Gas dispute deepens as Ukraine rejects Russian loan

Ukraine dug in its heels Thursday in a bitter dispute with Russia over gas deliveries, with President &to=' target=_blank>Viktor Yushchenko rejecting Vladimir Putin's offer of a multibillion-dollar loan to help Kiev adjust to a huge hike in Moscow's price tag for its gas.

With Russia threatening to stop selling gas to Ukraine on New Year's Day if no solution is found, Ukraine's state-run gas company said the nation's 48 million people won't freeze and its factories won't go dark if Moscow follows through on its threat.

At a second day of talks in Moscow, Russian authorities stuck by their demand that Ukraine pay more than four times the current price, and no agreement was reached. The negotiations were to resume Friday.

Meanwhile, Russia tightened the screws by signing a new deal to purchase gas from Turkmenistan that analysts said would leave the Central Asian nation with less to sell to Ukraine _ which relies on Russia for about a third of its gas and Turkmenistan for 45 percent.

The dispute has further damaged relations between &to=' target=_blank>Russia and Ukraine, two mostly Slavic, Orthodox Christian ex-Soviet republics whose common history goes back centuries but whose ties have been badly strained by the ascendancy of the Westward-leaning Yushchenko a year ago.

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