Ukraine will pay $1 billion of its natural gas debt to Russia`s energy giant Gazprom before March 14, the country`s First Deputy Prime Minister Oleksandr Turchinov said on Friday, according to RIA Novosti.

The presidents of Russia and Ukraine agreed on a roadmap on Tuesday to settle Kiev`s $1.5 billion debt for Russian gas supplies, with Ukraine`s Viktor Yushchenko promising that his country would pay off the debt. Gazprom has threatened to halt supplies if Ukraine fails to pay back $1 billion before March 14.

"I cannot see any problems. It is more important for us not to accumulate another debt, than to pay off this one," the Ukrainian official said.

Turchinov also said Gazprom had demanded that a new scheme of gas supplies be regulated by April 1.

The Russian gas monopoly`s spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov refused to comment on the reports.

Gazprom and Ukrainian national energy company Naftogaz have postponed the signing of a natural gas supply contract until next week, the Russian energy giant said on Thursday.

Russia also proposed that Gazprom and Naftogaz set up two joint ventures on a parity basis. The two new companies should replace RosUkrEnergo, which holds a monopoly on gas exports, and gas import monopoly UkrGazEnergo. The Ukrainian government has already ruled to liquidate the latter.

"You know about Russia`s initiative to set up a joint venture. We are analyzing the issue and the context in which we can improve the situation," Turchinov said.

Naftogaz said on Thursday that it had paid Gazprom around $100 million for gas supplied in 2007.