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PUTIN'S POLICY RAISES QUESTIONS. Sergei Mironov, who is the speaker of the upper house of Russia's parliament, the Federation Council, said on April 26 that President Putin's decision to suspend Russian compliance with the CFE is Russia's "first asymmetric response" to missile defense, which presumably means that other steps could follow, news agencies reported. Germany's "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" wrote on April 27 that Russia itself has not met many of its obligations under international arms-control agreements and should think again before criticizing others. The paper suggested that Putin's aggressive anti-American and anti-Western statements and policies in recent months recall Soviet rhetoric and behavior and a desire to enjoy the respect and fear that the Soviet Union once inspired abroad. The daily also drew parallels between his domestic political policies regarding democracy and free speech and those of his Soviet-era predecessors. The paper suggested that his belligerence is also intended to deter NATO from eventually expanding into Georgia and Ukraine. Some other German commentators noted that Russia may be overplaying its hand in using missile defense and the CFE as issues to promote splits within NATO and the EU and to pave the way for new arms projects it has already decided on. Those commentators argued that Putin's tough Soviet-style rhetoric and his "democracy deficit" at home make it difficult for those European politicians who would like closer relations with Russia to take such a position before their voters. The BBC suggested on April 26 that Putin knows that the Europeans are dependent on Russian energy supplies and that he consequently need not heed their opinions. PM
UKRAINIAN PREMIER CUTS SHORT VISIT TO UZBEKISTAN OVER DOMESTIC POLITICAL CRISIS. Viktor Yanukovych met with Uzbek President Islam Karimov and Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyoev in Tashkent on April 26 to discuss the development of bilateral relations, the state news agency UzA reported. Yanukovych cut short his visit, however, in reaction to a decree by Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko to dissolve parliament and set new elections for June 24, Interfax reported. In their talks in Tashkent, Yanukovych and Mirziyoev voiced hopes that their countries could increase bilateral trade to $1 billion in 2007, qs.kiev.ua reported. According to the news agency, bilateral trade volume was $280.4 million in 2004, $330.8 million in 2005, and $615.3 million in 2006. DK
BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION MARKS CHORNOBYL ANNIVERSARY. Several thousand people took part in the Chornobyl Way march organized by the opposition in Minsk on April 26 to commemorate the 21st anniversary of the explosion at the Chornobyl nuclear power plant, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. Participants included opposition leaders Vintsuk Vyachorka, Anatol Lyabedzka, and Syarhey Kalyakin. Former opposition presidential candidate Alyaksandr Milinkevich did not join the march, reportedly objecting to the fact that demonstrators marched along the route imposed by the city administration and not along the one they originally planned. Some 20 young people were reportedly beaten and detained by riot police after the march ended. They were subsequently released after being fingerprinted. Meanwhile, President Alyaksandr Lukashanka, who on April 26 was touring Chornobyl-affected regions in eastern Belarus, said the government will spend $1.5 billion on its Chornobyl relief programs from 2007-10. JM
UKRAINIAN COALITION LAWMAKERS APPEAL AGAINST SECOND PRESIDENTIAL DECREE ON SNAP ELECTIONS. A total of 160 deputies from the parliamentary coalition of the Party of Regions, the Socialist Party, and the Communist Party have asked the Constitutional Court to rule if President Viktor Yushchenko's decree of April 26 on rescheduling early elections until June 24 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 26, 2007) is constitutional, Interfax-Ukraine reported on April 27, quoting Constitutional Court spokesman Ivan Abramov. Abramov added that on April 27 the court will continue to examine the constitutionality of Yushchenko's decree of April 2, whereby he dissolved the Verkhovna Rada and scheduled early elections for May 27. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, who cut short his trip to Central Asia and returned to Kyiv on April 26, said on April 27 during a meeting with Council of Europe Secretary-General Terry Davis that Yushchenko signed his new decree on early elections out of fear that the Constitutional Court's ruling on his April 2 decree would not be in his favor. "We must acknowledge that the situation is sharply worsening, and we will apparently witness new waves of organized civil protests both against parliament and the president. The signs are that the crisis will drag out," Ukrainian political analyst Andriy Yermolayev commented to Interfax on Yushchenko's new decree. JM
U.S. CALLS FOR MULTILATERAL TALKS ON TRANSDNIESTER. The United States on April 26 called for the resumption of five-party talks on the future of Moldova's breakaway region of Transdniester, Moldovan media reported the same day. David Kramer, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, told journalists in Chisinau that talks should immediately resume in the old 5+2 format, which brings together Moldova, Transdniester, and mediators from Russia, Ukraine, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), with the EU and the United States allowed to observe. Multilateral talks were suspended in February when Transdniestrian representatives refused to return to the negotiating table. That breakdown in multilateral dialogue followed a year after the last 5+2 meeting. However, an April 13 report by the Jamestown Foundation suggested Moldova and Russia were nearing a bilateral deal containing substantial concessions to Moscow and Tiraspol (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 23, 2007). It is not clear whether the visit by Kramer was prompted by the report, but the statement by Kramer, who acted as Washington's observer in earlier 5+2 meetings, is only the latest indication of heightened Western activity since the article. The EU's special representative to Moldova, Kalman Mizsei, on April 21 flew to Moscow for talks on Transdniester at which, according to euobserver.com on April 23, U.S. diplomats were present, while, according to a report by the Basa news agency, Romania called on April 26 for a return to the old format. Romania is not a party to the talks, but, as a neighbor of Moldova with a shared history, it has a particularly significant stake in developments in the region. Moldova itself discussed the issue of multilateral talks with Russia on April 24, local media reported the same day. The possibility of a deal between Moscow and Chisinau has raised questions about whether the EU's reluctance to embrace Moldova has encouraged a drift back toward Russia. Moldova's relationship with the EU has featured prominently in recent days, with French and Austrian officials backing Moldova's aspirations to join the EU during prearranged visits on April 25 and 26, and with the opening on April 25 of a European Commission-backed center in Chisinau that will process visa applications for four members of the EU. AG