By Pavel Polityuk
KYIV, Jan 25 (Reuters) - Ukraine is close to being self sufficient in gas for 2024 and may resume electricity exports in the spring, the energy minister said on Thursday.
Ukraine has not bought gas from Russia since 2015, importing from European countries instead and increasing its own production.
"We are close to it (not needing to import gas). It is realistic to reach the zero gas balance this year," German Galushchenko told Reuters in an interview.
"But it's important to realise that our consumption has dropped sharply. A lot will depend on how the industry and the economy will develop. Today there is growth in production and the potential for increase is there and it is real potential."
Ukraine consumed about 27 billion cubic meters of gas in 2021, making it one of Europe's biggest users of the fuel before the full-scale war with Russia.
But its economy shrank by about a third in 2022 as industries reduced or halted production due to security risks, disrupted exports and broken supply chains.
Galushchenko said consumption fell to around 19 bcm in 2023.
Ukraine's state-owned Naftogaz last month said it expected the country's natural gas production to increase by 7% in 2023, with the same forecast for this year.
Ukraine has not yet reported how much gas it produced in 2023, but it had forecast output of around 19.1 bcm compared with 18.5 bcm in 2022.
Galushchenko also said that Ukraine could resume substantial energy exports as early as this spring due to lower consumption.
Ukraine banned exports during the last heating season amid Russian attacks on Ukraine's energy system and large-scale shutdowns.
Ukraine began substantial energy exports before the war, but stopped them after Russia seized Ukraine's largest nuclear powerplant at Zaporizhzhia.
(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk; Editing by Sharon Singleton)