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GAZPROM CHIEF JUSTIFIES LOWER PRICES FOR BELARUS. Gazprom head Aleksei Miller insisted on 9 December that the company applies market principles to "all foreign partners without exception" including Belarus, Interfax-Belarus reported on 12 December. "General market principles will be applied to Belarus as well. We proved this last year by securing a rise in the prices for gas exports. I don't think this story has been forgotten in Ukraine either," Miller said. Gazprom, which is seeking to raise prices to European levels for Ukraine and Moldova, said on 6 December that it will continue to supply natural gas to Belarus at the same reduced price as in 2005 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 December 2005). Miller justified the discrepancy by saying that Russia and Belarus are in the process of forming a union state and that Belarus is the only country where Gazprom owns the gas main. Miller added that the company has resumed talks over the Belarusian gas-distribution monopoly Beltransgaz which could give Gazprom control over the country's entire gas-transportation network. BW

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT SAYS TROOPS TO LEAVE IRAQ BY END OF YEAR. President Viktor Yushchenko on 11 December said that all of Ukraine's troops will be withdrawn from Iraq by the end of 2005, Interfax reported the next day. "I promised to withdraw the Ukrainian peacekeepers from Iraq. To date, 800 of our soldiers have already returned to Ukraine, The rest, a further 800 or so, will be welcomed home between 20 and 30 December. They will celebrate New Year's Eve with their families," Yushchenko said in a radio address on 10 December. "The 1,600 Ukrainian peacekeepers have trained 2,700 Iraqi troops -- a complete brigade of three battalions," he added. BW

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT DEFENDS TYMOSHENKO'S SACKING. President Yushchenko said that while he understands that many Ukrainians were disappointed with his split with former Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko, he does not regret firing her, ITAR-TASS reported on 12 December. According to ITAR-TASS, Yushchenko told reporters that he should have dismissed Tymoshenko "much earlier, in June, when the first economic crisis arose in the country." Tymoshenko was sacked in September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 September 2005). "I am an economist and I know how to manage the economy of the country," Yushchenko said. "But I hoped that the cabinet of ministers would work and communicate as a team. Regrettably, conflicts and personal ambitions began to make a hindrance even in the period of the unpleasant crisis. Economic adventurism had gained an upper hand. So there is nothing to regret," Yushchenko said. BW