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FORMER BELARUSIAN LEADER SAYS 1991 BELAVEZHA ACCORD WAS COUP DE GRACE FOR USSR... Former Belarusian Supreme Soviet speaker Stanislau Shushkevich has told RFE/RL's Belarus Service that in signing the so-called Belavezha Agreement on the dissolution of the USSR at Viskuli in Belarus's Belavezha Forest on December 8, 1991, he jointly with Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk only confirmed that the Soviet Union was already dead at that time. "Those who consider [the Belavezha Agreement the] breakup of the [Soviet] Union are wrong, because the union had already been broken up by the putschists [August 1991 aborted coup leaders] and by [Soviet leader Mikhail] Gorbachev, who did not want to agree to a confederation. We had enough courage to acknowledge that [the breakup] had taken place," Shushkevich said. According to Shushkevich, the subsequent removal of nuclear weapons from Belarus was a more momentous event for the country than the collapse of the Soviet Union. "I think that the main event in my life was that I did everything to unconditionally remove nuclear weapons from the territory of Belarus. This, incidentally, became possible thanks to [the agreement at] Viskuli.... Just imagine Belarus being a nuclear state today, under such a troublesome leadership that does not realize its responsibility for stability in Europe," Shushkevich said. JM

UKRAINIANS PROTEST HOUSING, UTILITY-RATE HIKES AS DEPUTIES BRAWL IN CITY HALL. Some 5,000 Kyiv residents turned up for a rally in front of the city hall on December 7 to protest the recent decision by Kyiv Mayor Leonid Chernovetskyy to increase housing and utility tariffs sharply as of December 1, Ukrainian media reported. The rate hikes would amount to a more than threefold increase. Deputies supporting Chernovetskyy meanwhile scuffled with deputies from the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc (YuTB) during a Kyiv City Council session, after Chernovetskyy refused to put a draft resolution on canceling the higher communal tariffs to a vote. A YuTB councilor was reportedly hospitalized after losing consciousness during the scuffle. Chernovetskyy's supporters in the council blocked all attempts to revise the rate hikes, agreeing only to set up an ad hoc commission to consider the issue. Chernovetskyy reportedly used highly abusive language with regard to his opponents. "I prohibit you from taking the floor in accordance with the rules of procedure because of your hooligan's actions and your brazen mug," Chernovetskyy told Councilor Mykhaylo Brodskyy. "All those who have so far treated Leonid Chernovetskyy as a fool who came to power as a result of fatal misunderstanding, have now seen that the post of mayor was taken by an absolutely inadequate person who poses a threat to the life of normal people," the YuTB said in a statement after the session. JM

RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTER VISITS KYIV. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov came to Kyiv on December 7 to discuss the upcoming visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin to Ukraine by the end of this month, Ukrainian media reported. Ivanov met with his Ukrainian counterpart, Anatoliy Hrytsenko, as well as with President Viktor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych. Ivanov told journalists in Kyiv that Ukraine's potential NATO membership will affect relations with Russia. "Whether we want it or not, this step will certainly have an inevitable effect, one way or another, on our relations, for instance on cooperation in the military-industrial sector. We think this will happen, and not because a malicious Russia will want it to happen. Not at all. This will simply happen for objective reasons," Ivanov noted. JM

ARMENIAN FOREIGN MINISTER DEFENDS KARABAKH REFERENDUM. In a statement released by his ministry on December 7, Vartan Oskanian criticized the governments of Georgia, Ukraine, and Moldova for "meddling in an issue that does not concern them" by endorsing a statement at the behest of fellow GUAM member Azerbaijan, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. The four GUAM member states released a statement earlier this week affirming that the referendum to be held on December 10 on a new draft constitution for the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic constitutes a serious obstruction to the ongoing efforts to resolve the Karabakh conflict. That draft constitution defines the NKR as an independent state. Oskanian said that the NKR has built a "lawful, well-regulated internal governance system" and therefore has a legitimate right to a basic law. He said the main obstacle to resolving the conflict remains Azerbaijan's refusal to engage in direct talks with the NKR leadership, its leaders' militant rhetoric, and what he termed Baku's "persistent efforts to sidetrack" the negotiation process under the aegis of the OSCE Minsk Group. LF