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WHEN WILL BELARUS START COLLECTING VAT ON RUSSIAN OIL, GAS EXPORTS? Russia's law transferring the right to collect value-added tax (VAT) on Russian oil and gas exports to Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belarus to the governments of those countries, which was signed earlier this week by Russian President Vladimir Putin, will not be automatically applied to Belarus, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported on 19 August. "As we were told in the Belarusian Finance Ministry, [this law] pertains to other CIS countries [than Belarus] for the time being," Belarusian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrey Savinykh told RFE/RL. "Levying VAT in Russia on oil and gas supplies to Belarus will be canceled only after the signing of an intergovernmental agreement on indirect taxes." Meanwhile, the Russian government on 19 August approved a $175 million credit to Belarus, of which $150 million will be used by the Belarusian government to pay for Russian gas supplies. In June, Belarus signed a contract with Gazprom on buying 10.2 billion cubic meters of gas in 2004 at $46.68 for 1,000 cubic meters (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 June 2004). JM

UKRAINIAN PREMIER VOWS TO LOWER BREAD PRICES. Prime Minister and presidential candidate Viktor Yanukovych said on 19 August that the government will work with regions to have bread prices reduced, Interfax reported. "We will meet with the leadership of each region, we will have talks to persuade them in an amicable way," Yanukovych said in Poltava. "We propose to reduce [bread] prices but not at the expense of farms." He added that Poltava Oblast is prepared to reduce bread prices by 10 percent as soon as September. Meanwhile, Communist Party leader and presidential candidate Petro Symonenko has called on the government to stop "uncontrolled exports of grain." "Having no conditions for the preservation and processing of harvested grain, farms are forced to sell grain to profiteers for a song," Symonenko said. "Grain is already being shipped abroad at world prices in an uncontrolled way through Ukrainian sea ports, in particular, Odesa and Illichivsk." JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT REPRIMANDS DEFENSE MINISTER, FIRES HIS DEPUTY... President Leonid Kuchma reprimanded Defense Minister Yevhen Marchuk and sacked First Deputy Defense Minister Oleksandr Oliynyk on 19 August for their failure to demilitarize and ecologically revive the Balaklava Bay in Sevastopol, as Kuchma ordered in mid-2003, Ukrainian media reported. "The fixed capital and property of the disbanded military units that were deployed along the Balaklava Bay have not been fully released, whereas the released property is being transferred to commercial structures for conducting entrepreneurial activities," Kuchma said in a decree meting out punishments for Marchuk and Oliynyk. "Ecologically dangerous production capacities continue to operate in the Balaklava Bay area." JM

...SUSPENDS PRIVATIZATION OF TELECOMMUNICATION GIANT. President Kuchma has ordered the suspension of the privatization of Ukrtelekom, the largest national telecommunications operator in Ukraine, and a chemical plant in Odesa, Ukrainian media reported on 19 August, citing the presidential press service. Earlier this month, the government announced the sale of a 43 percent stake in Ukrtelekom (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 August 2004). The opposition has subsequently accused the government of selling off state properties on unfavorable terms for the state before the 31 October presidential elections. The presidential press service said Kuchma made his decision "taking into account the recent speculation concerning privatization processes in Ukraine." JM

OUR UKRAINE LEADER ACCUSES AUTHORITIES OF SETTING FIRE TO EDITORIAL OFFICES IN LVIV. Our Ukraine leader and presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko has suggested that this week's fire in the editorial office of the daily "Postup" in Lviv may have been inspired by the authorities, the "Ukrayinska pravda" website reported on 20 August. According to police, the fire, which on 18 August destroyed 48,000 hryvnyas ($9,000) worth of equipment and property, was an act of arson. Yushchenko compared setting fire to the "Postup" editorial office with preventing Our Ukraine from holding a convention in Donetsk in October (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 4 November 2003), the controversial mayoral election in Mukacheve in April (see "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report," 28 April 2004), and the recent shadowing of him by Interior Ministry officers in Crimea (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 August 2004). "These are desperate actions of the same kind," Yushchenko said. "The authorities are weak and they are not going to conduct an honest political play. They not only illegally use law enforcement bodies and administrative resources, but also have no scruples against cooperating with overtly criminal groups." JM

DETAILS EMERGE ON MEDIATORS' PROPOSALS FOR SOLVING TRANSDNIESTER SCHOOLS CONFLICT. The three mediators in the Transdniestrian conflict (Russia, Ukraine, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE) on 19 August handed to separatist "Foreign Minister" Valerii Litskay their proposals for settling the conflict over the closed schools, Infotag and ITAR-TASS reported. Under the proposals, the six schools teaching in Moldovan (Romanian) would continue using the Latin script and would operate in line with Moldovan educational standards and curriculums, but would be registered with the Transdniester "Education Ministry." Moldova has already agreed to the proposals. MS