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PUTIN SAYS RUSSIA WANTS 'FREE-TRADE ZONE' WITH UKRAINE. President Putin said after talks with Ukraine Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych in the Kremlin on 15 May that Russia is ready to create a "full-fledged free-trade zone" between the two countries, RIA-Novosti and polit.ru reported the same day. Putin admitted that Russia may initially suffer economic losses, but said they could be compensated for by increasing the volume of bilateral trade. Putin also said that he will meet with the presidents of Kazakhstan, Ukraine, and Belarus in the Crimea in the "nearest future" to finalize an accord on the Single Economic Space (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 and 26 April 2004). Meanwhile, Prime Minister Fradkov announced on 15 May after meeting with Yanukovych that in two or three weeks Moscow and Kyiv will sign a protocol abolishing taxes and duties within the free-trade zone. VY
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT SACKS PRO-EUROPEAN DEPUTY FOREIGN MINISTER... President Leonid Kuchma on 14 May dismissed Deputy Foreign Minister Oleksandr Chalyy, Ukrainian news agencies reported. Kuchma's decree states that the dismissal was requested by Chalyy, who wants to return to his former scientific and educational work. Chalyy, 50, was widely believed to be a staunch supporter of Ukraine's European integration while serving in Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych's cabinet. JM
...AND REAFFIRMS PRO-EUROPEAN COURSE. President Kuchma issued a message to compatriots on Europe Day, which is observed on 15 May, Interfax reported on 15 May, quoting the presidential press service. "Ukraine is firmly determined to move down the European road, the road of reform," the message read. "We will be consistent in continuing market transformations, strengthening the principles of democracy, and maintaining high living standards.... The course along which Ukraine is moving corresponds to the very deep strivings of the Ukrainian nation, which has always realized its historic belonging to the family of European nations." The Kyiv International Institute of Sociology and the Democratic Initiatives Fund found in a poll conducted in April that 51 percent of Ukrainians believe that their country should not join the EU at all and should keep "open borders" with Russia, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reported on 14 May. JM
U.S. COURT CONFIRMS INNOCENCE OF UKRAINIAN OPPOSITION LEADER, LAWMAKER SAYS. Oleksandr Turchynov, a lawmaker from the opposition Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, told the Verkhovna Rada on 14 May that the "campaign of repression" unleashed against Yuliya Tymoshenko by law enforcement bodies in Ukraine has collapsed, Interfax reported. Turchynov was commenting on U.S. Judge Martin Jenkins's 7 May decision to dismiss 23 of 53 counts of the indictment against former Ukrainian Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko, who is currently on trial in San Francisco (see "RFE/RL Organized Crime and Terrorism Watch," 12 May 2004). Notably, Jenkins dropped all charges relating to Unified Energy Systems of Ukraine, which was headed by Tymoshenko in 1996-97. The prosecution in San Francisco alleged that entities controlled by Tymoshenko's company gave Lazarenko bribes in the sum of $217 million. Turchynov added that now the entire world understands that the campaign to malign and persecute Tymoshenko was launched at the behest of President Leonid Kuchma. RK/JM
UKRAINIAN SINGER WINS EUROVISION SONG CONTEST. Ukrainian singer Ruslana (Lyzhychko) won the Eurovision Song Contest held in Istanbul, Turkey, on 15 May, with a frenetic performance of her song "Wild Dances," which she sang partly in English and partly in Ukrainian, international news agencies reported. Ruslana's victory means that Ukraine will host the 50th Eurovision Song Contest in May 2005. JM