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GERMAN CHANCELLOR CALLS FOR 'RELIABLE RELATIONS' WITH RUSSIA. In a major speech at the start of the German EU Presidency, Chancellor Angela Merkel told the European Parliament in Strasbourg on January 17 that the EU needs "reliable relations" with Russia, German media reported. She added that "we cannot ignore issues like freedom of the press, civil liberties, or conflicts in Russia's neighboring countries" in dealing with Moscow. Russia has attempted on several occasions over the past year to use energy as a political weapon in disputes with a neighboring country (most recently with Belarus), which left many Europeans without Russian gas and which have called into question Moscow's reliability as a partner (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 8, 9, 10, 11, and 16, 2007). Merkel reaffirmed her determination to negotiate a new EU-Russia comprehensive cooperation pact to replace the current Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, which runs out later in 2007. "Energy will be high on the agenda," she added. Poland is blocking talks on the new pact because of Russia's year-old prohibition on imports of Polish agricultural products, which Poland calls illegal and politically motivated. German and EU officials have said repeatedly in recent weeks that they expect the dispute to be resolved soon. President Vladimir Putin told foreign diplomats in the Kremlin on January 18 that Russia will continue to be a "reliable supplier of energy," Interfax reported. The weekly "Argumenty i fakty" noted on January 17 that "fuel has heated up the 'Cold War'" between Russia and the West. The state-run daily newspaper "Rossiiskaya gazeta" wrote that "our moves in raising [energy] prices for Ukraine [at the start of 2006] and Belarus were so clumsy that they seriously alarmed the Europeans." The paper also argued that "Russia won't be considered an energy power until it puts its own energy industry in order.... And while we're establishing ourselves as an energy power, the human race will discover some effective alternative energy sources. And we'll be left behind once again." PM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT SAYS HE WILL NOT SIGN BILL ON CABINET... Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko said on January 17 he will not sign a bill defining the powers of the Cabinet of Ministers that was recently approved by parliament, Interfax reported. The Verkhovna Rada first passed the bill in December, but it was vetoed and sent back with proposed amendments by Yushchenko, who believes the bill will restrict presidential powers. In approving the bill on January 12, the parliament overrode the presidential veto and ignored the suggested changes. "I reached an agreement with the prime minister [Viktor Yanukovych] that we would jointly draft a bill on the Cabinet of Ministers," Yushchenko said on January 17, adding that "the prime minister made a serious mistake when he turned to other institutions for consultations." According to Ukrainian legislation, the Verkhovna Rada speaker has the right to sign a vetoed bill if the president fails to do so within 15 days. AM

...AND HOPES CONSTITUTIONAL COURT WILL RESOLVE DISPUTE OVER FOREIGN MINISTER. Yushchenko said on January 17 he hopes that the Constitutional Court will support his position in a dispute over Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk's place in the cabinet, Interfax reported. The Verkhovna Rada dismissed presidential appointee Tarasyuk as foreign minister in December, but Yushchenko backed his return to that position. Prime Minister Yanukovych recently asked the Prosecutor-General's Office to take measures against Tarasyuk, questioning his right to represent Ukraine abroad. "Since the president is in charge of Ukraine's foreign policy under the constitution, this includes his right to nominate and dismiss the foreign minister," Yushchenko said, adding that "the Constitutional Court will put an end to this empty discussion." AM

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENTARIAN DIES FOLLOWING HUNTING ACCIDENT. Yevhen Kushnaryov, deputy chairman of the Party of Regions caucus in the Verkhovna Rada, died on January 17 as a result of a gunshot wound he received one day earlier during a hunting trip (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 17, 2007), Interfax reported on January 17. Kushnaryov suffered cardiac arrest while in intensive care. The Prosecutor-General's Office is considering the lawmaker's death reckless homicide. AM