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SOUTH OSSETIA DETAILS ALLEGED GEORGIAN ARMS BUILD-UP. Georgia has engaged over the past year in a massive arms-buying spree, according to on 30 November, quoting data provided by "power" ministries of the unrecognized republic of South Ossetia. The weaponry Georgia has acquired allegedly includes 10 Iroquois helicopters donated by the United States; 13 Mi-8 fighter aircraft purchased from Ukraine; seven Su-25 jet fighters purchased from Macedonia and Bulgaria; several MiG-23s bought from Uzbekistan; and an unspecified number of L-159 training aircraft from the Czech Republic, which reportedly also provided 120 tanks and 14 mobile artillery systems. Ukraine reportedly supplied several dozen armored vehicles, and Ukraine, Bulgaria, and the Czech Republic provided 7,500 guns plus ammunition. Lithuania will reportedly provide an additional 14,000 Kalashnikov rifles, and has also promised to hand over to Georgia two frigates it received in a barter deal with Russia. The guns are reportedly required to arm the battalions of reservists that Georgia began training last year. Having pledged several years ago to downsize its armed forces in line with NATO requirements, Georgia is now planning to increase its number of combat personnel (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 22 July 2005). LF

BELARUSIAN PRIVATE NEWSPAPER BANNED FROM STATE KIOSKS IN CAPITAL. Minskharsauyzdruk, a state-run company that operates Minsk's network of newspaper kiosks and newsstands, has annulled a 2006 distribution contract that it signed two months before with the private weekly "Salidarnasts," Belapan reported on 30 November, quoting "Salidarnasts" Editor in Chief Alyaksandr Starykevich. Last month, Belposhta, Belarus's state postal service, excluded a dozen of independent periodicals from its subscription catalogue: "Salidarnasts," "Narodnaya volya," "Zhoda," "Rehiyanalnaya hazeta," "Nasha Niva," "Vitebskii kurer," "Brestskii Kurer," "Intex-Press," "Hazeta Slonimskaya," "Borisovskie novosti," "Dlya vas," and "Volnaye Hlybokaye" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 November 2005, and "RFE/RL Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova Report," 21 November 2005). "It is impossible to print an independent newspaper in Belarus, subscription and distribution is also impossible. What kind of press can survive in the country?" Starykevich commented. Minskharsayuzdruk is a subsidiary of Belsayuzdruk, a company operating under the Information Ministry's control. JM

EU AGREES TO GIVE UKRAINE MARKET-ECONOMY STATUS. European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso told journalists in Kyiv on 1 December that Brussels has reached an agreement with Kyiv on granting Ukraine market economy status, Interfax-Ukraine reported. Barroso was speaking shortly after a EU-Ukraine summit, which was also attended by Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, EU High Representative for the Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana, European Commissioner for External Affairs and Neighborhood Policy Bettina Ferrero-Waldner, and other Ukrainian and EU officials. Ukraine's new status means that the country will now be better protected against charges of illegally dumping goods on the EU market. Any country that takes anti-dumping measures against Ukraine in the future will have to prove its case, whereas hitherto the onus of proof has been on Ukraine. JM

EU OPERATION BEGINS MONITORING UKRAINIAN-MOLDOVAN BORDER. The European Union on 30 November officially initiated its operation to monitor the Ukrainian-Moldovan border, Ukrainian and international media reported. The operation has been set up to combat smuggling, which is believed to be rife, especially along Ukraine's 400-kilometer-long border with Moldova's separatist region of Transdniester. The operation's inauguration ceremony in Odesa was attended by EU High Representative for the Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana, European Commissioner for External Affairs and Neighborhood Policy Bettina Ferrero-Waldner, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk, and Moldovan Foreign Minister Andrei Stratan. The operation consists of some 70 border policemen and customs officers from 16 EU countries and 50 local staffers. It has a budget of 8 million euros ($9.4 million) and a two-year mandate, which can be extended. The monitors are authorized to make unannounced inspections at any location on the Ukrainian-Moldovan frontier. However, they will not operate on Transdniestrian territory. JM

FORMER PRESIDENTIAL BODYGUARD RETURNS TO UKRAINE. Former presidential bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko, who claims to have made secret recording of conversations in former President Leonid Kuchma's office, returned to Kyiv on 30 November after five years in exile, Ukrainian and international media reported. Melnychenko told journalists in Kyiv that he wants to see Kuchma and his allies punished for their alleged involvement in the 2000 murder of Internet journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, which his recordings seem to confirm. "We came back to Ukraine," Melnychenko said. "This is our motherland and we will live here. And we will do everything in order to ensure Kuchma's gang is held responsible for the dangerous and particularly serious crimes committed against each of you. Let them be found responsible in court." Melnychenko, who left Ukraine in 2000 and was given political asylum in the United States, came back with former Ukrainian lawmaker Oleksandr Yelyashkevych, also a political refugee in the United States. On 1 December Melnychenko was reportedly summoned for interrogation next week as a witness in the Gongadze case conducted by the Prosecutor-General's Office. JM

MOLDOVA THREATENS TO RAISE TRANSIT COSTS FOR GAZPROM. Moldovan Economics and Trade Minister Valeriu Lazar said on 30 November that Chisinau will increase what it charges Russia to transport gas across its territory if Gazprom raises its gas prices, ITAR-TASS reported the next day. The Russian state-controlled natural-gas monopoly has said it intends to raise the price of gas delivered to Moldova and Ukraine to European prices by next year. Aleksander Ryazanov, vice president of Gazprom's board of directors, said the increase will be gradual. But Lazar said the price hike, from $80 per 1,000 cubic meters to as much as $150-$160, is not economically justified. BW

EU LAUNCHES MOLDOVA-UKRAINE BORDER MISSION. The European Union's mission to help monitor and police Moldova's border with Ukraine was formally opened on 30 November, international news agencies reported the same day. EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana and Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the EU commissioner for external relations, ceremonially opened the mission from its headquarters in Ukraine's Black Sea port of Odesa, Reuters reported. "This helps Ukraine and Moldova to come closer to the European Union," Solana said. The mission will be led by Brigadier General Ferenc Banfi of Hungary and will include border police and customs officials from 16 EU member states, dpa reported. The European Commission has allocated 7 million euros ($8.4 million) for the project, which is scheduled to last two years. Teams of EU border and customs officials will work along the entire Moldova-Ukraine border, including the Transdniester section, with authorization to visit police and customs posts in both countries (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 November 2005). BW