Ukraine may face difficulties in paying for Russian natural gas in January if a "pause" in contacts with the IMF persists, the country's deputy prime minister said on Tuesday, according to RIA Novosti.

Ukraine, caught in a deep economic crisis, has been surviving on a $16.4 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund, also using the money to pay for gas to Russia. The fund was due to release the fourth, $3.8 billion, tranche by the end of the year, but has so far delayed the release.

Media reports said the IMF would resume cooperation with the ex-Soviet state after presidential elections due in January.

Hryhoriy Nemyrya said, as quoted by Ukrainian media, that there would be no payment problems in November and December, "but if the [IMF] program is delayed until January, it will be very difficult to pay."

"We do not want the recurrence of problems with gas supplies to Ukraine and transit to Europe on Christmas," Nemyrya said.

A bitter gas pricing and debt dispute between Moscow and Kiev at the start of the year led to a brief cutoff in supplies to Ukraine and transits to Europe, leaving millions of Europeans without gas in January. Ukraine transits around 80% of Russian gas bound for Europe. The EU exports about 20% of its gas needs from Russia.

Ukraine has paid Russia for gas supplies on time this year, but the country's Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko said the process had been "extremely difficult."

Ukraine has reported 25 billion cubic meters of gas in its storage facilities, which it says would be enough for the uninterrupted gas transit to Europe this winter.


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