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...AND VOWS NOT TO 'BLACKMAIL' RUSSIA WITH BELARUS'S 'BEACHHEAD' POSITION. President Lukashenka promised during a news conference on March 28 that he is not going to use Belarus's geopolitical position to "blackmail" Russia, Belapan reported. "The defense capability of Russia, Belarus, our common fatherland, is not subject to any blackmail," the Belarusian president said, adding that Belarus will honor all its military commitments to Russia. However, Lukashenka appears to have simultaneously suggested to Moscow what could happen if it ceased to be friendly toward Minsk. "Americans have announced the deployment of missile-defense installations in Poland, the Czech Republic -- NATO is on Russia's threshold today. Ukraine, Georgia, other [ex-Soviet] republics will join NATO if Americans decide on this. Tell me, what does our Belarus then become? This is the outpost, the beachhead that has always been our joint trump card," Lukashenka said. "We should not get bogged down in mutual accusations, or else they will separate us and do away with us separately," he added. He further assured Moscow that his current "talks with the West" are not intended to spoil relations between Belarus and Russia. Lukashenka did not elaborate on the nature of these talks. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT WARNS PARLIAMENT AGAINST 'IGNORING' CONSTITUTION. President Viktor Yushchenko has sent a letter to the Verkhovna Rada, urging lawmakers to adhere to the constitution while expanding the ruling coalition, Interfax-Ukraine reported on March 28. "As a guarantor of Ukraine's sovereignty, territorial integrity, constitution, and civil rights and freedoms, I cannot ignore any destructive processes and demand that the Verkhovna Rada and each deputy immediately stop ignoring constitutional rules, particularly those regulating the formation of a coalition," Yushchenko's letter reads. Yushchenko's concerns in this regard have been raised by the recent defection of a dozen opposition lawmakers to the ruling majority (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 23, 2007). According to the president, such defections distort the results of the 2006 parliamentary elections and violate "fundamental principles" of the constitution. Yushchenko threatened to take unspecified "appropriate steps" if the Verkhovna Rada disregards his appeal. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych defended the parliamentary turncoats on March 28 by saying that their move was caused by their desire to disassociate themselves from "destructive, destabilizing actions" of the opposition. "[The defections] were prompted by the destructive position of opposition leader Yuliya Tymoshenko, for instance, by her demand to sign a petition calling for the dissolution of parliament, or actions aimed at removing deputies from parliament," Yanukovych noted. JM

WILL UKRAINIAN OPPOSITION, GOVERNMENT SUPPORTERS CLASH THIS WEEKEND? The opposition, pro-presidential Our Ukraine bloc has warned against provocations that it claims the ruling coalition is allegedly preparing for an opposition rally planned to take place on Independence Square in Kyiv on March 31, Interfax-Ukraine reported. According to Anatoliy Lutsenko, head of the analytical service of the Our Ukraine People's Union, the ruling coalition has set up a special group that is recruiting "criminal elements" in eastern Ukrainian regions in order to bring them to Kyiv and foil the opposition demonstration. Lutsenko appealed to police to step in and prevent "provocations or any other forms of civic conflict" during the rally. The demonstration, organized jointly by Our Ukraine, the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, and the nascent People's Self-Defense movement, will take place under the motto "Het zRadu," which is a pun that involves the Ukrainian words "Rada" (Verkhovna Rada) and "zrada" (betrayal) and can be interpreted as "Down with the Rada" and/or "Down with the Betrayal." Meanwhile, Viktor Honcharuk, an official from the Kyiv city administration, told journalists on March 29 that, in addition to the opposition rally, a number of political meetings and pickets organized by the ruling Party of Regions and the pro-government Youth Union of Ukraine's Regions will take place in Kyiv from March 29 to April 3. JM