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U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE HAS DOUBTS ABOUT RUSSIAN DEMOCRACY. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in Washington on 12 February that she is skeptical about the future of democracy in Russia, reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 6 February 2006). "We are very concerned, particularly about some of the elements of democratization that seem to be going in the wrong direction," she said. Rice recalled what was widely seen as Russia's recent use of gas supplies as a political tool against Ukraine, as well as new legislation to establish greater control over nongovernmental organizations. She added that "the question is open as to where Russia's future development is going." Rice nonetheless stressed that the overall state of relations is "very good" and that today's Russia "is not the Soviet Union. Let's not overstate the case" for critical observations. PM

...AS PUTIN FORESEES BIGGER SHARE OF U.S. MARKET. President Vladimir Putin said in Moscow on 11 February that Russian energy providers will rank third or fourth among the foreign suppliers to the U.S. market, up from about eighth place, within three or four years, reported. Meanwhile, Defense Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov was surprised when his NATO colleagues at a 10 February meeting in Taormina, Sicily, questioned Russia's apparent use of energy as a political weapon in its recent dispute with Ukraine, Russian and international news agencies reported. Ivanov questioned whether the NATO forum was the right place to discuss energy-related issues. PM

TURKMEN LEADER SAYS GAS PRICE TO RISE. President Saparmurat Niyazov has announced on national television that Turkmenistan intends to raise the export price of natural gas from $65 to $100 per 1,000 cubic meters in the fall, AP reported on 11 February. Niyazov said, "There are fuel problems in the world, these problems exist in Europe, too. Prices for fuel are rising." A rise in the price of Turkmen gas could affect a recently announced deal between Ukraine and Russia on 2006 gas shipments, since the agreement depends on cheap Turkmen gas to allow Ukraine to pay an average price of $95 per 1,000 cubic meters in 2006. Mikhail Bakulev, an analyst with Moscow-based AVK, told on 11 February, "If Turkmen gas gets more expensive, they'll definitely raise the price for Ukraine. Niyazov's decision is beneficial to Russia, since Moscow gets an additional mechanism to pressure Ukraine." Meanwhile, Ukrainian Prime Minister Yurii Yekhanurov reacted calmly, Interfax-Ukraine reported on 11 February. Yekhanurov called the reported Turkmen price hike "unofficial" and commented, "As for our relations in supplies of natural gas, this has no bearing whatsoever." DK

OFFICIALS SAY STANDARD-BASED RELATIONS WITH RUSSIA SUIT UKRAINE. Presidential Secretariat head Oleh Rybachuk has said that Ukrainian-Russian relations should be based on international standards, Interfax reported on 10 February. "The call made by the Russian leadership, including President [Vladimir] Putin, that our relations should be grounded on international standards suits Ukraine perfectly," Rybachuk said. He noted that during the recent dispute over how much Ukraine would pay for Russian gas, Ukraine agreed to let the market dictate the price. Ukraine and Russian have long had many mutually advantageous financial and political agreements based on their traditional friendship. Rybachuk's comments come on the heels of National Security and Defense Council Head Anatoliy Kinakh's recent suggestion that the market should establish the price Russia pays Ukraine to lease the site of Russia's Black Sea Fleet in Crimea. However, Russian Ambassador to Ukraine Viktor Chernomyrdin said the terms of the Russian Black Sea Fleet base in Crimea should not be revised. "If we now shift to this international [practice], we will face a lot of questions where we could hurt each other," Chernomyrdin said. AM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT CALLS FOR CHECKS AND BALANCES. President Viktor Yushchenko in his annual address to the Verkhovna Rada on 9 February said that steps should be taken to ensure balance among the executive branch, the legislative branch, and the cabinet, Interfax reported. Yushchenko suggested that such a balance could be reached by granting the president the authority to create a provisional government and to initiate the dismissal of the parliament in the event of a crisis between the parliament and cabinet in the last six months of the parliament's or the president's terms, and during the first working year of the parliament that will be elected on 26 March. AM

RUSSIA WILL NOT REMOVE MUNITIONS FROM TRANSDNIESTER UNTIL FINAL SETTLEMENT. A senior Russian official has said that Moscow will only remove a large cache of arms stored in the Transdniester region following a comprehensive settlement, Flux reported on 11 February. "Russia is ready to evacuate its munitions stored in [Transdniester] only after political terms to settle the dispute are created," Russian Security Council Deputy Secretary Yury Zubakov said. On 9 February, Russian and Ukrainian officials visited warehouses in Cobasna, where 19,000 tons of munitions are stored. Removing them would require a 35-car train, according to officials at the site. Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council Deputy Secretary Serhiy Pyrozhkov said Kyiv is ready to assist Russia in removing the munitions. BW