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...WHERE WELCOME MAT IS OUT. Putin also said in Budapest on 28 February that Russia might be interested in establishing gas storage facilities in Hungary as well as a "big logistics center" to supply Asian goods to Europe, RIA Novosti reported. Gyurcsany noted that "we have agreed on the project of building a new gas pipeline under the Black Sea to Turkey and are now looking into extending this project into Southern Europe. We see Hungary as playing an important role in increasing the reliability of the gas supply to Europe," Russian and international media reported. Hungary gets about 80 percent of its gas supplies from Russia and was one of the first countries to call for a greater diversification of sources after Gazprom cut off gas shipments to Ukraine on 1 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 January 2006). For his part, Solyom hailed Russia's recent return of 134 rare books that the Red Army took from the Sarospatak Calvinist College after World War II. Hungary nonetheless had to pay a $400,000 "storage fee" for the volumes, dpa reported. PM

...AND TOUGH APPRAISALS. Several commentators in regional and international media stressed on 1 March that the purpose of Putin's visit to Hungary and the Czech Republic was to expand Russia's clout, influence, and economic importance there, particularly in the energy sector. Those authors also noted that Putin's trip did not include Poland, which has been much more critical of Russia than the other two countries have been. Some observers suggested that Putin had Poland in mind when he said in Budapest on 28 February that "maybe some people still feel that they are in a camp, and that is why their behavior is still characterized by a circle-the-wagons mentality.... I am very pleased to see that problems of the past are not politicized in Hungary." When Putin spoke those words, Polish President Lech Kaczynski was in Ukraine, where he reassured President Viktor Yushchenko of his country's support for Kyiv's pro-Western policy goals. PM

UKRAINIAN, POLISH PRESIDENTS DISCUSS ODESA-BRODY PIPELINE. Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko and his Polish counterpart, Lech Kaczynski, pledged in Kyiv on 28 February to pursue talks on extending the Odesa-Brody oil pipeline across Poland to the Baltic Sea, Ukrainian and international media reported. However, Kaczynski suggested at a joint news conference after his meeting with Yushchenko that they have not achieved any progress on the project. "If Poland does not build [its] section of the oil pipeline, Ukraine naturally is entitled to choose whatever option suits it best," Reuters quoted Kaczynski as saying. "The Odesa-Brody project, [extended] subsequently to Gdansk, may become one of the most interesting projects of Europe's wholesale oil market," Yushchenko told the news conference. Ukraine completed the 674-km Odesa-Brody pipeline in 2002. Failing to find both oil suppliers and buyers, Kyiv decided to reverse the pipeline flow in 2004 to take Russian oil south. JM

UKRAINIAN MINISTER WANTS RUSSIAN GAS DEAL CANCELED. Finance Minister Viktor Pynzenyk, who is on leave to campaign for the 26 March parliamentary elections, said on 28 February in an online news conference that Kyiv should back out of a deal increasing the price of imported gas in 2006 to $95 per 1,000 cubic meters and restart talks on the issue with Russia, Reuters reported. "The country must go back to the starting point. We have all the objective conditions to achieve a proper balance of interests between Ukraine and Russia," Pynzenyk said. "Russia has the gas, but doesn't have the pipelines. We have the gas transport system without which it's impossible to export gas to Europe. That gives us the opportunity to defend our interests in our talks on gas," he added. Pynzenyk's Reform and Order Party is running for the parliamentary elections in a bloc with the youth organization Pora. According to most surveys, the bloc is well below the 3-percent voting threshold qualifying for parliamentary representation. JM