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LIBERAL LEADER LISTS 'FORBIDDEN TOPICS' IN RUSSIAN MEDIA. Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) political council member Boris Nemtsov told Ekho Moskvy on 13 December that there are numerous topics about which it is forbidden to report on state-controlled Russian television. "There are absolutely forbidden subjects on Russian television," Nemtsov said. "They are alternative views on Ukraine, Chechnya, and the situation in the armed forces; corruption in the highest echelons of power; the false, nontransparent budget; and [former Yukos CEO Mikhail] Khodorkovskii." He added that the media also does not discuss topics such as the spread of AIDS. "Moreover, the list keeps on growing," Nemtsov said. "Pretty soon, they are likely to be included in the law on state secrets. This is the logic of an authoritarian, lying regime. The Kremlin people cannot understand one simple thing: one cannot hold out on lies for long." RC

RUSSIAN FEDERATION COUNCIL HEAD VISITS KAZAKHSTAN. Sergei Mironov, chairman of Russia's Federation Council, met with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev in Astana on 13 December, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Mironov praised bilateral cooperation, noting that trade between the two countries will reach $7 billion in 2004. He also urged the creation of a parliament for the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan). Addressing Kazakhstan's Senate, Mironov said that Russia and Kazakhstan should serve as a model for Eurasian integration, ITAR-TASS reported. Mironov told ITAR-TASS in an interview that Russia should take into account Kazakhstan's experience in implementing social reforms. Turning to international issues, Mironov said that Ukraine can resolve its political crisis "without outside help," Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. DK

UKRAINE, RUSSIA CONDUCT GAS TALKS IN TURKMENISTAN. Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov met with Yuriy Boyko, head of the state-run Ukrainian oil and gas company Naftohaz Ukrayiny, and Aleksandr Ryazanov and Yuriy Komarov, deputy chairmen of state-run Russian gas company Gazprom, in Ashgabat on 12 December, Turkmen TV reported. The report indicated that price negotiations are continuing on 2005 purchases of Turkmen gas. Earlier reports suggested that Turkmenistan hopes to raise the purchase price from the current $44 per 1,000 cubic meters to $60 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December 2004). DK

BELARUSIAN ELECTION OFFICIAL SLAMS EU TRAVEL BAN. Belarusian Central Election Commission Chairwoman Lidziya Yarmoshyna told RFE/RL's Belarus Service on 13 December that the EU unjustly added her name to a list of Belarusian officials banned from travel to EU countries to promote democracy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 December 2004). The EU move is among the sanctions that followed flawed elections and a dubious referendum on 17 October along with violations of the rights of peaceful demonstrators. "It is just like in Ukraine," Yarmoshyna said. "They found the scapegoat in the form of the [Central] Election Commission, which naturally has no relation to administrative resources nor to any falsifications." The recent EU travel ban also extends to Yury Padabed, commander of the OMON riot police who broke up opposition protests following the 17 October polls. In September, the EU imposed travel bans on four other Belarusian officials -- Interior Minister Uladzimir Navumau, then Prosecutor-General Viktar Sheyman, Sports Minister Yury Sivakou, and Interior Troops brigade commander Dzmitry Paulichenka -- over their alleged involvement in the unexplained disappearances of three opposition politicians and a journalist in 1999 and 2000 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 September 2004). JM

UKRAINIAN PREMIER EXPRESSES 'DEEP DISAPPOINTMENT' IN PRESIDENT KUCHMA. Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, who is on leave to campaign ahead of a new presidential runoff on 26 December, told journalists on 13 December that he is dissatisfied with the way outgoing President Leonid Kuchma handled the political crisis in the country following the flawed second round of voting on 21 November, the "Ukrayinska pravda" website ( reported. "Our points of view have diverged completely, and I have become deeply disappointed with this man," Yanukovych said. "I hoped that he would defend the interests of the state and the Ukrainian people during the crisis. But he defended his own interests and those of his family." Yanukovych also denounced Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski and other foreign mediators in the Ukrainian crisis for what he says was interference in Ukraine's domestic affairs. "He [Kwasniewski] and other intermediaries backed the legalistic nihilism that occurred during the 'orange revolution' in Ukraine," Yanukovych noted. A number of observers have predicted that Yanukovych might seek to distance himself from the current administration in an effort to defeat opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko in the repeat presidential vote. JM

U.S. TROUBLED OVER CONFIRMED YUSHCHENKO POISONING. U.S. officials on 13 December expressed concern over the recent report by Austrian doctors that Ukrainian presidential candidate Yushchenko had been poisoned, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 December 2004). "It's terrible news to hear, and it's certainly disturbing reports. And I know the Ukraine government is investigating this matter fully, as they should," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said. U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said: "We are deeply disturbed by the physicians' report. The physicians have now said that he was poisoned with dioxin. We support a full and complete transparent investigation into that matter into how it happened, who did it, what the cause was." Boucher added, "We will make our position clear once again -- that we did not have a favored candidate in the campaign. Our interest is in seeing democracy prevail." JM

KUCHMA REPORTED TO HAVE WITHSTOOD PRESSURE TO USE FORCE AGAINST 'ORANGE REVOLUTION.' The "Financial Times" quoted unnamed Western diplomats on 14 December who suggested that Ukrainian President Kuchma came under pressure from Prime Minister Yanukovych and presidential-administration chief Viktor Medvedchuk to use Interior Ministry troops to quell opposition protests following the fraudulent 21 November presidential runoff. "I know that many representatives of the [state] apparatus lobbied the president to impose a state of emergency," the newspaper quoted the deputy head of the presidential administration, Vasyl Baziv, as saying. "They said it is time to use state power. The president, from the first moment, was consistently against the use of force." Opposition candidate Yushchenko told the newspaper that the critical moment in the "orange revolution" came on 28 November, one week after the eruption of antigovernment protests, when soldiers were provided with bullets. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTIAL-ADMINISTRATION CHIEF REPORTEDLY RESIGNS. Presidential-administration head Viktor Medvedchuk, who is also the leader of the Social Democratic Party-united (SDPU-o), has tendered his resignation, the "Ukrayinska pravda" website reported on 14 December, quoting SDPU-o parliamentary caucus head Leonid Kravchuk. "I can't say when he tendered his resignation, but he did this definitely," Kravchuk said. "He realizes that the Kuchma era has ended and that he will not become head of the presidential administration under a new president, whoever is elected." Asked why Kuchma has not yet accepted Medvedchuk's resignation, Kravchuk said that delay might hinge on the need to pass presidential-administration archives to a new administration and to the fact that Kuchma's powers have not yet terminated. Medvedchuk is widely believed to have been one of the most influential political figures in the Kuchma administration. JM

TIRASPOL THREATENS TO SUE MOLDOVA OVER INTERDICTION OF COIN SHIPMENT. The Transdniester State Bank threatened on 13 December to sue Moldova over its involvement in the halting in Ukraine of a shipment of 8 million coins made at Polish State Mint, Infotag reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 December 2004). The bank said in a press release that the bank has often ordered commemorative and small coins from the Polish mint during the last five years and that the orders have been in line with international law. It also said the shipments always followed the same route through Ukraine and were accompanied by documents examined by Polish and Ukrainian customs and found to be in order. The bank called the halt of the last shipment an "unprecedented provocation violating the property rights of an economic entity." It also said the halt of the shipment damaged the reputation of Polish State Mint. In a statement issued the same day by the Polish Embassy in Chisinau, however, Poland's diplomatic mission said that, despite its name, Polish State Mint is not a state-owned entity but a commercial company with no links to the Polish state. MS