Russia's natural gas monopoly Gazprom on Sunday began reducing pressure in its lines to Ukraine as the deadline for stopping sales to the country came within minutes, news agencies cited a company spokesman as saying. Gazprom has said it will halt sales to the country of 48 million as of 10 a.m. (0700 GMT) after Ukraine refused a demand to more than quadruple the price it pays for Russian gas. Gazprom provides about half the gas consumed in the European Union and some 80 percent of that amount is sent in pipelines that cross Ukraine. The price dispute has raised wide concerns that European supplies could be affected. Last year, Gazprom sold some 25 billion cubic meters of gas to Ukraine, about a third of that country's consumption.