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SOCIALIST PARTY HEAD ELECTED SPEAKER OF UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT. Oleksander Moroz was unexpectedly elected speaker of the Verkhovna Rada on the night of July 6-7, Interfax-Ukraine reported the same day. Moroz's bid was supported by 238 votes in the 450-seat legislature, with votes coming from the Party of Regions and the Socialist Party, whose members effectively broke ranks with the recently established "Orange" coalition and cast doubt on its future. Yuliya Tymoshenko, whose eponymous bloc is a part of the coalition, responded on July 7 by calling on President Viktor Yushchenko to disband parliament. The same day, the deputy head of the pro-presidential Our Ukraine faction, Roman Zvarych, said that Our Ukraine will consider leaving any democratic coalition in which the Socialists participate and instead become an opposition party. RK

UKRAINIAN GAS-TRANSPORTATION CONSORTIUM TO MEET IN JULY. Fuel and Energy Minister Ivan Plachkov held talks with Gazprom Deputy Chairman Aleksandr Ryazanov to obtain guarantees that Gazprom will supply Ukraine with 16.9 billion cubic meters of gas at $95 per 1,000 cubic meters in October-November 2006, "Kommersant-Ukrayiny" reported on July 7. In return, according to the newspaper, the Ukrainian side offered to support Gazprom in agreeing to a united position on the question of further purchases of Turkmen gas. "Kommersant-Ukrayiny" added that Plachkov agreed to pay off all debts Ukraine owes Gazprom by the end of August and to convene a meeting of the founders of the International Consortium for the Management and Development of the Ukrainian Gas Transportation System on July 12. RK

BOMB KILLS EIGHT IN TRANSDNIESTER. Eight people were killed in the capital of Tiraspol on July 6 when a bomb exploded on a minibus, international media reported. Among the dead was a Russian Army nurse, the news agency Infotag reported. Two other members of the 1,500-strong Russian peacekeeping force in the region were among the 26 injured. Twenty of the casualties were reportedly in a serious or critical condition. No one has claimed responsibility for what the region's security chief, Vladimir Antyufeyev, called the worst violence in the region for a decade. Transdniester's interior minister, Oleg Belyakov, said mobsters could be to blame but that "given the worsening of relations with Moldova, the most likely explanation is that the explosion was organized by [Moldova's] special services," AFP reported on July 6. Tensions have risen since Moldova and Ukraine introduced a new customs regime in March. The Moldovan Interior Ministry press office said "Moldovan law enforcement bodies have nothing to do with the blast," Infotag reported on July 6. Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin offered his condolences. Moldovan offers of assistance were rejected. Security Minister Antyufeyev said Ukrainian and Russian investigators are helping in the case. AG


The Verkhovna Rada on July 6 resumed its work after 10 days of a blockade organized by lawmakers from the Party of Regions. In an unexpected move, the Ukrainian parliament elected Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz as its speaker. Moroz was elected by lawmakers from the Party of Regions and the Communist Party, while his anticipated coalition allies -- the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc and Our Ukraine -- shunned the vote. Does the choice of the speaker spell an end to the Orange coalition deal reached in June, after three months of uneasy talks?

An impasse emerged in the Ukrainian parliament on June 27, when lawmakers from the Party of Regions led by former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych blocked the rostrum in and entrance to the Verkhovna Rada hall, thus preventing lawmakers of the coalition from opening a session.

Several days earlier, on June 22, the three allies in the 2004 Orange Revolution -- the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc (129 seats), Our Ukraine (81 seats), and the Socialist Party (33 seats) -- signed a coalition deal, following three months of negotiations. Regarding the distribution of top government posts, Yuliya Tymoshenko was to assume the post of prime minister, while Petro Poroshenko from Our Ukraine was to become parliamentary speaker. The Socialist Party was entitled under the deal to the post of first deputy prime minister.

Some of the would-be coalition partners were visibly unhappy about the June deal to recreate the Orange government that collapsed in September 2005, after then-Prime Minister Tymoshenko accused then-National Defense and Security Council Secretary Poroshenko of corruption practices and encroaching upon her executive prerogatives. Tymoshenko and Poroshenko, the fiercest enemies in the 2005 feud, were again to assume top government posts, and many saw in this the seeds of a future conflict.

Socialist Party leader Moroz, who aspired to become parliamentary speaker after the March 26 parliamentary elections, was also apparently unhappy with the fact that this post was offered to Poroshenko.

And there was the Party of Regions, which unsuccessfully tried to strike a coalition deal with Our Ukraine in mid-June. After it became clear that the former Orange allies might recreate their governing alliance, the Party of Regions launched a blockade of the parliamentary hall. The blockade was in protest against what the Yanukovych-led party saw as an unlawful scheme to appoint the prime minister and parliamentary speaker in a single, open vote, and against the coalition's failure to offer the opposition sufficient positions on legislative committees.

But the Party of Regions agreed to lift its parliamentary blockade on July 6, after reportedly reaching an agreement with the Orange Revolution allies. According to this agreement, the election of the parliamentary speaker was to be conducted in a secret ballot, and the opposition -- that is, the Party of Regions and the Communist Party -- was offered leadership positions on 50 percent of parliamentary committees.

When everybody thought that the Verkhovna Rada would proceed with approving Poroshenko as speaker, Moroz was suddenly proposed as a candidate for this post. Poroshenko withdrew his candidacy, calling Moroz's move a betrayal of the coalition deal reached on June 22. Moroz was approved as parliamentary speaker with 238 votes exclusively from his party, the Party of Regions, and the Communist Party.

"There is a new coalition, let them work, while we will be in opposition," Our Ukraine leader Roman Bezsmertnyy commented on what happened in the Verkhovna Rada on July 6.

Yuliya Tymoshenko did not comment directly on the election of Moroz, adding only that she does not understand what is going on.

Meanwhile, Moroz explained his election as parliamentary speaker by his intention to heal the west-east division in Ukrainian society deepened by the 2004 Orange Revolution and the 2006 parliamentary elections. "We must reduce this tension, which has been artificially created, we must end the split we now see in Ukraine. I'm sure we can overcome this problem. I'm even more sure that we can bring together those who see themselves as the victors and those who see themselves as the vanquished," Moroz said.

How Moroz is going to achieve this goal is not immediately clear. The Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, with its political-support base in western Ukraine, has repeatedly and firmly declared that it will not enter any governing coalition with the Party of Regions, which is entrenched in eastern and southern Ukraine.

Most likely, Moroz is expecting that a new "grand" coalition would include Our Ukraine along with the Party of Regions and the Socialist Party. Only such an alliance could give some credibility to Moroz's claim about healing Ukraine's west-east rift.

Could Our Ukraine enter a ruling coalition with its fiercest political opponent, the Party of Regions? Such an option was suggested by Our Ukraine itself in mid-June, when the pro-presidential bloc turned to Yanukovych's party to discuss the formation of a new government. There is reportedly a significant group of politicians in Our Ukraine, including caretaker Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov, who prefer forming a government with the Party of Regions rather than with the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc.

        What other options are available for Ukraine?
        A ruling coalition could be created by the Party of Regions,

the Socialist Party, and the Communist Party. The three parties jointly control 240 votes in the 450-seat legislature. But such a coalition would hardly contribute anything substantial to healing the Ukrainian political split.

If Ukrainian lawmakers fail to approve a new prime minister and cabinet by July 25, President Viktor Yushchenko will have the right to disband the Verkhovna Rada and call for new elections. But last week, Yushchenko ruled out such a possibility. "There will be no repeat elections. It is an excessively expensive pleasure for the country and an inappropriate price [to pay] for the ambitions of some politicians," he said in a radio address on July 1.

The Verkhovna Rada on July 7 postponed its session until next week, apparently not knowing how to resolve its coalition-building conundrum. It seems that the Ukrainian political elite is now waiting for a word from President Yushchenko. It was he who reportedly advised Our Ukraine in June against forging a coalition with the Party of Regions. Perhaps this time, in order to avoid repeat elections, he will urge Our Ukraine to take this step.

FINNISH EU PRESIDENCY MEETING CONSIDERS FREE TRADE WITH RUSSIA The European Commission on July 3 held out the prospect of a free-trade area with Russia as part of talks that will be launched later this year on the future of EU-Russia cooperation. Meeting in Helsinki today, commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and Finnish Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen also discussed the EU's incoming Finnish presidency's other challenges.

HELSINKI, July 3, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- The EU today said it is seeking a free-trade agreement with Russia as part of the two sides' consultations on long-term relations.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said after his first meeting with the EU's incoming Finnish presidency that this is a "strategic" goal for the EU as "Russia is a European country."

Barroso said a free-trade area would form part of the talks the EU and Russia will need to launch later this year as their current Partnership and Cooperation Agreement will run out next year. He said the commission has already asked the EU's 25 member states for a mandate to start negotiating a new treaty.

"We are proposing [that] member states give us a mandate for negotiating with Russia a comprehensive agreement that will bring a new quality to our relationship," Barroso said. "In particular, we propose to move towards a free-trade area, to be completed once Russia accedes to WTO [the World Trade Organization]."

Barroso said, however, that it is "too soon" now to elaborate on the details of a possible EU-Russia free-trade agreement. The EU, and other leading Western countries would like Russia to complete its WTO accession agreement this year.

Finnish Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen said on July 3 after a joint meeting between the European Commission and the Finnish government that he will give relations with Russia center stage during the Finnish EU presidency that runs from July to December this year.

Russian President Putin has been invited to attend an informal EU summit in the central Finnish city of Lahti in October, and Finland will also host a separate EU-Russia summit in November.

Finnish officials have told RFE/RL Finland hopes to come to a "political" understanding with Russia over the long-term future of its relations with the EU. Finland will also use its presidency to relaunch the EU's so-called Northern Dimension, a policy of engagement with northwestern Russia. The policy has attracted relatively little interest among other EU member states and Russia has complained it is not being treated as a full partner.

Finnish officials also say they want Russia to prove it remains a reliable supplier of energy for the EU. Russia supplies 25 percent of the EU's gas, but made a "big mistake" in the words of one Finnish official in January when a decision to cut off gas deliveries to Ukraine temporarily affected EU member states.

Vanhanen said the Finnish presidency will give energy issues high priority.

"Energy is high on Europe's agenda," Vanhanen said. "External instruments must be more effectively used in advancing our energy objectives."

Barroso said today the EU seeks an "energy partnership" with Russia which is based on mutual interest and internationally accepted principles.

The EU is also looking for other suppliers of energy to reduce its dependence on Russia.

A key foreign policy challenge for the Finnish presidency will be the management of accession talks with Turkey, which got under way earlier this year.

Finnish officials warn of a "train wreck" as Turkey is continuing to refuse to recognize the Greek government of Cyprus, an EU member state. Cyprus has threatened to veto further talks.

Vanhanen said Turkey must normalize relations with Nicosia soon.

"Turkey should act already during [the] Finnish presidency and [this] is of course because the commission will give its report about the progress of Turkey already in October, and, of course, Turkey should get progress before that," Vanhanen said.

A key step would be Turkey's implementation of the so-called Ankara protocol, which commits it to admit Cypriot ships and planes.

Both Vanhanen and Barroso made clear today the EU has no intention to mediate in the conflict between the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities.

Barroso sent a positive signal to both Romania and Bulgaria today, saying he hopes both can join the EU early next year. The EU has threatened to postpone the two countries' accession due to an excess of organized crime and corruption.

Croatia was also told it may be able to join the EU before the end of the decade despite the collapse of the EU constitution last year, which has put a question mark over further EU enlargement. (Ahto Lobjakas)