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OBSERVERS SPLIT OVER CABINET'S FATE... The website asked a number of policymakers and experts on 20 January whether President Vladimir Putin will dismiss the government following the flap over the social-benefits reform. Political consultant Marat Gelman commented that no ministers were dismissed over the handling of the Ukrainian election or the Beslan tragedy. He suggested that Putin understands that "people who insist on the government's resignation because of the [protests] over the monetization of social benefits are concerned about something else -- they see in the prime minister's platform, a place for the construction of a 'Successor Project'" to succeed Putin. Independent State Duma Deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov said that if Putin planned to dismiss the government, he would have done so on 17 January. "Judging by everything, the president has decided to keep them. Why? Probably because the president doesn't have anyone to replace them -- there are simply no other people," Ryzhkov said. He said the government's dismissal has merely been postponed, adding that the current protests are only the beginning and they will continue all year. JAC

RUSSIA PREPARES TO HOST NEW UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT. President Putin on 19 January congratulated Ukrainian President-elect Viktor Yushchenko on his recent election victory, Russian and international media reported. Putin and the Russian government actively supported Yushchenko's opponent, former Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, in the election and Putin congratulated Yanukovych on 22 November following the second round of voting, which was later annulled because of massive fraud (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 November 2004). "I congratulated Viktor Yanukovych" and the election "results are absolutely clear," Putin was quoted by AFP as saying on 25 November. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on 19 January that Yushchenko will make his first official trip abroad when he travels to Moscow on 24 January, following his 23 January inauguration. "Russia and Ukraine live together side by side, our peoples are linked by thousands of bonds, and the economies are interdependent in the good sense of the word," Lavrov said, according to ITAR-TASS. "Therefore there is nothing unnatural in the fact that the first visit will be to Russia." Lavrov said that Russia will be "represented at the highest levels" at Yushchenko's inauguration but that a precise decision has not yet been made. RC

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT CONGRATULATES YUSHCHENKO ON UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTIAL VICTORY. President Lukashenka on 20 January congratulated Viktor Yushchenko on his election as Ukraine's president, Belapan reported, citing the presidential press service. "Belarus knows you as a prominent statesman and experienced politician," the Belarusian president said in his message. "I hope that you will contribute to the expansion of Belarusian-Ukrainian cooperation and the strengthening of the good-neighborly relations between our countries." This was the second congratulation Lukashenka sent to Kyiv on the occasion of the Ukrainian election. On 23 November, Lukashenka congratulated Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych on winning the 21 November presidential runoff despite the lack of a final tally in that vote. JM

UKRAINIAN'S YANUKOVYCH CALLS ON SUPPORTERS TO END PROTESTS... Speaking on Donetsk-based Ukrayina television channel on 20 January, former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, who lost the 26 December presidential vote to Yushchenko, called on supporters protesting in tent camps in some cities of eastern Ukraine against the Yushchenko victory to dismantle their tents. "Today we are entering a new stage of our struggle that will require different means," the "Ukrayinska pravda" website ( quoted him as saying. "Let us dismantle our tent camps and begin a new stage of our political struggle that requires no less perseverance and courage." Yanukovych suggested that he may file a legal protest with an international court against the Ukrainian Supreme Court's 20 January decision to confirm Yushchenko's victory (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 January 2005). "We will certainly try to appeal [against the Supreme Court ruling]," Yanukovych said. "But we should realize that Europe will not defend our choice." JM

YUSHCHENKO FACES FULL SCHEDULE FOLLOWING INAUGURATION. Following his inauguration as Ukraine's new president on 23 January, Yushchenko will pay his first presidential visit to Moscow on 24 January (see also Russia section), Ukrainian and international media reported on 20 January. Yushchenko will address a session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg on 25 January, and the following day he will travel to Poland for the 60th anniversary of the Soviet army's liberation of the Auschwitz death camp, where his father was imprisoned. JM

UNITED STATES CONGRATULATES YUSHCHENKO ON PRESIDENTIAL VICTORY. The U.S. State Department has congratulated Yushchenko on his election as president of Ukraine in a message posted on its website ( "We congratulate President-elect Yushchenko on his historic victory and wish him all success for his term in office," the message read. "We also congratulate the Ukrainian people for the courage they displayed in standing up for their democratic rights. The United States stands ready to strengthen its cooperation with Ukraine and looks forward to working closely with Ukraine's new president." U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell will travel to Kyiv to represent Washington at Yushchenko's inauguration on 23 January. JM

MOLDOVA PREVENTS RUSSIAN, UKRAINIAN AMBASSADORS FROM TRAVELING TO TRANSDNIESTER. Moldovan border guards on 20 January stopped Russian Ambassador Nikolai Ryabov and Ukrainian Ambassador Petro Chalyy from crossing into Transdniester, Moldpres and Infotag reported. The two diplomats were traveling with the head of the OSCE's mission to Moldova, William Hill, who was allowed to cross because he possessed authorization issued by the Moldovan Foreign Ministry. A regulation curbing the travel of diplomats to Transdniester has been enforced this month and has been protested by Russia and Ukraine (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18, 19, and 20 January 2005). MS