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BELARUS PUTS THE BRAKES ON CURRENCY UNION WITH RUSSIA. Belarus has postponed the introduction of the Russian ruble in noncash transactions that was planned for 1 July, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. "A decision by the head of state is necessary to make this step, but a [relevant] draft presidential decree, which was prepared by the National Bank in coordination with the government, has not been signed yet," Belarusian National Bank spokesman Anatol Drazdou said. Another National Bank official, Syarhey Dubkou, told journalists that President Alyaksandr Lukashenka returned the draft decree to the government last week for further examination. Dubkou said that scrutiny might take at least a month. The introduction of the Russian ruble in noncash transactions in Belarus is potentially a major step toward a Russia-Belarus currency union. The next planned moves are the pegging of the Belarusian ruble to the Russian ruble on 1 January 2004 and the introduction of the Russian ruble as the sole currency in Belarus on 1 January 2005. In the past two weeks, Lukashenka has repeatedly signaled that Belarus might back down on the currency merger. He claimed that Russia does not want to offer Belarus equal terms in the planned union and thus threatens his country's sovereignty (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 July 2003 and "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 25 June 2003). JM
UKRAINIAN PEACEKEEPERS TO START MISSION IN IRAQ IN SEPTEMBER. A Ukrainian brigade of some 1,800 peacekeepers will start its mission in the Polish-administered sector of Iraq on 1 September, Interfax reported on 2 July, quoting the Ukrainian Defense Ministry's press service. The brigade, a part of the Polish-led international division, will be deployed at a military airfield in Al-Kut, the capital of the Wasit Governate. Wasit's population is roughly 800,000 people, most of whom are Shi'a. The Ukrainian peacekeepers will replace 1,200 U.S. Marines who have been in Wasit for three months. Their duties will include patrolling two highways that connect the southern part of the country with Baghdad, escorting humanitarian cargos, and guarding the 120-kilometer border with Iran. JM
CANADA IMPOUNDS UKRAINIAN PLANE OVER DEBT CLAIM. Ukraine's State Property Fund has dismissed as "groundless" a claim by Cyprus-based TMR Energy Ltd. that the fund owes the company $42.3 million in connection with a 1993 contract involving the modernization of the Lysychansk Oil Refinery in eastern Ukraine, Interfax reported on 2 July. The claim was recognized by the Stockholm Arbitration Court in May 2002. Following a decision by a Canadian federal court recognizing the validity of the Stockholm ruling on Canadian territory, Canadian authorities on 26 June impounded a Ukrainian An-24 Ruslan cargo plane at a military base in Newfoundland. The cost of a Ruslan plane is estimated at $50 million-150 million. The Ukrainian State Property Fund has vowed to appeal the Stockholm court's ruling. JM
CREW JAILED AFTER GREEKS FIND EXPLOSIVES ABOARD UKRAINIAN CARGO SHIP. Greek prosecutors have charged the crew of a Ukrainian ship, "Baltic Sky," with illegally shipping nearly 700 tons of explosives to Sudan, Ukrainian Television reported on 1 July, quoting Foreign Ministry spokesman Markiyan Lubkivskyy. The ship was detained in Greece on 22 June and its crew of five Ukrainians and two Azerbaijanis was jailed in the town of Ioannina. JM