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GERMAN OFFICIAL SAYS RUSSIA WILL BE CENTRAL TO GERMAN EU PRESIDENCY. Gernot Erler of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), who is state secretary at Germany's Foreign Ministry, was quoted by the Moscow daily "Vremya novostei" on November 30 as saying that Germany hopes to overcome Poland's "unhappiness...about Russia's import ban on Polish meat" by the end of 2006 and to launch talks leading to a new Partnership and Cooperation Agreement between Russia and the EU. Germany will assume the rotating EU Presidency in January 2007, and the SPD-led Foreign Ministry has drafted a plan to promote German and EU ties with Russia on the basis of an expanding network of interrelationships (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 10 and 11 and November 27, 2006). Erler told the Moscow paper that "all of the priorities for Germany's [EU] chairmanship are connected with Russia in one way or another." He argued that "Russia needs to be included in implementing EU strategy in Central Asia.... Central Asia's significance to the EU is primarily due to this region being the transit route for drug trafficking to Europe.... The EU is not setting itself the goal of changing the [political] order in those five former Soviet republics [Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan]." Erler stressed that Central Asia "is rich in energy resources. It's no coincidence that Russia, China, the United States, and Japan have been so actively involved in events in Central Asia." Erler noted that the "EU cannot ignore Russia's interests" when the German presidency "gives new quality to the European Neighborhood program," which centers on countries such as Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova. He added that "at present, [the three] don't have a realistic chance of being accepted as EU members." Erler said that the Ukrainian gas crisis in January 2006 "did a lot of damage to Russia's prestige as a reliable supplier of energy resources to Europe.... Europe perceived Russia's actions as blackmail -- using economic resources to achieve political goals.... Europe does not want to be dependent on oil and gas deliveries from Russia." Erler believes that, consequently, "the EU will step up its pressure on Russia in the near future" either to ratify the EU Energy Charter Russia signed in 1994 or to accept its provisions as part of the new EU-Russia agreement. PM

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT FIRES FOREIGN, INTERIOR MINISTERS... The Verkhovna Rada on December 1 dismissed Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk, Ukrainian media reported. A motion to sack Tarasyuk was supported by 247 deputies. Shortly afterward, 248 deputies endorsed the dismissal of Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko. The Verkhovna Rada tried to fire Lutsenko on November 30 but fell three votes short of the 226 required to do so. Tarasyuk was appointed to his cabinet post directly by President Viktor Yushchenko, as required by the constitution. Lutsenko too was proposed to his cabinet post by President Yushchenko, following an agreement with Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych. Yushchenko said in an interview with the BBC on November 30 that the Verkhovna Rada's attempts to dismiss Tarasyuk and Lutsenko destabilize the situation in the country. JM

...AND APPOINTS TWO NEW MINISTERS. The Verkhovna Rada on December 1 appointed Vasyl Tsushko, head of the Socialist Party parliamentary caucus, as interior minister to replace Lutsenko, Ukrainian media reported. Earlier the same day the legislature appointed Viktor Korzh as family, youth, and sports minister to replace Yuriy Pavlenko, who resigned in October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 30, 2006). JM

UKRAINIAN PREMIER VISITS MOSCOW. Prime Minister Yanukovych made a working visit on November 30 to Moscow, where he met with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov, UNIAN reported. Yanukovych reportedly discussed "current issues" in bilateral relations and an upcoming visit by Putin to Kyiv. Putin told Yanukovych that he will come to Kyiv on December 22. JM