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UKRAINE, UNITED STATES SIGN PROTOCOL ON MARKETS ACCESS. Ukrainian Economy Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk and U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman signed a protocol on mutual access to commodity and services markets in Washington on March 6, Ukrainian media reported. The signing is seen as a major stage on Ukraine's path toward joining the World Trade Organization (WTO). "This is a decisive victory," President Viktor Yushchenko said, welcoming the signing of the document in a television interview the same day. According to Yushchenko, Ukraine's accession to the WTO will help the country in the short term increase its trade turnover by 10 percent and its gross domestic product by 1.5 percent-1.9 percent. JM

KYIV 'SURPRISED' BY LUKASHENKA'S ALLEGATIONS ABOUT FUNDS FOR HIS OUSTER. The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry is "surprised by both the form and the content" of Belarusian President Lukashenka's allegations last week that Ukraine is involved in channeling funds to the Belarusian opposition in order to topple him, Interfax-Ukraine reported on March 7, quoting Foreign Ministry spokesman Vasyl Filipchuk. "Hundreds of millions are coming via Ukraine, the Baltic countries, and Poland. We know what embassies receive cash and bring it here, and later distribute the money," Lukashenka said at the All-Belarusian People's Assembly in Minsk on March 2. Filipchuk noted that Lukashenka's charges are untrue and at variance with Ukraine's position oriented toward developing good-neighborly relations with Belarus. JM

BACKED BY EU AND UKRAINE, MOLDOVA DEFENDS NEW TRANSDNIESTER CUSTOMS RULES. Moldova, Ukraine, and the European Union on March 6 denied allegations that new customs regulations designed to eliminate smuggling constitute an economic blockade against the breakaway region of Transdniester, Reuters reported the same day. The rules require that all goods bound for Ukraine that move through the Transdniester portion of the border clear Moldovan customs and have a Moldovan stamp. Russia and Transdniester's leader Igor Smirnov have both criticized the move (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 6, 2006). "Russia is being hasty in its judgment or has been misinformed. There is not, nor will there be an economic blockade of [Transdniester]," Moldovan Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev said. "Companies in [Transdniester] want to legalize their business and work in a legal framework in Moldova. Only criminal groups oppose an end to smuggling across the border with Ukraine." EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana praised the new rules as "very important for the establishment of an orderly regime on the Ukrainian-Moldovan border." Ukrainian Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov accused Transdniester officials of making "political statements" about the new rules "that we view as groundless." BW