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Ukraine Participation in Russian Economic Zone in Doubt

Ukraine's new leaders have stopped short of rejecting membership in a new Moscow-led economic bloc of four ex-Soviet republics, but say the plan could hurt their European Union aspirations.

After meetings Monday with Russia's visiting foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, Ukraine's President Viktor Yuschenko and foreign minister, Boris Tarsyuk, made clear the importance of strategic relations with their giant eastern neighbor. But they also emphasized their commitment to Ukraine's becoming a full member of the EU and of NATO.

Mr. Yushchenko's predecessor, Leonid Kuchma, agreed to Ukraine's joining the new bloc, which includes Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, but Kiev's participation is now in doubt under its new pro-Western president.

Mr. Yuschenko is to meet EU leaders in Brussels this week. EU officials say they are not ready to offer Ukraine membership, but have proposed a plan to strengthen ties.

Some information for this report provided by AFP and AP.

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