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RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS UKRAINE'S EU DRIVE MUST NOT HARM RUSSIA'S INTERESTS... Sergei Lavrov said on 28 November that Ukraine's aspirations to join the European Union should be pursued in a way that does not infringe on Russia's national interests, Russian news agencies reported the same day. "Ukraine's intention to join the EU is its sovereign right. But...this process should not infringe on our legitimate interests," RIA-Novosti quoted Lavrov as telling a roundtable at the State Duma. "It is in our interest that the situation be clarified. We want this choice to be made as soon as possible," he added, according to Interfax. Lavrov said Moscow is interested in how the situation develops with its closest neighbor. "But our conclusions will depend on economic expediency and what kind of relationship we develop with Ukraine," Lavrov said according to Interfax. BW

UKRAINE WANTS TO PUMP RUSSIAN GAS TO EUROPE UNDER UNCHANGED TARIFFS. The Ukrainian oil and gas transport company Naftohaz Ukrayiny said on 28 November that it wants to continue sending Russian gas through its pipelines to Europe under existing conditions -- that is, charging $1.09 per 1,000 cubic meters per 100 kilometers of transit, Interfax-Ukraine reported. Naftohaz Ukrayiny was responding to the Russian gas monopoly Gazprom's statement earlier the same day saying that Gazprom is ready to pay for gas transit across Ukraine according to "European tariffs." Gazprom also proposed to sign a contract with Naftohaz Ukrayiny on Russian gas transit to Europe for 2006, before discussing the price of Russian gas supplies to Ukraine for that year. Gazprom deputy head Aleksandr Ryazanov suggested on 29 November that Ukraine in 2006 should pay more than the current price of $50 for 1,000 cubic meters of Russian gas. "Of course, with the [former] price of $80 [for 1,000 cubic meters of Russian gas] at the border with Germany, the price of $50 for Ukraine, excluding transportation costs, was considered acceptable," Ryazanov said. "But when this price [for Germany] becomes $200, the price of $50 is too small. It doesn't even cover our real costs for production and transportation of the gas to the CIS countries." JM

UKRAINIAN FINANCIAL MOGUL TO RUN FOR OPPOSITION PARTY. Rynat Akhmetov has accepted an offer from former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych to run in the 2006 parliamentary elections as a candidate for the Party of Regions, which is headed by Yanukovych, Ukrainian news agencies reported on 29 November. "I have decided that this is the best moment for me to take part in political life, and that I'll be of maximum benefit to Ukraine as a parliamentary deputy," Akhmetov said in a written statement. Akhmetov is widely believed to be Ukraine's richest man, with a fortune estimated at nearly $2.5 billion. Akhmetov is the largest shareholder of the System Capital Management concern, and his business interests range from steel and machine-building plants to telecom companies, banks, and the Shakhtar Donetsk soccer club. Akhmetov backed Yanukovych during the 2004 presidential campaign but distanced himself from active participation in politics. JM

UKRAINIAN WHISTLEBLOWER REPORTEDLY WANTS TO RETURN HOME. Former presidential bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko is planning to return to Ukraine from the United States, where he was given political asylum in 2001, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reported on 28 November, quoting former Ukrainian lawmaker Oleksander Yelyashkevych, also a refugee in the United States. In 2000, Melnychenko fled abroad and made public the so-called Melnychenko tapes -- hundreds of hours of alleged recordings of conversations in the office of former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma. In particular, the Melnychenko tapes suggest that Kuchma and other former and current high-ranking Ukrainian officials may have been behind the kidnapping and murder of Internet journalist Heorhiy Gongadze in September 2000. JM