WRAPUP 3-Ukraine says repaid gas debt, Russia says not yet

Tue Dec 30, 2008 9:02pm GMT

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* Naftogaz says pays up debt of $1.52 bln for gas supplies

* Ukrainian state banks loan money, c.bank gives guarantee

* Gazprom says not seen money yet

By Tanya Mosolova and Pavel Polityuk

MOSCOW/KIEV, Dec 30 (Reuters) - Ukraine said on Tuesday it had fully paid its gas debt to Russia, but Russia said it did not yet have the money and talks continued to avoid a threatened Jan. 1 gas cut-off that could disrupt supplies to Europe.

Russia has said it will turn off the taps to Ukraine if it does not receive $2 billion in arrears and conclude a new supply deal, a threat that has alarmed European states which receive their Russian gas via pipelines passing through Ukraine.

State energy firm Naftogaz said late in the evening that $1.52 billion had reached the accounts of RosUkrEnergo, a supply intermediary.

"We have confirmation from banks that $1.522 billion is in the accounts of RosUkrEnergo," a spokesman told Reuters. "The payment has been made. Our debt has been paid off," he said.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko said earlier the payment made was for Russian gas supplied in November and an advance payment for December supplies.

"All impediments have therefore been removed for concluding a mutually beneficial and constructive agreement with our Russian partners for supplies of imported gas for Ukrainian consumers in 2009," Yushchenko said in a statement.

Russia's gas export monopoly Gazprom said earlier it had not received any money yet: "It is too early to talk about debt repayment," spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov told Reuters.

It was unavailable for comment after Naftogaz' statement.

A Ukraine government decree said Naftogaz would borrow up to $2 billion from two state banks and the country's central bank said it has taken measures allowing the repayment to Russia to take place.

Russia and Ukraine have yet to agree on the price of gas for 2009, a stumbling block that even if the debt is repaid, Gazprom could still go through with its threat to switch off the gas to its neighbour.

There was also uncertainty about the amount that Ukraine was to repay, since the two sides dispute the size of the arrears.

The two countries have been trading accusations daily in what is their fourth gas row in as many years, with Ukraine saying it owes less than the $2 billion Russia is claiming and that the price of gas that Russia wants to set for 2009 is too high.

Europe, which receives a quarter of its gas from Russia -- mainly via pipelines running across Ukrainian territory -- has called on both sides to reach a compromise.

A supply cut in January 2006 after a similar row between Kiev and Moscow briefly affected European consumers.

Gazprom plans to hold a news conference at 1100 GMT on Wednesday.

Gazprom has warned European customers it fears Ukraine could resume what it has in the past described as siphoning gas from transit pipelines. Kiev says it will respect all its obligations and that it has enough reserves in underground storage to withstand a cut.

The dispute is being played out as the economies of both countries grapple with the effects of the global financial crisis.

Many analysts have said that Ukraine, struggling with a mounting financial crisis that has not been resolved by an International Monetary Fund loan, will struggle to pay the debt.

Gazprom, which on Tuesday reported its results for the second quarter [ID:nLU10241], said it is being forced to refinance foreign debt with new, more expensive loans.

With total outstanding loans of $60 billion, Gazprom is Russia's most indebted company, and an inability to refinance as easily as in the past would put additional pressure on the gas giant to demand Ukraine pay up.

Kiev pays $179.50 per 1,000 cubic metres compared with $500 in Europe, where gas and oil prices are set to decline.

Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller warned Ukraine on Monday he could start charging market prices from 2009, which would result in a price jump to $418. Ukraine wants to switch to market prices gradually, but in exchange Gazprom wants concessions from Kiev. (Writing by Dmitry Zhdannikov; Editing by Christian Wiessner)

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