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Eggs flying in Parliament, Ukraine approves deal for closer Russia ties

The Ukraine parliament approved a deal today to extend a Russia naval lease on Sevastopol in exchange for cheaper gas, despite an egg-throwing fracas by enraged opposition members.

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But Mr. Yushchenko was turned out by Ukraine's electorate earlier this year, in part because many Ukrainians appeared anxious over souring ties with Moscow.

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After being elected president, his rival Yanukovich ended Ukraine's bid to join NATO earlier this month. Analysts say he is negotiating fresh deals that might reintegrate Ukraine's aviation industry with Russia's and allow Russia's state-run gas behemoth, Gazprom, greater control over the country's vital network of gas pipelines.

On Monday, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who is currently visiting Kiev, dropped another bombshell.

"We have just formulated an offer which we would like to discuss,” Mr. Putin said in a meeting with Yanukovich. "At issue is large-scale cooperation between our nuclear sectors. We are offering to establish a major holding, which would unite our generation, nuclear engineering, and nuclear fuel cycles.... If Ukrainian specialists find this to be too revolutionary, then we could act in phases."

Nuclear cooperation?

Russia has heavily invested in an expansion of its own nuclear power industry, and a union with Ukraine, which operates four atomic power stations with 15 Soviet-built reactors, would be a big boost to those plans.

It would also nail down Ukraine as a captive market for Russian energy companies for decades. Still reeling under the radioactive legacy of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, Ukraine had been moving to wean itself completely from nuclear power.

"I don't see any reason to get upset if Russia and Ukraine are moving to restore some economic synergies," says Dmytro Vydrin, deputy secretary of the National Security and Defense Council, a key presidential advisory body. "The opposition thinks Russia is the source of all dangers and any cooperation with it is some kind of sell-out. But economic cooperation isn't a threat to our sovereignty, and it can be very beneficial."

But cooperation doesn't mean a new Soviet Union

Ukraine's leading pollster, Vladimir Paniotto, director of the independent Kiev International Institute of Sociology, says Ukraine's economically hard-hit public strongly supports the restoration of ties with Russia, at least for now.

"Over 60 percent of Ukrainians in recent polls supported the idea of joining the Russia-Belarus Union," which is a common market and partial political union, he says. "As for extending the Russian Black Sea Fleet's lease in Crimea, 63 percent say they are in favor," Mr. Paniotto said in a telephone interview from Kiev.

But analysts say Yanukovich is likely to balk at joining a common market with Russia, and even nationalist politicians in Moscow aren't much interested in restoring the former Soviet system with all its waste and unwanted burdens.

"There is no chance that developing economic cooperation will lead to reinventing the Soviet Union in any form," says Vladimir Zharikhin, deputy director of the official Institute of the Commonwealth of Independent States in Moscow.

"Ukraine can play a good role as a bridge between Russia and the European Union, and we can all profit from that. But nobody wants to go back to the USSR."

Olga Podolskaya contributed reporting from Moscow.

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