Ukraine starts paying Russia gas bill: Gazprom,agency

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Ukraine has started to pay a Russian gas bill, the Russian gas monopoly Gazprom said on Sunday, reducing the danger of a standoff of the sort that threatened gas supplies to Europe two years ago.

A Soviet-era pipeline network transports a fifth of Europe’s gas from Russia across Ukraine, and European countries worry that a row between the two countries could cut their supplies -- as it did briefly in January 2006.

Gazprom says Ukraine owes it $2.4 billion for September-November gas supplies plus interest for late payment. Ukraine says it owes $2 billion.

“We see this money and are ready to resume negotiations on December 2 to resolve the issue of gas supplies,” Gazprom spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov told Vesti television, according to ITAR-Tass news agency. Kupriyanov did not say how much Ukraine had paid.

The row over payment erupted just as Russia and Ukraine were about to negotiate the price for gas supplies next year.

Relations between Russia and Ukraine have worsened over the last few years, partly because former Soviet Ukraine wants to join both NATO and the European Union -- ambitions which anger Russia.

Writing by James Kilner, editing by Tim Pearce