By Shakeh Avoyan
Armenia and Russia have reached an agreement paving the way for the delayed deliveries of Russian fuel to the nuclear plant in Metsamor, Energy Minister Karen Galustian announced on Monday. In an interview with RFE/RL, Galustian said he struck the deal at the end of ten-day marathon talks in Moscow late last week.
The fresh fuel supplies, which are needed for reactivating Metsamor’s reactor, were held up by the Russian government insistence on a specific timetable for payment of the bulk of the $13 million bill. The Armenian side is ready to pay $4 million as an advance to the Russians but has yet to raise the rest of the sum.
Under the Moscow agreement, the remaining $9 million will be paid within the next three months, Galustian said. The minister, who stayed in the Russian capital much longer than planned, said the deal was made possible by the personal intervention of the two co-chairmen of the intergovernmental commission on bilateral cooperation, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov and Armenian Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian.
Sarkisian flew to Moscow after attending last week’s joint exercises staged by Russian, Belarusian, Armenian and Tajik air defense forces in southern Russia. Sarkisian said on return to Yerevan on Sunday that he and Klebanov discussed preparations for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Armenia slated for September 14-16. One of the documents to be signed during the visit is a ten-year program of Russian-Armenian economic cooperation, he said.
Meanwhile, government officials in Yerevan admit that they have still to decide where to get the required $9 million from. The government hopes to obtain a loan from foreign commercial banks.
The fresh batch of Russian nuclear fuel, which will replace a third of Metsamor’s fuel, is expected to reach Armenia in mid-September. The plant’s director, Suren Azatian, is currently working out in Moscow modalities of its delivery by air. Atomic energy officials say the refueling process will take at least twenty days, meaning that Metsamor will be back on stream no sooner than early October. The plant’s only operating reactor was halted on July for scheduled maintenance and safety control which ended ten days ago.
According to Galustian, agreement was also reached on repayment of Armenia’s $17 million debt to Russia for past fuel supplies. “We agreed to reschedule the old debt and it will be repaid until the end of 2002, either in cash or in the form of [industrial and consumer] goods,” he said. “This will make things much easier.”
With Metsamor, which accounts for 45 percent of the country’s annual electricity output, standing idle, Armenian thermal power stations mainly operating on Russian natural gas are placed under a greater burden. Armenia had to double the volume of gas imports in July to six million cubic meters a day to make up for the electricity shortfall.