Gazprom will hold talks with Ukrainian authorities next week on Ukraine's preparations for the upcoming winter, a senior Gazprom official said Tuesday, RIA Novosti reported.

"We are working with [national oil company] Naftogaz Ukrainy and UkrGazEnergo to replenish Ukraine's underground gas storage facilities," said Alexander Ryazanov, deputy head of Gazprom's board.

Ryazanov said Gazprom planned to discuss replenishment of Ukraine's gas storage facilities with the Ukrainian government.

"We are waiting for the new government to be formed so that we could negotiate with those who hold the responsibility [for decisions]," he said.

Ryazanov said Naftogaz needed to pump 16 billion cu m of natural gas to provide for the upcoming cold season.

"Ukraine needs to pump 16 billion cu m of natural gas into its underground gas storage facilities by early October," he said. "But if it continues at the same pace, Ukraine will encounter the same problems this year as last year, which cannot but affect Russia."

Ryazanov said Ukraine had pumped only 3.6 billion cu m by June 15, which was far from enough.

He said the situation could be resolved in two ways. Naftogaz Ukrainy could independently buy the necessary gas from RosUkrEnergo or Gazprom and pump it into its underground storages.

The other solution, he said, would be for UkrGazEnergo or RosUkrEnergo to buy the gas from Gazprom, put it into storage and later sell it to Gazexport, for example, on the Ukrainian border.

Ryazanov also warned that if the next winter were as severe as the previous one, then 16 billion cu m of gas would not be enough.

"If the winter is like last year, then Ukraine will need 18-20 billion cu m of gas at least to meet its winter demand," he said, adding that Gazprom had agreed to discuss the issue with the Ukrainian energy minister.

Ryazanov also said that Ukraine was the only former Soviet gas consumer with which Gazprom had problems, although other Soviet republics were also paying higher prices for Russian natural gas.

"Although price hikes have badly hit some countries as well, Ukraine remains the only debtor," he said.

As part of Gazprom's attempt to raise natural gas prices for former Soviet countries to market levels, the energy giant said two weeks ago that it was seeking to increase the price for Moldova from $110 per 1,000 cubic meters in 2Q06 to about $160 in the second half of the year.

However, Ryazanov said that Moldova and Belarus, which is paying preferentially low prices at the moment but might have to pay more soon, both paid 100% for Russian gas supplies. Ukraine's debt, he said, has reached $370 million - the sum that Naftogaz owes Rosukrenergo, and Rosukrenergo owes Gazprom.

Ryazanov said Gazprom was assisting in Ukraine's negotiations with some European banks to secure a loan to pay the Russian gas debt.


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