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NIYAZOV'S DEATH PROMPTS INTEGRATION HOPES, GAS WORRIES IN RUSSIA After coping with the loss of friendly regimes in Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan, the Kremlin is not eager to see a pro-Western government take root in energy-rich Turkmenistan.

EXILED TURKMEN OPPOSITION LEADERS VOW TO RETURN. Several leading members of Turkmenistan's exiled opposition announced on December 21 that they intend to return to their homeland following the death of President Niyazov, RFE/RL's Turkmen Service reported. In a statement from Stockholm, former Turkmen Deputy Prime Minister and opposition Watan (Homeland) movement leader Khudaiberdy Orazov announced on December 21 plans to cooperate with "other representatives of the opposition" to return to Turkmenistan "to participate in the presidential election," ITAR-TASS reported. Former Turkmen Foreign Minister Avdy Kuliev, a leader of the opposition Union of Democratic Forces of Turkmenistan, explained that his party's leadership intends to return to Turkmenistan in the "near future" and that they have a chartered plane in Ukraine ready for their use. Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko also announced on December 21 plans to attend the Turkmen state funeral. RG

RUSSIAN PRESIDENT HEADS TO KYIV FOR FACE-TO-FACE TALKS. Vladimir Putin arrived in Kyiv on December 22 for one-on-one talks with his Ukrainian counterpart Viktor Yushchenko and to participate in the inaugural session of an intergovernmental commission, Ukrainian and Russian media reported. Putin's last meeting with Yushchenko in Kyiv took place in March 2005. According to Russian presidential aide Sergei Prikhodko, both presidents will discuss issues connected with energy supplies, the two countries' bids to enter the World Trade Organization, and the Single Economic Space conceived by Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine in 2003. Ukrainian presidential spokeswoman Iryna Vannykova said Yushchenko and Putin are expected to sign five documents, including on readmission and border control. Yushchenko told Interfax-Ukraine on December 21 that Russia and Europe are equally important in Ukraine's foreign policy. "Ukraine has always been and will always be Russia's friend," Yushchenko added. JM

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT ENDORSES DISMISSAL OF SECURITY CHIEF. The Verkhovna Rada on December 22 approved the dismissal of Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) chief Ihor Drizhchanyy, Ukrainian media reported. The motion was supported by 407 deputies. A similar motion was rejected by parliament last week. President Yushchenko dismissed Drizhchanyy last month and earlier this month appointed him deputy secretary of the National Defense and Security Council. Under the Ukrainian Constitution, the nomination and release of the SBU chief by the president must be approved by parliament. Oleksandr Turchynov from the opposition Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc told journalists on December 22 that the ruling coalition may have endorsed the dismissal of Drizhchanyy in exchange for some compromise from the president. Earlier the same day, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych said Yushchenko signed the 2007 budget bill that was vetoed by him last week and amended by parliament earlier this week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 20, 2006). The amended budget bill reportedly ignored most reservations raised by Yushchenko in his veto. JM