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ukraine-related news stories from RFE

PUTIN CALLS FOR STRENGTHENING OF TIES WITH UKRAINE AND BELARUS... President Vladimir Putin, speaking on 27 June at a cultural festival near Novgorod Severskii, Ukraine, said that he values the cultural heritage of Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine and wants to strengthen cultural ties among them, RTR and ORT reported. Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma and Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka were also present at the festival, which was held close to the Russian and Belarusian borders. Lukashenka said he supports the views of the Russian president and that the three countries should adopt the "best of Soviet traditions." Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich also attended the meeting. Moscow is believed to support for Yanukovich in the October presidential elections in Ukraine. VY

UKRAINE, UZBEKISTAN TO CREATE FREE-TRADE ZONE. Uzbekistan and Ukraine will create the first free-trade zone in the CIS, Ukrayinski novyny news agency reported on 25 June. Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych and Uzbek Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyoev signed an agreement on 25 June in Tashkent removing all exceptions and restrictions to free trade between the two countries, RBC reported. Ukrainian Ambassador to Uzbekistan Anatoliy Kasyanenko hailed the initiative as the first of its kind in the CIS, ITAR-TASS reported. Yanukovych also met with Uzbek President Islam Karimov on 25 June to discuss bilateral cooperation and regional security issues. ITAR-TASS quoted the Uzbek leader as saying, "We are interested in establishing a free-trade regime without any exceptions between our countries for the long term." According to Ukrayinski novyny, trade volume between Uzbekistan and Ukraine in 2003 totaled $250 million, against $140 million in 2002. DK

UKRAINIAN OFFICIAL LABELS ARTICLE ON GONGADZE SLAYING 'SPECULATION.' Vasyl Baziv, deputy head of the Ukrainian presidential administration, said on 25 June that the articles in "The Independent" suggesting that President Leonid Kuchma was involved in the slaying of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 June 2004) were "speculation" in the run-up to the presidential election this fall, Interfax reported. "Making a ballot box of the headless journalist's corpse is no less amoral than the beheading itself," Baziv told reporters. He added that the investigation should be objective and honest, resulting in the punishment of the journalist's killers. "The man who is most interested in this is the president of Ukraine," Baziv added. AM

NATO CALLS ON UKRAINE TO RESPECT DEMOCRATIC STANDARDS. NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer called on Ukraine on 25 June to respect democratic principles, Interfax reported, citing Deutsche Welle's Ukrainian Service. De Hoop Scheffer said Ukraine should not only pay attention to the reform of the armed forces but also promote democratic values, if it intends to boost its cooperation with NATO structures. "We all know what it means -- no persecution of the media, conducting free and fair elections, and the superiority of law and freedom of speech," de Hoop Scheffer said. He praised Ukraine for its efforts in international security, pointing to its readiness to patrol the Mediterranean Sea. AM