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ALARM CONTINUES IN JAPAN, EU. The Moscow daily "Kommersant" wrote on September 20 that Japanese media rank the Kremlin's decision to block Sakhalin-2 "alongside the [earlier] liquidation of Yukos and the suspension of gas deliveries to Ukraine." The daily also noted that "Tokyo's concern about the inevitable suspension of the project is due to the fact that Japan has significant plans, based on Sakhalin-2, to convert part of its industry to using liquefied natural gas (LNG), which is environmentally cleaner than fuel oil. Japan's largest electricity company and seven other companies in the sector have already signed long-term contracts to buy around 4.7 million tons of LNG per year from Sakhalin Energy, starting in 2008, which should cover about 10 percent of Japan's needs." The paper stressed that "the Sakhalin-2 project is regarded as part of strategic efforts to reduce Japan's extremely dangerous dependence on oil supplies from the unstable Middle East. A delay in Sakhalin-2 implementation could be a palpable blow to Japan, forcing it to urgently seek alternative gas sources." The paper also mentioned that Shell's press spokesman in Russia, Maksim Shub, told the daily that "our experience of working with Gazprom shows that this company, as a rule, decides everything at the negotiating table. So we're not inclined to link what has happened to any decisions by Gazprom." In Tokyo on September 21, Mitsubishi officials demanded that Sakhalin-2 be continued without delay, news agencies reported. Germany's "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" wrote on September 20 that "foreign investors should carefully consider whether they should continue to pump money into [Russian] industries that could become of strategic importance to Putin, Inc." PM

PULKOVO WARNED IT IS HEADING FOR EU'S BLACKLIST. The EU has informed St. Petersburg-based Pulkovo Airlines, which is one of Russia's largest, that on October 4 it might become the first Russian carrier to be placed on the EU's blacklist of airlines that are not allowed to fly to member states for safety reasons, and "Novye izvestia" reported on September 20. The blacklist of carriers, known as "flying coffins," was launched in March and includes at least 92 airlines, most of which are based in Africa (see An EU ban could bankrupt Pulkovo, and one Russian expert told "Novye izvestia" that he suspects that Brussels is trying to get rid of a competitor on the St. Petersburg route. Another expert said that the EU's message to Pulkovo, which has received 20 warnings from Brussels over the past year, is a sign that the airline must do more to overhaul its fleet. A Pulkovo plane crashed in Ukraine in August with the loss of a least 170 lives (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 23, 24, and 31, 2006). PM

MINSK PROTESTS 'DELIBERATE ABDUCTION' OF ORPHAN BY ITALIAN COUPLE. Belarusian Foreign Minister Syarhey Martynau on September 20 summoned Italian Ambassador Guglielmo Ardizzone to hand him a note of protest against "the deliberate abduction" of a 10-year-old Belarusian orphan by an Italian couple, Belapan and Reuters reported. The note calls for a prompt investigation and the immediate return of the girl, who has been given the pseudonym "Maria," to Belarus. The girl spent a summer holiday with an Italian couple, Maria Bornacin and Alessandro Giusto, near Genoa under a program devised for children suffering long-term consequences of the Chornobyl disaster. The Italian couple refused to send the girl back to Belarus, saying they discovered that she had been sexually abused in her orphanage. After a court in Genoa ordered them to send Maria back, they hid the girl. "Deciding to hide her to avoid her being repatriated was an act of desperation, but I would do it again," Bornacin told an Italian magazine. The couple wants to adopt Maria legally. JM

UKRAINIAN PREMIER VOWS PUSH TOWARD EU. Viktor Yanukovych declared in Brussels on September 21 that the fight against corruption and economic reform will be Ukraine's top priorities as the country seeks to get closer to EU membership, AP reported. Yanukovych also said Ukraine will push for World Trade Organization membership and the creation of a free-trade area with the EU. "We are...aware that most of the effort must be made on the part of Ukraine in order to have this approximation to the EU," Yanukoych said after a meeting with European Parliament President Josep Borrell. JM

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT STARTS DEBATE ON 2007 BUDGET. The Verkhovna Rada on September 21 began a debate on a 2007 draft budget approved by the Cabinet of Ministers last week, Ukrainian media reported. The document sets consolidated budget revenues in 2007 at $180 billion hryvnyas ($60 billion) and spending at $186 billion hryvnyas. The draft budget projects economic growth in 2007 at 6.5 percent of gross domestic project (GDP). JM