leonid Kuchma.

Only 23 percent of respondents say they support a specific political party, down from 31 percent in the 2002 survey. Of them, 30 percent support the Communist Party, 22 percent the Our Ukraine bloc, 10 percent the Social Democratic Party, 3 percent the Greens of Ukraine, 3 percent the Socialist Party, 2 percent the Popular Rukh, and 2 percent the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc. The survey found that 16 percent of Ukrainians belong to trade unions.

Only 20 percent of Ukrainians are aware of the activities of NGOs in their communities, but this represents a significant increase compared with 12 percent in 2002.

For the first time in its surveys in Ukraine, IFES registered that more Ukrainians than not say that they have a great deal or fair amount of information on both political and economic developments (58 percent on politics; 48 percent on economy). Television, particularly private stations, is the major source of news and information for most Ukrainians. Respondents listed the following media outlets as their primary information sources: Inter (33 percent), 1+1 Channel (23 percent), Ukrainian newspapers (5 percent), UT-1 (5 percent), UT-2 (3 percent), UR-1 (5 percent), ORT (3 percent), New Channel (2 percent), and local television stations (2 percent). The media are mostly rated positively by Ukrainians: 7 percent of respondents have a great deal of confidence in the media, 54 percent have a fair amount, 20 percent do not have too much confidence, and 6 percent have no confidence at all. Ukrainians also perceive journalism as a risky profession: 68 percent think it is dangerous for journalists to report the news objectively, while 20 percent feel that journalists are safe in doing that.