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MEDIA CONTINUE TO SPECULATE OVER LITVINENKO'S DEATH. Britain's "The Economist" noted on December 2 that "conspiracy theories in Moscow about who killed...Litvinenko have reached a pitch of dialecticism that is scarcely intelligible to outsiders." One of the latest such theories centers on the possibility that Litvinenko might not have been the target of a poisoning. Instead, the speculation is that he was part of an racket trading illegally in nuclear materials and that he was accidentally contaminated in a bungled operation. According to this theory, the traces of the radioactive substance polonium-210 that appeared at various places in London and on several aircraft were allegedly the result of conspirators fleeing an operation gone awry. Many Western media continue to stress, however, that Litvinenko's death and other unresolved murders or apparent poisonings suggest that something is "deeply wrong" in Putin's Russia. Britain's "The Daily Telegraph" argued on December 4 that the Russian "protest" to Britain over the alleged deathbed letter "demonstrated a lack of understanding of democratic norms." "The New York Times" wrote on December 4 that "a culture of lawlessness is spreading throughout Russia, and...Putin has done little to stop it. On the contrary, he has weakened Russia's democracy by stuffing his administration with shadowy fellow veterans of the old KGB and by fanning Russians' deep-seated feelings of insecurity and mistrust of the outside world." The paper stressed that "when Kremlin critics are attacked or murdered, the West must demand a full, transparent investigation and punishment for the criminals -- no matter who they are." Some other Western media suggested on December 2-3 that the problem is not that the Kremlin is involved in murky dealings but that neither it nor anyone else has any control over myriad rogue elements in or around the government and security forces. Proponents of this view tend to link the Litvinenko affair to a power struggle to succeed Putin when his current term ends in 2008. On December 4, Britain's "The Guardian" wrote that "Washington's empire builders" are using the Litvinenko affair, the Ukrainian gas crisis, and numerous other developments to wage "a new 'soft war' against the Kremlin, a call to arms that has been enthusiastically followed in both the U.S. and Britain. Every measure Putin has taken has been portrayed by the Russophobes as the work of a sinister totalitarian." PM

UKRAINIAN PREMIER ARRIVES IN U.S.. Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych arrived in Washington, D.C., on December 3 for his first official U.S. trip since returning to office in August, Ukrainian media reported. Yanukovych was expected to deliver a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington on December 4 and to meet later in the day with U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. No meeting with U.S. President George W. Bush has been announced. On December 5 in Washington and the following day in New York, Yanukovych is expected to meet with other U.S. politicians and business representatives. Yanukovych is expected to return to Kyiv on December 7. Yanukovych visited the United States in October 2003 during his tenure as prime minister in 2002-04. JM

SACKED UKRAINIAN FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS HIS DISMISSAL WAS ILLEGITIMATE. Borys Tarasyuk, who was dismissed from the post of foreign minister by the Verkhovna Rada on December 1 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 1, 2006), told journalists in Poltava on December 2 that his dismissal was illegitimate and unconstitutional, UNIAN reported. "The voting in the [Verkhovna] Rada took place with violations, since the foreign minister is appointed after being designated by the president and, accordingly, his dismissal must take place under such a procedure as well," Tarasyuk said. The previous day, Tarasyuk commented that his sacking rekindled "a war against the president [and] for his authority." "This whole situation following the [March parliamentary] elections calls for the rethinking and regrouping of all patriotic and democratic forces, in order to unite and together prevent a rollback of democracy," Tarasyuk added. JM