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RUSSIAN CARGO CARRIER TO BUY FIVE BOEINGS. The Russian carrier Volga-Dnepr signed a $1 billion contract in Moscow on March 12 with Boeing to buy five new 747-8 long-range cargo aircraft, RIA Novosti and dpa reported. The planes will be supplied in 2007-08, and an additional five aircraft are reserved for delivery in 2010-13. Volga-Dnepr specializes in oversize cargo flights and has the world's largest fleet of Russian-built An-124 cargo jets. Airline President Aleksei Isaikin said the purchase "is an event of great importance, as it promotes our general strategic goal of joining the world's top 20 cargo carriers." Volga-Dnepr is also involved in a joint Russian-Ukrainian project to build the new An-124-100 aircraft, an updated version of the An-124 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 20, 2006, and January 8, 2007). PM
UKRAINIAN OPPOSITION WALKS OUT OF PARLIAMENTARY SESSION. The opposition parliamentary caucuses of the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc (BYuT) and Our Ukraine on March 13 left the ongoing parliamentary session, protesting against what they see as the parliamentary majority's reluctance to comply with their demands, Ukrainian media reported. "We are leaving this hall because honest politicians should not sanctify what is being done in parliament," Yuliya Tymoshenko told journalists. The previous day, in the presence of President Viktor Yushchenko, Tymoshenko and Our Ukraine parliamentary caucus head Vyacheslav Kyrylenko signed a joint statement, in which they reportedly put forward 17 demands with regard to the ruling coalition and appealed to the president to veto "lobbyist and corruption-breeding" legislation. The two opposition forces propose holding a national referendum to determine the form of government in Ukraine and drafting a new version of the constitution. The statement also includes demands that the Verkhovna Rada immediately confirm the presidential candidates for the post of foreign minister and chief of the Security Service; that the Verkhovna Rada dismiss Interior Minister Vasyl Tsushko and Prosecutor-General Oleksandr Medvedko; and that the government sign direct contracts on gas deliveries with Russia, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan, thus severing ties with the Swiss-based intermediary RosUkrEnergo. JM
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT CONDITIONALLY BACKS IDEA OF REFERENDUM ON CONSTITUTIONAL CHANGES. President Yushchenko said during a meeting with representatives of the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc and Our Ukraine in Kyiv on March 12 that he will give his support to the idea of holding a nationwide plebiscite on amendments to the constitution if the current conflict between power branches continues, Interfax-Ukraine reported. "I'm a supporter of asking people about the key points of constitutional amendments," Yushchenko said. Yushchenko believes that the 2004 constitutional reform has upset the balance between power branches and he urges the creation of a constitutional commission consisting of lawmakers, prominent public figures, journalists, and lawyers to prepare constitutional amendments. During the meeting, Yushchenko also called on opposition lawmakers to stay in their caucuses and not to join the ruling majority. "There will never be 300 votes [for the ruling coalition] in parliament -- there won't be so many traitors," Yushchenko noted. Parliament speaker Oleksandr Moroz predicted earlier this month that the ruling coalition would soon increase to include 300 legislators, that is, would have a constitutional majority, which would give the government the right to amend the constitution and override presidential vetoes. JM
MOLDOVA FREE TO EXPORT PRODUCE TO RUSSIA. Moldovan Deputy Agriculture Minister Anatol Spivacenco on March 12 announced that Russia has lifted restrictions on imports of Moldovan fruit and vegetables, the Basa news agency reported the same day. Spivacenco said the restrictions, which also affected tobacco, were lifted on March 6. However, all exports must go through one customs point and will be subject to hygiene checks on the border, he said. The restrictions were imposed in May 2005 on the grounds that Moldovan exporters "had not observed Russian and international norms." At the time, Moldovan officials dismissed the ban as politically motivated. Moldovan meat exports were banned at the same time and wine exports subsequently. Those restrictions were also lifted recently, though Moldovan exporters report continued obstacles (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 30, 2006, and January 29, 2007). Russia used to buy the overwhelming majority of Moldovan fruit and vegetable exports, Basa reported. According to official statistics reported by the news agency IPN on March 10, Moldova's total exports fell 3.6 percent in 2006. Exports to states in the Commonwealth of Independent States, including Russia, accounted for 40.3 percent of the total, down from 50.5 percent in 2005. At $235 million, Moldova's trade deficit with Russia was smaller only than its deficit with Ukraine. AG