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Russia gives Ukraine more time to reach deal over gas

BRUSSELS--Russia on Monday granted Ukraine another week before it will start demanding prepayment for gas, without which it has threatened to cut off supplies.

The announcement by Russia's state gas company Gazprom came at the outset of a second round of European Union-mediated talks aimed at resolving the two countries' dispute over gas prices and outstanding debt.

Officials are seeking to avoid an interruption of gas deliveries to Ukraine, which could also disrupt supplies for western Europe because Ukraine is an important gas transit country.

Gazprom extended its initial deadline for requiring gas prepayment from Tuesday to next Monday after receiving a payment of US$786 million from Ukrainian gas company Naftogaz for the February and March supplies, the Russian company's Chief Executive Alexei Miller said. A decision on whether to charge Ukraine for gas in advance will now depend on whether Kiev pays its dues for April and May supplies, he added.

Moscow has put Kiev's gas debts dating back to November at US$3.5 billion, and Miller said last week that gas delivered in May could take it up to US$5.2 billion.

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