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PUTIN PLEASED BY KYIV TALKS. President Putin visited Kyiv on 19 March for talks with Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, Russian and international media reported. At a press conference, Putin said he was pleased by his talks with Yushchenko, Ukrainian Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko, and Verhovna Rada Speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn, RTR reported. "In my original statement, I had the phrase that we have different view on some issues, but now I retract it," Putin said. "We have different approaches, but the same understanding of the issues." Russian media generally downplayed the tension between Putin and Yushchenko and Tymoshenko, which came to the fore during last winter's presidential campaign in Ukraine. RTR highlighted Tymoshenko's pledge to Putin that Ukraine will cooperate with Russia in developing the Single Economic Space and that "Russia can rely on Ukraine's government." VY

BELARUSIAN AUTHORITIES SAID TO DISRUPT OPPOSITION CONVENTION. Some 200 delegates to a merger congress of the opposition Belarusian Social Democratic Party (National Assembly) and Belarusian Social Democratic Assembly were denied booked rooms to hold the forum in a state-run motel outside Minsk on 19 March for "technical reasons," Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. The delegates were subsequently bussed to an entertainment complex in downtown Minsk to have lunch but were again barred entry. Former Belarusian State University Rector Alyaksandr Kazulin, who was expected to be elected chairman of a united party (see "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report," 11 March 2005), accused the authorities of deliberately disrupting the convention. "They are simply afraid of us, [they] are even afraid of serving us meals," he noted. Kazulin added that the two parties will hold a new merger convention in a couple of weeks. JM

RUSSIAN PRESIDENT MENDS FENCES WITH KYIV... Russian President Vladimir Putin met with his Ukrainian counterpart, Viktor Yushchenko, in Kyiv on 19 March, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. It was Putin's first visit to Ukraine following last year's Orange Revolution that lifted Yushchenko to the presidency in a dramatic battle against Moscow-backed presidential hopeful Viktor Yanukovych. "Our meeting today demonstrates our common desire to see our bilateral relations be constructive," Yushchenko told journalists. "Widening our bilateral cooperation will depend in large part on how successful we are in forming a Single Economic Space," Putin said. "I am convinced that if we can effectively implement this idea, it will give our countries more opportunities for developing trade and mutual investments in order to strengthen the competitiveness of our economies." Apart from the Single Economic Space, both leaders discussed a common gas transportation project, the Russian Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol, common energy projects, border issues, military and technical cooperation, the Transdniester conflict, and humanitarian and cultural issues. JM

...AND INVITES CONTROVERSIAL PREMIER TO MOSCOW. Ukrainian Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko has said Russian President Putin invited her to pay a visit to Moscow during their meeting in Kyiv on 19 March, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reported on 21 March. According to Tymoshenko, the visit will contribute to developing cooperation between both countries on the level of state leaders and governmental commissions. According to Interfax, Putin assured Tymoshenko that Ukraine's participation in the planned Single Economic Space with Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan would not contradict Kyiv's aspirations to join the EU. Russian prosecutors reportedly issued an international arrest warrant for Tymoshenko last year, suspecting her of bribing Russian Defense Ministry officials when she headed Ukraine's Unified Energy Systems from 1995-97. JM

PROSECUTORS SAY UKRAINIAN MISSILES WERE SMUGGLED, NOT EXPORTED TO IRAN, CHINA. The Ukrainian Prosecutor-General's Office dismissed as untrue in a 18 March statement a "Financial Times" report on the same day that quoted Prosecutor-General Svatoslav Piskun as saying that Ukraine exported 18 cruise missiles to Iran and China in 2001 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 March 2005), Interfax reported. According to the statement, the missiles in question were smuggled out of Ukraine without official approval. The Security Service of Ukraine, the statement adds, has launched a criminal case against V. Yevdokimov, director of the Ukraviyazamovlennya company, who is suspected of involvement in the smuggling. JM

...AND CALLS FOR LARGER EU ROLE IN TRANSDNIESTER. Basescu also called for a larger EU role in ongoing efforts to defuse the crisis in the neighboring breakaway Transdniester region, dpa reported on 21 March. Located between Moldova and Ukraine, Transdniester is ruled by a pro-Russia regime and Moscow has about 1,300 troops and an estimated stockpile of 50,000 weapons and 40,000 tons of ammunition. "We are strongly interested in having the huge quantities of armaments and ammunition ...removed," Basescu said, urging the EU to take on an expanded role on the issue. Basescu ruled out any merger of his country with Moldova, even though it was part of Romania until being made part of the Soviet Union after World War II. "It is our policy to respect the independence of Moldova," the Romanian president said. "If...we are together we will have to be together in the European Union." BW