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U.S. SLAMS MOSCOW AND MINSK OVER ENERGY DISPUTES. U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters on January 4 that the recent gas dispute between Minsk and Moscow shows that Russia uses energy for political purposes, state.gov reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 3, 2007). He noted that the Russian authorities "are trying to use their energy resources as a political lever and most especially with neighbor[ing] states. We saw it with Ukraine last year. We saw it with Georgia. We see it with Belarus now. [All this offers a] lesson about the importance of maintaining and developing multiple sources of energy supply, as well as multiple means to convey those energy supplies." Referring to the ongoing dispute between Minsk and Moscow over oil, McCormack said that the regime of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka is trying to "keep its skim while...[re]exporting this oil. It's just another example [of the] rotten core of this regime, [which uses]...resources for the personal profit of the leadership" (see Part II). PM
BELARUSIAN PROSECUTORS REJECT APPEAL OVER PRESIDENT'S CONFESSION THAT BALLOT WAS RIGGED. The Prosecutor-General's Office has notified Anatol Lyabedzka, chairman of the opposition United Civic Party, that it has rejected his appeal to launch an investigation over President Lukashenka's statement that the 2006 presidential election was rigged, Belapan reported on January 4. Speaking to a group of Ukrainian reporters in Minsk in November, Lukashenka claimed that he actually won many more votes than announced by the election authorities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 24, 2006). "Yes, we falsified the last election. I have already told the Westerners [about this]. As many as 93.5 percent of voters voted for President Lukashenka. But they said this was not a 'European' result. So we made it 86 [percent]," Lukashenka admitted in November. The Prosecutor-General's Office replied to Lyabedzka that it does not have evidence of election falsification. "Interestingly, I had appealed directly to the prosecutor-general but received the reply from a departmental chief. This means that the office's top-ranking officials are reluctant to assume responsibility for the rule of law in the country," Lyabedzka told Belapan. JM
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT VETOES PROLONGATION OF LAND SALE MORATORIUM. Viktor Yushchenko has vetoed a bill passed by the Verkhovna Rada in December to prolong the moratorium on farmland sales by one year, until January 1, 2008, Ukrainian media reported on January 3. Yushchenko said in his veto that prolonging the land-sale ban would only widen the use of legal loopholes and shadow-economy schemes in redistributing farmland in Ukraine, as well as limit the constitutional right of citizens to dispose of their property. The Verkhovna Rada needs 300 votes to override a presidential veto. Lawmaker Mykhaylo Pozhyvanov from the pro-presidential Our Ukraine bloc told UNIAN that he thinks that parliament may mobilize enough votes to reject the land-sale veto. JM
RADIO FREE EUROPE/RADIO LIBERTY, PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC
A Survey of Developments in Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova by the Regional Specialists of RFE/RL's Newsline Team.
NOTE TO READERS: The next issue of "RFE/RL Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova report" will appear on January 23.
POSSIBLE ENERGY SOLUTION IN COAL BEDS. In the wake of Ukraine's announced plans to reduce its dependence on imported natural gas by using more coal for power generation, Ukraine's own enormous reserves of methane have been touted as a better alternative. The problem is finding a way to harness it.
Ukraine is believed to be sitting on more gaseous fuel than its principal supplier of natural gas, Turkmenistan.
Estimated reserves of 11-12 trillion cubic meters of coal-bed methane would give Ukraine at least three times the amount of natural gas in Turkmenistan, and four times that in Russia's Shtokman gas field.
Considering Ukraine's plans to reduce its dependence on imported natural gas, including through the increased use of coal for power generation, tapping into such a wealth of fuel would be a boon.
However, much of Ukraine's methane goes to waste -- raising environmental concerns as it is released into the atmosphere.
Ukraine's government estimates that up to 3 billion cubic meters of methane escapes from its coal beds every year, contributing to Ukraine's ranking as one of the world's top-10 emitters of methane.
It is believed that taking steps to reduce methane emissions, which constitute 16 percent of all greenhouse-gas emissions globally, may help reduce the impact of global warming.
Yet despite the potential economic and environmental benefits, little has been done to capture Ukraine's methane.
While initiative is not lacking, foreign investment, modern technology, and expertise are.
Ukraine has taken steps to remedy this. In October 2006 the government began to explore the possibility of allowing Florida-based Itera Energy to develop a pilot project for extracting methane in Ukraine's Donbas coal-mining region.
Itera Energy, which has successfully extracted coal-bed methane in the United States, plans to conduct geological tests in select Ukrainian mines to determine how much gas is available and the feasibility of capturing it.
If the tests pan out, the company plans to extract some 600 million cubic meters of methane in 2007 and sell it to Ukrainian enterprises for around $135 per 1,000 cubic meters -- the same price Gazprom is charging Ukraine for natural gas in 2007.
Locally produced methane could prove to be extremely beneficial to the highly industrialized Donbas region, where chemical enterprises have demanded that the parliament and government lower natural-gas prices in order to remain profitable.
For Ukraine as a whole, tapping into a new domestic energy resource could prove to be both profitable and beneficial. The country could potentially save millions of dollars in import costs as it works to restore its traditional role as an energy exporter.
After all, Ukraine was the largest producer of natural gas in the Soviet Union until the 1970s, when Moscow decided to shift investments in the gas industry to the Yamal Peninsula and Central Asia. (Roman Kupchinsky)
"RFE/RL Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova Report" is prepared by Jan Maksymiuk on the basis of a variety of sources including reporting by "RFE/RL Newsline" and RFE/RL's broadcast services. It is distributed every Tuesday.