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U.S. GRANTS UKRAINE MARKET-ECONOMY STATUS. Deputy U.S. Commerce Secretary David Sampson announced in Kyiv on 17 February that the United States has designated Ukraine a market economy, Interfax reported. "We are pleased to announce that Ukraine has been granted market status as a result of economic, legal, and institutional reforms," Sampson said, adding that the designation took effect as of 1 February. Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko said the U.S. decision shows the world a high level of strategic partnership between the two countries and is evidence of U.S. support for reforms in Ukraine. AM

FORMER UKRAINIAN PREMIER URGES PRESIDENT TO CHALLENGE UKRAINE-RUSSIA GAS DEAL. Yuliya Tymoshenko said on 17 February that the January Ukrainian-Russian gas deal that raised the gas price to $95 per 1,000 cubic meters is contrary to "Ukrainian legislation and international standards," Interfax reported. "Under former agreements, the Ukrainian state has every legal reason to continue buying gas at $50 [per 1,000 cubic meters]," Tymoshenko said, adding that Ukrainian President Yushchenko should dispute January's deal at the Stockholm Court of Arbitration. Tymoshenko told journalists on 20 February that she could rebuild an Orange Revolution coalition with Yushchenko if he renounced the January gas deal, Reuters reported. AM

TURKMEN PRESIDENT SAYS UKRAINE MUST PAY GAS DEBTS... Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov told Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko in a telephone conversation on 19 February that Ukraine must pay off its debts for natural-gas shipments as soon as possible, reported. According to Niyazov, Ukraine's debt stands at $158.9 million, including $143.3 million for 2005. The conversation followed talks in Ashgabat on 17-18 February between Turkmen Oil and Gas Minister Gurbanmurat Ataev and a Ukrainian delegation headed by Energy Minister Ivan Plachkov and Naftohaz Ukrayiny head Oleksiy Ivchenko. A press release by Turkmenistan's Foreign Ministry described the Ukrainian delegation's position on the debt as "unconstructive," News Central Asia reported. Niyazov told Yushchenko that future cooperation between the two countries depends on Ukraine's willingness to settle the debt, reported. Yushchenko promised to take up the issue in the near future, the report stated. DK