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...AND SAYS RUSSIA HAS NO PLANS FOR BASES IN CSTO COUNTRIES. Security Council Secretary Ivanov also said on 29 November that Russia has no plans to open any new military bases on the territory of CSTO member countries, RIA-Novosti reported the same day. He added the CSTO is "getting on its feet" and is "stepping up cooperation" with the Commonwealth of Independent States and has "started contacts with NATO" and the Eurasian Economic Community, the United Nations, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. "We are positive that cooperation with other organizations will help ensure our security," Ivanov said. Many analysts consider the CSTO an instrument of Russian foreign policy designed to prevent the further eastward expansion of NATO, RIA-Novosti reported. In other comments, Ivanov also warned Ukraine that technological cooperation between Kyiv and Moscow could be jeopardized should Ukraine join NATO, Russian news agencies reported the same day. BW
GEORGIA ASSESSES IMPACT OF INCREASE IN RUSSIAN GAS PRICE. Speaking in Moscow on 29 November, Gazprom Deputy Chairman Aleksandr Ryazanov confirmed that his company will raise gas prices in 2006 to $110 per thousand cubic meters for Armenia and Georgia, compared with the current $60, Caucasus Press reported. He also announced similar prices increases for the Baltic states, Ukraine, and Moldova. Iveri Shalamberidze, who is a spokesman for Georgia's National Energy Regulatory Commission, estimated on 29 November that that increase will translate into a 35-percent price increase for gas consumers in Georgia, Caucasus Press reported. Also on 29 November, Georgian International Gas Corporation President David Ingorokva said Russia has refused to transport Kazakh gas to Georgia via its pipeline system, Caucasus Press reported. During a visit to Astana earlier this month, Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli negotiated an agreement under which Kazakhstan agreed to provide Tbilisi with 2 billion cubic meters of gas at a cost of $68 per thousand cubic meters. LF
UKRAINIAN PREMIER UPBEAT ON GAS TALKS WITH RUSSIA. Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov told journalists on 29 November that there will be progress "soon" in Ukrainian-Russian talks on Russian gas transit across Ukraine and Russian gas supplies to Ukraine in 2006, Reuters reported. Yekhanurov's words followed Gazprom's accusations on 28 November that Kyiv is sabotaging the talks by insisting on prices far below European market levels. "As far as we are concerned, the talks are proceeding normally. If someone is getting excited, that's his problem. Russia is making proposals, as is Ukraine. The gap in the positions is closing," Yekhanurov said. Meanwhile, Gazprom deputy head Aleksandr Medvedev told journalists on 30 November that Gazprom has proposed a "compromise" price for Russian gas supplies to Ukraine in 2006 -- $160 per 1,000 cubic meters, up from $50 per 1,000 cubic meters in 2005, Interfax-Ukraine reported. "If we had proposed a European-level price for gas as of 1 January, it would have been significantly higher than $160," Medvedev said. "The talks with Ukraine disturb us, as there is no progress," he added. JM
UKRAINIAN PARTY REPORTEDLY MOVES TOWARD REFERENDUM ON NATO, SES ENTRY. The Central Election Commission has agreed to register initiative groups seeking a referendum on Ukraine's accession to NATO and the Single Economic Space (SES) -- a declared community comprising Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine, Interfax-Ukraine reported on 30 November, quoting Olha Buyanovska, a spokeswoman for Social Democratic Party-united (SDPU-o) lawmaker Nestor Shufrych. According to Buyanovska, the commission also decided that signatures in support of the referendum should be collected by 1 March 2006. In order to hold a referendum in Ukraine, an initiator needs to collect no fewer than 3 million signatures in at least two-thirds of the country's regions within three months. The SDPU-o filed a motion to seek a referendum on Ukraine's NATO and SES membership to the Central Election Commission last week. JM
UKRAINIAN PROSECUTORS PROBE DEATH OF FORMER REGIONAL GOVERNOR. Regional prosecutors in Lviv has opened a criminal case in connection with the murder of Stepan Senchuk, Lviv Oblast governor from 1999-2001, Interfax Ukraine reported on 29 November. Earlier the same day Senchuk was found shot dead, lying beside his car in a village near Lviv. Senchuk joined the pro-presidential Our Ukraine People's Union earlier this year. JM
Azerbaijan's law-enforcement agencies claim they have made progress in an investigation into an alleged coup attempt involving a string of former cabinet ministers. In a joint statement released on 1 November, the Prosecutor-General's Office, the Interior Ministry, and the National Security Ministry said they had collected evidence showing more former government officials were plotting with the opposition to overthrow President Ilham Aliyev's government ahead of the 6 November parliamentary elections. Also on 1 November, some of the alleged plotters confessed to their purported crimes on AzTV, Azerbaijan's State Television.
Prime-time television featured on 1 November four of the alleged plotters. They included former Finance Minister Fikrat Yusifov; Fikrat Sadyqov, the former head of Azerbaijan's state-controlled Azerkimya petrochemical company; former Health Minister Ali Insanov; and former presidential administration official Akif Muradverdiyev.
Yusifov was arrested on 16 October, hours before the expected return to Azerbaijan of exiled opposition leader Rasul Quliyev. Azerbaijan's law-enforcement agencies say Yusifov's initial confessions made possible all subsequent arrests.
Authorities say some 13 former cabinet ministers, government officials, business executives, and police officers have been detained in the past two weeks on charges that include preparation of a coup, illegal possession of weapons, embezzlement, and corruption.
Rights campaigners and independent media, however, say the number of detainees is much higher.
The "Ekho" daily newspaper last week reported that some 30 people had been arrested since 16 October.
Fikrat Huseynli, who introduced himself as a member of a committee to protect the rights of the detainees, said 1 November in Baku that, according to his own estimates, up to 70 government officials have been either arrested or sacked in recent days.
Confessing on state television, Yusifov said the alleged plot had been maturing for years. Answering questions from an invisible prosecuting judge, the former finance minister said Quliyev first contacted him from his self-exile four years ago.
"In June 2001 -- I was then preparing my Ph.D. at St. Petersburg University of Finance and Economy -- Quliyev phoned me from the United States and told me that he was planning to return to Azerbaijan soon. He told me that, for him to do so, he needed to settle a number of problems, first and foremost, organizational problems," Yusifov said.
A former parliament speaker and a one-time ally of late President Heidar Aliyev, Quliyev has been living in exile since 1996. He is wanted in Azerbaijan on embezzlement charges that he denies.
Quliyev, who chairs the opposition Democratic Party of Azerbaijan (ADP), has been registered as a candidate in the upcoming legislative election. However, Azerbaijani authorities have threatened to arrest him as soon as he enters the country.
On 17 October, Quliyev was detained in Ukraine while reportedly flying to Baku from London. A Simferopol court eventually ordered his release, saying there was insufficient ground to extradite him to Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijani authorities claim the alleged plot they foiled last month envisioned that ADP activists take control of the Baku international airport upon Quliyev's return. Then, according to the authorities, they would march on the city center to overthrow the government.
Quliyev has described government claims that he was planning to seize power forcibly as "fairy tales."
But on 1 November, Yusifov assured television viewers that the government's claims are true. Asked by the prosecuting judge why he believed Quliyev had chosen him to organize his return to Azerbaijan, he said: "He probably thought that I would agree to solve the financial problems linked to his coming to power and conduct things with precision. This is probably why he banked on. At the same time, he probably knew he could entrust me with other tasks connected to his coming to power. [Again], this is probably why he banked on me."
In a joint statement released late on 1 November, the Prosecutor-General's Office, the Interior Ministry, and the National Security Ministry said Yusifov had confessed to receiving more than $300,000 from Quliyev to organize the alleged coup. According to Sadyqov, the money was primarily meant to finance street protests.
The statement said it was former Health Minister Ali Insanov who gave Yusifov the money. Insanov is one of the government officials who was sacked and arrested in recent days.
Yusifov said on 1 November other secret funds went through Sadyqov, the former head of the petrochemical company Azerkimya. According to Yusifov, those funds went to Eldar Salayev, a former president of Azerbaijan's Academy of Sciences. The 72-year-old Salayev, who is a relative of Quliyev, has been charged with being part of the alleged plot.
"All in all, up until the very last day -- that is 16 October -- Sadyqov released some $50,000 and, upon Quliyev's request, gave this money to Eldar Salayev who lives [on the same street]," Yusifov said.
Whether Yusifov's televised confessions were obtained under duress was not immediately clear. He said during the broadcast that he was speaking on his own free will, but that could not be independently confirmed.
ADP leader Quliyev, who went back to London after his release from Ukrainian custody, has said that he will return to Baku to take part in the 6 November elections.
But most of Azerbaijan's political analysts have been questioning whether he will do so. (RFE/RL Azerbaijani Service contributed to this report.)