Russia's state-run natural gas monopoly Gazprom is warning European customers about potential delivery disruptions if Ukraine fails to pay its past due energy debt.

First Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov issued the warning in a statement Monday, saying any disruptions would be Ukraine's fault. Russian gas reaches the rest of Europe by pipeline through Ukraine.

In Kyiv, a top Ukrainian official sought to reassure European consumers. He said his country is ready to guarantee uninterrupted deliveries to the West.

Ukraine last week paid $1 billion of debt to Gazprom for gas pumped in September and October. But Moscow says the Ukrainian utility Naftohaz still owes more than $1 billion and is demanding payment by January 1. Bilateral negotiations continue.

Meanwhile, Russia's leading business daily Kommersant newspaper, says Belarus is prepared to grant international recognition to two Russian-backed Georgian breakaway regions in exchange for continued discount gas pricing from Gazprom.

Russia drew international condemnation earlier this when it recognized separatist South Ossetia and Abkhazia regions as independent countries. Belarusian President Viktor Lukashenko, who is meeting Monday in Moscow with his Russian counterpart, Dmitri Medvedev, has until now stopped short of recognizing the independence of the two areas.


Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.