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Yushchenko Says Russia, Ukraine Closer To Gas Deal --> Ukrainian President Yushchenko in rural Ukraine, December 2005 (file photo) (epa) 31 December 2005 -- Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko says he believes Russia and Ukraine are moving closer to resolving their gas price row.

In an official statement issued early on the evening of 31 December, Yushchenko said both sides "are listening to each other, which shows they are ready to sit down at the negotiating table."

But Yushchenko made no specific reference to a last-minute offer made earlier in the day by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In televised remarks, Putin ordered Russia's state- controlled natural gas monopoly Gazprom to supply Ukraine with natural gas at current rates for three more months -- if Kyiv immediately agrees to pay market prices starting in April.

Ukraine currently pays $50 per 1,000 cubic meters of Russian gas but Moscow says the market rate that Ukraine should pay is four times higher, at around $230.

Ukraine has until the end of 31 December to respond to the offer. Otherwise, Gazprom says it will stand by its threat to shut off supplies to Ukraine at 10:00 a.m. on 1 January 2006.

(Reuters/AFP/Yushchenko presidential web site)