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Ukraine will pay its natural gas debt to Russia within
Ukraine will pay its natural gas debt to Russia within the next few hours, the country's national oil and gas company Naftogaz said on Tuesday.

"The process of payment will be completed in the next few hours. We will transfer $1.5 billion for November and December," Naftogaz spokesman Valentyn Zemlyanskiy said.

Following the Naftogaz announcement, Bohdan Sokolovskiy, an aide to President Viktor Yushchenko on energy security issues, said the payment of the debt paved the way for the preparation of contracts on gas deliveries to Ukraine for 2009, which could be signed as early as on Wednesday.

Russian gas monopoly Gazprom said it had not yet received the payment.

"We have not received the money, and it is premature to say the debt has been repaid," spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov said.

Gazprom earlier Tuesday reiterated its demand that Ukraine pay a $2 billion debt, a sum that includes fines accumulated for delayed payment, threatening to start reducing supplies as of January 1, 2009.

Ukraine's government said on Tuesday that Ukraine would borrow up to $2 billion from two state-run banks, Oshchadbank and Ukreksimbank, to pay its gas debt.

Gazprom chief Alexei Miller restated on Tuesday the company's position that Ukraine should also pay the market rate for Russian gas of $418 per 1,000 cu m from January 1. In 2008, Ukraine paid just $179.5.

The country has been badly hit by the global economic crisis, and sought $14.5 billion from the International Monetary Fund.

The European Union, which imports a quarter of its gas from Russia, pledged assistance in solving the ongoing gas dispute on Tuesday.

The 2006 gas row between the two former Soviet states resulted in a brief cutoff in supplies to Ukraine. When shortages were reported in some East European countries, Russia accused Ukraine of siphoning off Europe-bound gas. Ukraine transits about 80% of Russia's Europe-bound gas.

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