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UKRAINIAN GOVERNMENT IMPOSES FIVE-YEAR PRICE CAP ON GAS. The Ukrainian government on 8 February decided that $110 per 1,000 cubic meters will be the maximum price at which the newly created joint venture UkrGazEnergo can sell gas in Ukraine within the next five years, Interfax-Ukraine and ITAR-TASS reported. "If any economic entity decides to sell gas at the price above $110, a fine will be imposed [on it] and the entire proceeds will be confiscated. This will also be a reason for annulling the entity's registration with the state," Economy Minister Arsen Yatsenyuk told journalists. UkrGazEnergo was created last week by the Swiss-based gas trader RosUkrEnergo and Naftohaz Ukrayiny (see "RFE/RL Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova Report," 7 February 2006). Under an agreement reached in January, RosUkrEnergo was made the monopolist of gas supplies to Ukraine in 2006-10. Ukraine imports gas mostly for corporate consumers, while the population uses gas that is primarily extracted at home and is priced much lower than imported gas. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT WANTS REFERENDUM ON NEW CONSTITUTION. Viktor Yushchenko proposed in an annual address to the Verkhovna Rada on 9 February to set up a commission in order to draft a new constitution and submit it to a nationwide referendum, Ukrainian media reported. According to Yushchenko, that constitutional commission should be composed of representatives of political forces and nongovernmental organizations as well as experts and scientists. Yushchenko said the promulgation of a new constitution should be followed by the adoption of laws defining the functions of the president, the cabinet, and the parliament in the new political system. "I am convinced that it is quite possible to achieve a nationwide and political consensus on this issue," Yushchenko noted. He added that he will not challenge the legality of the 2004 constitutional reform with the Constitutional Court prior to the parliamentary elections on 26 March. JM

U.S. REPORTEDLY CONCERNED ABOUT RUSSIAN GAS TRADE PRACTICES. Unnamed U.S. officials told "The Washington Times" of 9 February that "Russia has been using its control of Soviet-era pipelines to squeeze Central Asian sellers of natural gas while setting up corrupt trading intermediaries whose only apparent purpose is to milk huge profits." The daily added that the Bush administration is "alarmed by a recent price dispute between Russia and Ukraine that disrupted vital gas supplies to Europe...[and has] raised doubts about Russia's fitness to chair the Group of Eight countries, beginning with a finance ministers' meeting in Moscow this week" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 and 8 February 2006). The State Department has reportedly been unsuccessful in its efforts to persuade unnamed EU countries to pressure Moscow to reform its trade practices. One unnamed "senior U.S. official" singled out RosUkrEnergo as typical of Russia's "mysterious, shady trading firms [that] have no purpose. They have been a source of corruption for years. They are instruments for arrangements by which some people buy cheap and sell expensive." The official also told the daily that RosUkrEnergo is "said to be run by people with organized criminal ties, as well as good Kremlin connections." PM