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RUSSIAN MP ON CIS, RUSSIA-UKRAINE RELATIONS, BEREZOVSKY CONTROVERSY

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MOSCOW, March 29 (RIA Novosti) - The Commonwealth of Independent States needs urgent though gradual reforms, insists Alexander Lebedev, deputy chairman of the CIS affairs committee of the State Duma, the Russian parliament's lower house. The way they are now, CIS agencies are sluggish and entangled in the red tape, he said to a RIA Novosti news conference.

As for Russian contacts with Ukraine, they ought to get on a pragmatic footing, remarked Lebedev.

He highlighted the number of secondary Russian-language schools spectacularly shrinking in Ukraine, of late. "If we do not like the developments, Russia's businessmen and government offices ought to take support of such schools on themselves. These agencies should promote the Russian language and culture everywhere outside Russia, for that matter. We cannot shift that duty on other countries," he noted.

"Now, if Ukraine wants to set up a Ukrainian-language school in Moscow, it should do the funding at its own expense. No one will have the slightest objections to the arrangement," added the parliamentarian.

A Russian-Ukrainian inter-parliamentary commission will gather for session in Moscow in May 2005. It will focus on the so-called "zero option". Ukraine has not ratified a respective agreement to this day, Lebedev pointed out.

The post-Soviet countries signed it back in 1992, with Russia, as the Soviet Union's legal successor, pledging to pay Soviet debts in exchange for Soviet overseas property.

Alexander Lebedev also commented on President Viktor Yushchenko's decision to come to Moscow for celebrations of the Victory's 60th anniversary on May 8, instead of the next day, as previously scheduled. "The Ukrainian President has well substantiated his decision. I think his explanations were quite adequate - he wants to spend May 9 in his own country. It would be wrong to leave Ukrainian WWII veterans on their own on the important day."

President Yushchenko has not yet determined his schedule for May 9, and the final decision on that matter should be made by veteran organizations, Irina Gerashchenko, presidential press secretary, announced yesterday.

The presidential secretariat is considering another option, for President Yushchenko to spend at least an hour in Moscow on May 9, a secretariat functionary said to Novosti-Ukraine news agency.

As Yushchenko said on a previous occasion, he is determined to attend the Victory celebrations in Ukraine, and so will visit Moscow the day before.

As for the Berezovsky controversy, it will certainly not hamper the progress of Russia's contacts with Ukraine. The issue has been bloated, and does not deserve the great attention paid it now, stressed Lebedev.

"One can say Berezovsky is doing Ukraine a bad turn with the best of intentions but then, he has no impact whatsoever on bilateral contacts," he added.

Business tycoon and political activist, Boris Berezovsky is suspected of big swindles through abuse of office. Russia entered him on the international wanted list in 2002. The UK granted him political asylum the next year. Berezovsky recently applied to Ukraine's migration service, and it is considering the possibility of granting him entry.

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