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Ukraine gas payments hit by hryvnia drop:Naftogaz

KIEV, Dec 3 (Reuters) - A fall in the value of the hryvnia currency has cost Ukraine an additional $83 million in meeting the cost of gas shipments and disrupted attempts to pay arrears, the state oil and gas company Naftogaz said on Wednesday.

Naftogaz is holding talks in Moscow on resolving outstanding debts of about $2 billion and setting a price for 2009 supplies. It promised to pay $550 million in back payments by Dec. 1 but managed only $268.7 million.

Gazprom has said the price will leap to about $400 per 1,000 cubic metres from 179/.50 now if arrears are not settled.

A Naftogaz statement said payment was complicated by a steep drop in the value of the hryvnia from less than 5 to the dollar earlier this year to its current official rate of 7.24.

“In terms of making payments on foreign contracts a rate of 5.05 hryvnias was set,” it said.

“As a result of the decline in the hryvnia’s rate in October-November, the company has sustained unexpected losses of about 600 million hryvnias ($83 million).”

Fuel and Energy Minister Yuri Prodan told reporters Ukraine was hoping for a further rescheduling of debts.

“Talks are proceeding on resolving this issue, finding sources (to settle debts) and to secure rescheduling of payment,” he said on the sidelines of a cabinet meeting.

“A contract must still be signed by the New Year.”

Periodic rows over supplies and prices between Ukraine and Russia are followed closely in western Europe after a brief shutoff of gas in January 2006 affected customers.

Gazprom spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov said last week the two sides would resume talks -- but he did not identify the sum of outstanding Ukrainian debts.

Relations between Russia and Ukraine have worsened over the last few years partly because former Soviet Ukraine wants to join NATO despite the Kremlin’s objections. (Reporting by Pavel Polityuk, writing by Ron Popeski)

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