(Adds details, Ukrainian aide)
MOSCOW, Dec 22 (Reuters) - Russian gas export monopoly Gazprom (GAZP.MM) stepped up pressure on Ukraine to pay debts, saying it had warned European customers about potential disruptions to gas transit should the company fail to clinch a deal with Kiev.
An aide to the president of Ukraine, through which about 80 percent of Russian gas exports to Europe flow, responded that Kiev was prepared to guarantee transit supplies to European Union countries in 2009.
Ukraine owes Gazprom (GAZP.MM) around $2 billion for gas supplies and European countries are watching the dispute nervously after a previous row between the two states led to a sharp cut in exports of the fuel to Europe in January 2006.
“We cannot rule out that the position of the Ukrainian side and certain steps, which are linked to gas transit through Ukrainian territory, could lead to a disruption of supply stability to Europe,” Russian First Deputy Prime Minister and Gazprom Chairman Viktor Zubkov said in a statement on Monday.
He said Gazprom had offered to let Kiev redeem the debt by allowing Gazprom to use it to pay transit fees for next year.
“So far no solution has been found because of the non-constructive position of the Ukrainian side,” he said.
“The slowness in fixing the problem is especially perplexing given the International Monetary Fund’s decision to lend Ukraine $16.5 billion to help cut the deficit and balance the budget and support the country’s banking sector.”
Zubkov said he had sent a letter with warnings about possible disruptions to the European Commission and the governments of all major European nations.
In Kiev, Oleksander Shlapak, chief economic aide to Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, said: “Ukraine is ready to give guarantees of uninterrupted gas supplies in 2009 to European gas consumers.” (Reporting by Dmitry Zhdannikov, additional reporting by Yuri Kulikov in Kiev, editing by Anthony Barker)