Ukraine's national energy company Naftogaz announced on Thursday it might face problems paying for natural gas supplied by Russia's Gazprom as debts of Ukrainian utility companies grow, RIA Novosti reported.

"The national joint stock company Naftogaz of Ukraine is giving notice of the possible deterioration of the situation with payments to Gazprom following a disastrous growth in utility companies' debts to its structures," Naftogaz said in a statement posted on its web site.

The utility companies' debt to Naftogaz currently stands at 4.57 billion hryvna ($575 million).

Ukraine's debts to energy giant Gazprom accumulated at the end of 2008 was among the major reasons for a gas conflict between Russia and Ukraine, which resulted in the suspension of natural gas supplies to the ex-Soviet republic on January 1. A week later, Gazprom cut off gas deliveries to the European Union via Ukraine, saying the country was stealing gas intended for EU consumers.

Gazprom and Naftogaz signed a gas supply and transit contract on January 19 following negotiations between Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart, Yulia Tymoshenko.

Under the terms of the new gas deal, Ukraine will have to pay Russia European market prices - set at $450 per 1,000 cu m for the first quarter - with a 20% discount in 2009 while transit fees fixed under a previous agreement have not been revised.

The deal also stipulates that Gazprom can demand Ukraine switch to 100% prepayments if it fails to pay for Russian gas supplies on time.


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