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PUTIN SPEAKS WITH KUCHMA OVER EVENTS IN UKRAINE. While Russia did not respond officially to the landmark Ukrainian Supreme Court verdict of 3 December or plans to hold a new presidential runoff, President Putin's press service announced that he discussed the situation in Ukraine with President Leonid Kuchma by telephone on 4 December, reported. The announcement did not include details of their conversation but said Putin told his outgoing Ukrainian counterpart that as part of the international mediating effort, Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov will attend negotiations aimed at paving the way to new balloting (see "RFE/RL Newsline Part 2"). VY

DUMA SPEAKER SAYS UKRAINIAN COURT RULING WILL NOT RESOLVE CRISIS... Duma Speaker Gryzlov said on 4 December that the Ukrainian Supreme Court ruling ordering a repeat of the presidential runoff election was unlikely to resolve the country's political crisis, Russian and international news agencies reported the same day. "The elections in Ukraine have shown that society in that country is split right down the middle, and the Supreme Court's decision in favor of the loser is unlikely to remedy everything and immediately," Interfax quoted Gryzlov as saying in St. Petersburg. "The presidential election has uncovered too many internal problems, and we are now dealing not with a settlement of the political crisis but with a search for ways to settle it." BW

...AS FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE SAYS DANGER OF BREAKUP REMAINS. Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of the Duma's foreign affairs committee, said the Ukrainian court's decision was "politically unfortunate" and does not ease tensions in that country, ITAR-TASS reported on 4 December. "The participation of the same candidates in the revote will not bring the desired calm to Ukraine, and a considerable number of people will be displeased with the results. Therefore the danger of confrontation and even a split will remain," Kosachev said, adding, "It would be preferable to hold a new election with new candidates." He said, nevertheless, that "the Supreme Court in this situation is the only body that is empowered to make the decision, and any decision should be implemented unconditionally." BW

MOSCOW AGAIN CALLS FOR OSCE TO REFORM... Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, meanwhile, has called for reforms in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in the wake of the Ukrainian election crisis, ITAR-TASS reported on 6 December. "The current situation in Ukraine confirms a pressing need for the working out of common criteria for the assessment of the election process and resulting conclusions," ITAR-TASS quoted Lavrov as telling the Bulgarian newspaper "24 Hours." Lavrov criticized the OSCE for scaling down its activities in the political, military, and economic spheres, and increasing its role in humanitarian areas -- which the foreign minister said is often used as a pretext for involvement in the politics of ex-Soviet states. "Everything must proceed on an expert, non-politicized basis," he said, adding, "Russia has a clear program of reforms in the OSCE that is supported by the Commonwealth of Independent States." Lavrov did not specify the details of the proposed reform program. BW

...AND RUSSIAN ENVOY DECRIES BIAS AND DOUBLE STANDARDS. Russian Permanent Representative to the OSCE Aleksei Borodavkin accused that organization of double standards and bias in its election-monitoring standards, ITAR-TASS reported on 5 December. Speaking on the eve of an OSCE foreign ministers' meeting in Vienna, Borodavkin said that while the organization declares elections in the West transparent, legitimate, and democratic, CIS balloting is evaluated differently. "Even minor technical shortcomings are pronounced falsifications and the legitimacy of the election results is called into question," he said. "The organization has shown tendencies of stagnation and regress, and bias, double standards, and various kinds of misbalances have come to dominate," Borodavkin said. "Naturally, that destabilizes the political situation in such countries and gives reason for various kinds of extremist statements and, sometimes, actions. The latest example of Ukraine is very illustrative," Borodavkin said. BW

AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION PARTY ACCUSED OF PLANNING COUP. During the 3 December parliament session that endorsed the budget, deputy parliamentary speaker Ziyafet Askerov accused Ali Kerimli, chairman of the progressive wing of the divided Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, of planning a coup d'etat in Azerbaijan following the same scenario as in Georgia and Ukraine, reported on 4 December. Askerov alleged that the Ukrainian opposition organization Pora is providing Kerimli with funds. Kerimli dismissed those accusations as "serious," adding that Askerov and other members of the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party are worried because they have now realized that they "cannot continue falsifying the outcome of elections forever." LF

TURKMENISTAN HOPES FOR HIGHER SALE PRICE FOR NATURAL GAS. Turkmen negotiators indicated in talks with representatives of Russia's Gazprom and Ukraine's Naftohaz Ukrayiny in Ashgabat on 3 December that they think the current price of Turkmen natural gas is too low, reported. The Turkmen side noted that with world prices and production costs in Turkmenistan rising, $60 per 1,000 cubic meters of gas would be a fair price in 2005. Still, the report stressed that the Turkmen side is not seeking to raise the current price, which is $44 per 1,000 cubic meters of gas, paid half in cash and half in kind. "In agreements between Gazexport [the export arm of Gazprom] and [Turkmen oil and gas company] Turkmenneftegaz, the price of shipments at the Turkmen border is set for 2004-2006 and is not open to review," a Gazprom spokesman told "Vremya novostei." Gazexport is set to buy 7 billion-8 billion cubic meters of Turkmen gas in 2005. The Turkmen side might be trying to win a higher price from Naftohaz Ukrayiny, which has contracted to buy 36 billion cubic meters of Turkmen gas in 2005. But the Turkmen statement could point to trouble on the horizon for Gazprom, which is slated to increase its purchases of Turkmen gas to 60 billion-70 billion cubic meters per year in 2007. DK

GERMANY CONCERNED ABOUT POSSIBLE TRAVEL CURBS ON BELARUS'S CHORNOBYL-AFFECTED KIDS. Tilman Schmidt-Neuerburg, first secretary of the German Embassy in Minsk, told Belapan on 3 November that German charity organizations and citizens are alarmed at Minsk's apparent intention to impose restrictions on recuperative trips abroad for Chornobyl-affected children. According to the diplomat, Germany ranks second after Italy in the scale of recuperation programs offered to Belarusian children, and the embassy annually issues some 23,000 free visas under such programs. Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka ordered on 17 November that any foreign trip offered to Belarusian children by NGOs, be it for recuperation or adoption, should be authorized by the education minister. "Don't you see what children come back from abroad?" Lukashenka told government officials on 17 November (see "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report," 23 November 2004). "That 'consumeristic' way of life, as people used to say in the Soviet era, has already engulfed all the youth in the country. Children return from abroad doubly infused with consumerism. We do not need such upbringing." JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT DECLARES READINESS TO APPROVE NEW ELECTION LAW, CONSTITUTION... Leonid Kuchma said on 6 December that he is ready to sign a new presidential election bill jointly with a constitutional-reform bill cutting the president's powers immediately after they are passed by lawmakers, even if he has to go to the Verkhovna Rada building, Ukrainian media reported. Kuchma pledged to cooperate with the opposition in forming a new government and a new Central Election Commission (TsVK) after the approval of these two bills. "I confirm my readiness for compromise; this requires only the good will, not a language of ultimatums," the "Ukrayinska pravda" website ( quoted Kuchma as saying. JM

...AS OUR UKRAINE DEMANDS DISMISSALS BEFORE MAKING THESE CHANGES. Viktor Yushchenko's Our Ukraine caucus announced in the Verkhovna Rada on 6 December that it will vote for a new presidential election law and a constitutional reform shifting the balance of power from the president to the prime minister and the parliament on condition that President Kuchma fires Prosecutor-General Hennadiy Vasylyev, Interior Minister Mykola Belokon, and the governors of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kharkiv, Transcarpathian, and Sumy oblasts, the Ukrainian news agencies reported. Meanwhile, parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn said lawmakers have proposed new candidates for the TsVK who, however, overlap by 80 percent with the body's old composition. "What was the use of passing a no-confidence vote in the TsVK?" Lytvyn said, apparently referring to a parliamentary vote on 27 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 November 2004). JM

A RIFT BETWEEN YUSHCHENKO'S OUR UKRAINE AND SOCIALIST PARTY? The Verkhovna Rada on 4 December failed to agree on changing the presidential election law to prevent vote rigging and amending the constitution to cut the president's powers in favor of the prime minister and the parliament, Ukrainian and international news agencies reported. The failure was due to Yushchenko's Our Ukraine caucus, which refused to vote on both measures at once. The introduction of a constitutional reform was the main condition under which Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz supported Yushchenko's presidential bid following the first election round on 31 October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 November 2004). "This means that there may not be changes to the constitution and our monarchist form of rule will continue," Moroz said on 4 December. Yuliya Tymoshenko, a staunch ally of Yushchenko, said the same day that Yushchenko's supporters want the parliament to pass changes to the presidential election law before tackling the constitutional reform. JM

UKRAINIAN PREMIER VOWS TO RUN IN REPEAT VOTE. Yanukovych said on 4 November that he will stand against Yushchenko again in a rerun of the presidential runoff, Ukrainian and international news agencies reported. "He is convinced he will win the second time as he won the first time since 15 million Ukrainians stand behind him," Yanukovych's spokeswoman, Hanna Herman, told journalists. Herman added that Yanukovych regards the Supreme Court's decision invalidating the 21 November runoff as having been made "under huge political pressure." If one candidate withdraws from the repeat vote the other, in order to be elected, will have to obtain at least 50 percent plus one vote in a ballot involving no less than 50 percent of eligible voters. JM

UKRAINIAN SUPREME COURT ORDERS RE-RUN OF PRESIDENTIAL RUNOFF. After five days of hearings and deliberations, the Supreme Court on 3 December invalidated a decision of the country's election commission (TsVK) of 24 November declaring Yanukovych the winner of the 21 November presidential runoff, Ukrainian and international media reported. Simultaneously the court ruled that the second round of presidential elections be repeated within the subsequent three weeks, that is, by 26 December. In passing its verdict, the court accepted the arguments of opposition candidate Yushchenko's lawyers that the TsVK acted illegally when it awarded victory to Yanukovych without taking into account more than 1,000 complaints about election irregularities and fraud that were filed by Yushchenko's election staff at various courts throughout the country. "Ukraine is henceforth a true democratic state," Yushchenko said after the ruling on Independence Square in Kyiv, to a cheering crowd of tens of thousands of supporters who gathered there for the 12th consecutive day. JM

U.S. HAILS RULING FOR REPEAT VOTE IN UKRAINE. Washington welcomed the Ukrainian Supreme Court ruling that there should be a rerun of the 21 November presidential runoff in Ukraine, Reuters reported on 3 December. "What is important now is to move ahead quickly as called for by the Supreme Court to ensure a new vote that is fair, free, and that results in an outcome that reflects the will of the Ukrainian people," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher noted. "The court's decision is an important step in moving toward a peaceful, democratic resolution that reflects the will of the people," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the same day. JM

...AS MOLDOVAN NGOS WARN AGAINST DANGER OF MASSIVE CIVIC CONFRONTATION. Several Moldovan nongovernmental organizations and prominent intellectuals on 3 December issued a statement warning that "the dictatorial behavior of the current Moldova leadership risks pushing the country into a large-scale civil confrontation," Infotag reported. The statement said: "The communist authorities do all they can to remove the opposition from the political arena. They fabricate criminal cases, detain and arrest people, [and] intimidate or fire employees who refuse to obey the ruling party." The statement was issued before Urechean was summoned to police and warned that information available to the signatories indicates that the mayor is being targeted for political reprisal. Our Moldova Co-Chairman Vyacheslav Untila warned that the authorities might be faced with "Georgia-like" and "Ukraine-like" protests. MS