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MINISTER SAYS MOSCOW AND MINSK CAN OFFSET NATO EXPANSION. Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov said in Minsk on April 20 that Russia and Belarus can help offset any "threats" posed by NATO expansion by working together, Interfax reported. He argued that "we are following and assessing the results of NATO expansion policy, changes in the system of U.S. military bases in Europe, and a number of other important issues from the point of view of the security of our countries. I am certain that thanks to efforts by our states in the defense area, we will have opportunities to diminish and neutralize any modern challenges and threats." First Deputy Prime Minister Ivanov and other top Russian officials have charged in recent weeks that NATO expansion into former Warsaw Pact countries and former Soviet republics poses a threat to Russia's security and violates alleged promises made by the alliance to Russia. NATO already expanded eastward in 1999 and 2004, and Moscow appeared to have come to terms with that fact. Western media suggest that recent Russian statements about NATO expansion reflect primarily opposition to possible NATO membership for Georgia and Ukraine. PM
...AND PASSES RESOLUTION ON RESOLVING UKRAINIAN POLITICAL CRISIS. PACE has passed a resolution offering recommendations to the Ukrainian authorities on how to overcome the ongoing political crisis in the country, Interfax reported on April 19. PACE recommends that Ukraine approve and adopt without delay laws on the regulations of the Verkhovna Rada, on temporary parliamentary special and investigative commissions, on central bodies of executive power, and on the opposition. According to PACE, Ukraine should also bring the law on the Cabinet of Ministers into compliance with the Ukrainian Constitution. PACE further suggests changes to the electoral system to improve the procedure of organizing early elections in the event parliament is dissolved, and the introduction of open election lists for voters. The organization also urged the two sides to engage in open and constructive dialog. AM
UKRAINIAN CONSTITUTIONAL COURT ANNOUNCES INTENTION TO HOLD CLOSED SESSION. Olena Lukash, a justice of the Constitutional Court who serves on behalf of the Ukrainian government, told reporters on April 19 that the court will soon enter into closed-door proceedings into the constitutionality of the presidential decree dissolving the Verkhovna Rada, Interfax reported. "The closed stage will begin in one or two days, when justices will withdraw to discuss all positions and make a decision," Lukash said. Former Verkhovna Rada speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn said the same day that Ukrainians will question any court decision on the presidential decree. "I think we all acknowledge that the Constitutional Court does not exist in Ukraine," Lytvyn said. "People are frankly saying [about the Constitutional Court]: 'You are all scoundrels.'" Meanwhile, 57 Ukrainian lawmakers demanded on April 19 that the Security Service step up its investigations into possible corruption by Constitutional Court Judge Syuzanna Stanik (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 17 and April 18, 2007). AM
CONSTITUTIONAL COURT JUSTICE ANNOUNCES INTENTION TO RESIGN. Volodymyr Shapoval, who serves as a Constitutional Court justice on behalf of Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, has announced that he will submit his resignation after the court rules on the constitutionality of the presidential decree dissolving parliament, "Ukrayinska pravda" reported on April 20. Shapoval explained his move by the lack of "the unquestionable confidence of society" in the Constitutional Court. Shapoval said he will remain on Yushchenko's team and is ready to work for the president in any capacity. Shapoval described "the existence of the professional and independent Constitutional Court" as a cornerstone of democracy and the law. "It is hard for me to imagine a situation," Shapoval said, "in which the justice of the highest court suspected of corruption does not put forward a resignation in order to prevent any doubts of his/her objectivity." AM