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RUSSIAN SECURITY FORCES TAKE STOCK. In what has become an annual practice, Nikolai Patrushev, who heads the Federal Security Service (FSB), told reporters in Moscow on 16 December that his agency "foiled the operations of 26 members and 67 agents of foreign intelligence services" over the last year, Interfax reported. "Three members and three agents of a foreign intelligence service were caught in action. Criminal proceedings were launched against one foreign national," he added. Patrushev said that "13 foreign nationals involved in intelligence operations were deported from Russia [and] six foreign diplomats were denied entry into Russia." In addition, the FSB barred entry to "600 foreign nationals justifiably suspected of involvement in extremist operations." He noted that his agency's "most intensive" cooperation is with its partners in Azerbaijan, Belarus, Germany, the United Kingdom, Israel, Kazakhstan, the United States, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, and South Korea. PM

RUSSIA, BELARUS AGREE ON GAS PRICE. Belarusian Prime Minister Sergei Sidorskii said on 19 December that Russia has agreed to provide Belarus with 21 billion cubic meters of natural gas next year at a price of $46.68 per 1,000 cubic meters, RIA-Novosti reported the same day. Sidorskii made his comments at a meeting of the Russia-Belarus Union state's Council of Ministers in Moscow. "I have said it many times and will emphasize it again that Russia is interested in deeper and long-term cooperation with Belarus in the fuel and energy sector," Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov said at the same meeting. Russia's approach to Belarus on energy matters differs sharply with that toward other former Soviet republics like Ukraine, Moldova, and the Baltic states, which are being asked to pay market prices (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7, 8, 13, 14, 15, and 16 December 2005). BW

RUSSIAN, ARMENIAN PRESIDENTS MEET. President Putin met for five hours on 16 December in Sochi with his Armenian counterpart Robert Kocharian to discuss various aspects of bilateral cooperation, including in the energy sphere, ITAR-TASS and reported. Speaking at a press conference after those talks, Putin opined that the future of the CIS depends on gas supplies from one member state to another, but that the price of that gas is not a decisive factor and is dictated by purely economic considerations. Russia announced earlier this month that beginning on 1 January 2006, Gazprom will increase its prices for gas supplied to the three South Caucasus states, Ukraine and Moldova, which until now were below world prices (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December 2005). Armenian Energy Minister Armen Movsisian, who accompanied Kocharian to Sochi, told journalists on his return to Yerevan that all three South Caucasus states will be asked to pay $110 per thousand cubic meters of gas compared with the previous $56, reported on 17 December. That agency quoted "Kommersant-Daily" as reporting that in fact Armenia will continue to pay the previous price, and will receive a credit from Moscow to cover the increase; that loan will be repaid not in cash but with shares in state-controlled enterprises. LF

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT RULES OUT ENERGY CRISIS. Viktor Yushchenko said in a weekly radio address on 17 December that Ukraine will not face any energy crisis in connection with Gazprom's recent announcement to increase gas price for Ukraine more than fourfold in 2006 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 December 2005), Ukrainian media reported. "One has a price to pay for everything, first and foremost for independence. If Ukraine truly wants to become economically independent, sooner or later we will have to accept market relations in the energy field and switch to rational energy consumption," Yushchenko said. He asserted that both Russia and Ukraine will benefit from a switch to market relations and prices in gas supplies and transit. "I am convinced that the price should be increased gradually, without shock therapy for national industry," Yushchenko noted. "It is necessary to draft and implement a transitional system of gas rates which would minimize repercussions for the population. The system of transitional rates should be in place for two or three years and should gradually lead to a single rate which would reflect the real cost of gas for Ukraine." JM

UKRAINIAN PARTIES APPROVE PARLIAMENTARY ELECTION LISTS. A number of Ukrainian parties and blocs held conventions on 17 and 18 December to endorse their lists of candidates for the 26 March 2006 parliamentary elections, Ukrainian media reported. They included the Our Ukraine Yushchenko Bloc, the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, the Socialist Party, the Not So! Bloc based on the Social Democratic Party-united, and the Lytvyn People's Bloc based on the People's Party led by parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn. The Party of Regions led by former Premier Viktor Yanukovych and the Communist Party compiled its election lists earlier this month (see "RFE/RL Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova Report," 16 December 2005). Central Election Commission head Yaroslav Davydovych said last week that 38 political parties and blocs want to take part in the 2006 parliamentary elections. The elections will be Ukraine's first under a fully proportional, party-list system. Polls suggest that six to seven parties stand the chance of obtaining no less than 3 percent of the vote, which qualifies for parliamentary representation. JM

GONGADZE TRIAL STARTS IN UKRAINE. The Kyiv Appellate Court on 19 December began preliminary hearings in the case involving the murder of Internet journalist Hryhoriy Gongadze in 2000, the "Ukrayinska pravda" website ( reported. The proceedings take place behind closed doors and are attended by three former police officers suspected of killing Gongadze, Mykola Protasov, Valeriy Kostenko, and Oleksandr Popovych, as well as their lawyers. JM

NO PROGRESS IN LATEST ROUND OF TRANSDNIESTER TALKS. Moldova and the breakaway Transdniester region have failed to make any progress in the second round of talks that concluded late on 16 December, international news agencies reported the next day. The talks were held in the "five plus two" format, with Moldova, Transdniester, Russia, Ukraine, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) as full participants and the United States and the European Union attending as observers. The parties discussed six issues, Reuters reported, including an OSCE observer mission for elections, the demilitarization of the region, reforming the peacekeeping mission, and monitoring the military-industrial complex, and the security situation. William Hill, head of the OSCE mission in Moldova, said he was dissatisfied with the lack of progress, RIA-Novosti reported on 17 December. The next round of talks is scheduled for 26-27 January. BW