Ukraine's national oil and gas company Naftogaz will pay off its current debt to RosUkrEnergo, the sole supplier of Russian and Central Asian gas to Ukraine since the start of 2006, before the end of the year, Ukraine's fuel and energy minister said Friday, RIA Novosti reported.

RosUkrEnergo signed a deal in late October with UkrGazEnergo, the trader's joint venture with Naftogaz, by which at least 55 billion cubic meters of gas from Central Asia will be supplied to the country in 2007, at $130 per 1,000 cubic meters.

"Naftogaz's debt to RosUkrEnergo at the end of the heating season stood at about $600 million. Half of it has already been discharged through credits. The second half will be cleared before the end of the year - unfortunately, also through credits," Yuriy Boyko said.

The minister said the debt was incurred through the incompetence of Naftogaz's previous management, adding that the company's financial situation is gradually improving.

RosUkrEnergo receives a mixture of Russian and Central Asian gas from Russian energy giant Gazprom, which owns 50% of the company, and sells most of it to Ukraine, exporting the remainder to Europe.

The company said it has already signed contracts for 42 billion cubic meters of gas with Turkmenistan, 8.5 billion cubic meters with Kazakhstan, and 7 billion cubic meters with Uzbekistan for 2007.

Last month, Fitch Ratings placed Naftogaz local and foreign currency issuer default ratings of B+ (B plus) on Rating Watch Negative (RWN) due to an increase in the price it will pay for Russian natural gas in 2007.

The price increase from the current $95 to $130 per 1,000 cubic meters will likely further negatively affect the company's financial profile, which seems to have lost its dominant position on the Ukrainian domestic gas market, the agency said in a statement.

Fitch said it does not believe the government will make any direct liquidity injection in the event that Naftogaz is unable to discharge its liabilities as they become due, regardless of the Fuel and Energy Ministry's letter to Naftogaz's syndicated bank lenders, in which it pledges to support any actions of the company aimed at improving its financial position and averting its bankruptcy.


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