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END NOTE: WILL UKRAINE'S PRESIDENT RUN AGAIN? xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT TO MULL IRAQ PULLOUT BEHIND CLOSED DOORS. The Verkhovna Rada on 18 May supported a proposal to discuss the issue of the deployment of Ukrainian peacekeepers in Iraq in a closed-door session on 19 May, UNIAN reported. The motion was backed by 230 deputies, mostly from the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, the Socialist Party, the Communist Party, Our Ukraine, and some pro-government caucuses. Lawmakers at the session will hear reports on the situation in Iraq from Defense Minister Yevhen Marchuk, Foreign Minister Kostyantyn Hryshchenko, National Security and Defense Council Secretary Volodymyr Radchenko, and Security Service chief Ihor Smeshko. The session is to be concluded by an open vote on a possible pullout of Ukrainian troops from Iraq. JM

UKRAINIAN PREMIER WANTS TO ABANDON 'EUROMANTICISM' IN TIES WITH EU. Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych on 17 May said Ukraine should give up "Euromanticism" in its relations with the European Union, Interfax reported. Yanukovych was commenting on his scheduled visit to Brussels on 18-19 May, where he will head a Ukrainian delegation attending a meeting of the Ukraine-EU Cooperation Council. "Ukraine has been saying it strives for integration in the EU, but I wish we had found an answer to the question of what this means," Yanukovych said. "Europe does not need Ukraine with its problems, and we should clearly realize this...and move away from Euromanticism." JM

COURT REJECTS CONSTITUTION DRAFT NAMING RUSSIAN 'OFFICIAL' LANGUAGE IN UKRAINE. The Constitutional Court on 17 May rejected a request by 165 lawmakers that it rule whether their bill of proposed constitutional amendments, including one that would introduce Russian as an "official" language in Ukraine, is constitutional, Interfax reported. The proposed amendment in question reads: "Citizens have the right to use Ukrainian as the state language and Russian as the official language in the process of managing state matters and in self-government bodies." In rejecting the request, the court said amendments to the Ukrainian Constitution's Chapter 1, titled "Basic Principles," should be supported by at least 300 deputies. According to the court, the proposed amendment relates to Article 10 in Chapter 1 of the constitution, which establishes Ukrainian as the state language in Ukraine. Moreover, the court cited a December 1999 ruling that the terms "state language" and "official language" are synonymous. JM

ROMANIAN, SERBIAN PREMIERS DISCUSS BILATERAL RELATIONS. After discussions with his visiting Serbian counterpart Vojislav Kostunica, Romanian Prime Minister Adrian Nastase said on 17 May that the two countries' ambassadors to the EU will soon discuss with the EU measures to ease visa requirements Romania must impose on Serbia and Montenegro to comply with EU-accession requirements, Mediafax reported. Kostunica said that a "more flexible" visa regime would favor bilateral relations. Romania has pledged to impose visa restrictions on Serbia and Montenegro as well as Ukraine this year. It is to impose similar restrictions on Moldova by the time Romania accedes to the EU, for which it has received a target date of 2007. The two prime ministers also discussed ways of protecting the Romanian and Serbian minorities in their respective countries. Joint economic projects were also discussed, including an oil pipeline that would run from the Black Sea port of Constanta to Italy, a highway from the western Romanian city of Timisoara to Belgrade, and extending railway lines. Kostunica also met with President Ion Iliescu. ZsM


Despite recent statements by Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma suggesting that he has no intention of running for a third term as president in the 31 October election, signs are emerging that this might not be the case.

On 14 May, Interfax-Ukraine reported that Kuchma ordered Vasyl Baziv, deputy head of his administration, to hold weekly press briefings about the president's activities. Such meetings had been halted in late 2000. "Lately the political situation in the state has become tense," Baziv told the media, according to Interfax. "We're on the eve of the election campaign, and, during the election campaign, informing the public must be more intense than under 'peaceful' conditions."

Others believe the resumption of weekly briefings is meant to grant the president more pre-election exposure than he already receives.

Baziv's reference to a "tense" situation in the country presumably pertains to events surrounding a local election in the city of Mukacheve in March. In Mukacheve, thugs threatened voters, destroyed property, and allegedly falsified voting records. Eyewitness reports by election observers subsequently claimed that the goons had been hired by the Social Democratic Party-united (SDPU-o) to ensure the victory of its mayoral candidate. The SDPU-o party has been a firm backer of Kuchma, and some believe the disturbances in Mukacheve were sanctioned by the presidential administration.

When Prosecutor-General Hennadiy Vasylyev was asked by parliament to investigate the incident, he concluded that nothing improper had occurred -- implying at the same time that it might have been the opposition that tried to falsify voting records in Mukacheve.

A second indication that Kuchma might run for a new term is the more recent scandal involving the criminal past of presidential hopeful Viktor Yanukovych, the current prime minister. As a young man, Yanukovych was twice sentenced to short prison terms for assault. These facts were already a matter of public record when Yanukovych was nominated as prime minister, but they resurfaced in conjunction with the announcement that he was the presumed "presidential candidate of the parliamentary majority."

Some opposition leaders have questioned the wisdom of promoting a former convict as president.

What is more intriguing is that some media in Ukraine have given this charge such wide coverage. Some observers point out that -- had it wanted to prevent this type of damaging debate about its "candidate" -- the presidential administration could have easily prevented the media from doing so. Yet it did the opposite, effectively giving the charges wider publicity.

A third indication of Kuchma's aspirations for a new term is that many leading members of the presidential majority in parliament have distanced themselves from Yanukovych's selection as their candidate, also suggesting that they were not overjoyed by the choice. The matter will be decided at a majority caucus in June, an event that promises a few surprises.

A likely scenario, according to some opposition leaders, would see a parliamentary majority publicly imploring Kuchma to run again in order to "protect" the country's international prestige from a Yanukovych presidency.

Kuchma secured the legal right to campaign for a third term when the Constitutional Court ruled that he was in fact serving only his first term, since he was first elected to the presidency prior to the adoption in 1996 of the country's current constitution.