By Atom Markarian and Emil Danielyan
The vital supplies of Russian natural gas to Armenia continued Tuesday despite threats by the Gazprom monopoly to cut them altogether on Monday over Yerevan’s alleged failure to pay its debt. The offshore-registered ITERA corporation, Gazprom’s export arm, earlier this month accused the Armenian government of “chronic non-payment” for the deliveries.
The claim is at odds with the government’s announcement last summer that it no longer owes the Russians any sums for the gas imports. Energy Minister Karen Galustian said on June 28 that Gazprom has written off the remaining debt worth $8.3 million in a swap deal with the Armenian side. Gazprom was in return exempted from a $9 million contribution to the Armrosgazprom joint venture, Galustian said.
However, the Russian energy giant announced last week that it is still owed as much as $37 million. It said it sent a letter to Galustian on October 5 notifying him that the gas supplies will be halted unless the debt is cleared by October 15.
A spokeswoman for the Gazprom-controlled Armrosgazprom, which runs Armenia’s entire gas infrastructure, told RFE/RL that ITERA decided late Monday to “refrain from taking the measure for the time being.” The official, Shushan Sardarian, said Armenian officials and ITERA executives are now trying to sort out the dispute through negotiations.
Officials at the energy ministry could not be reached for comment, and it was not clear if they accept the existence of the gas debt. Analysts note that the Russian gas warning followed the October 1 postponement of the government’s decision on whether or not to allow another major Russian company, RAO UES, to bid for Armenian power utilities put up for sale. ITERA’s decision to keep up the gas supplies came two days after an Armenian government commission managing the privatization found RAO UES eligible for the bidding despite strong reservations voiced by Western bidders.
The Russian leadership has been actively lobbying for the company’s victory in the bidding and is believed to be taking advantage of Armenia’s dependence on Russia for energy resources. Russian gas has been the principal source of electricity generated in Armenia since the nuclear power station in Metsamor was brought to a halt in July for maintenance and refuelling. Yerevan has had to increase the gas imports by over 50 percent to 5.2 million cubic meters a day to make up for the resulting shortfall. Their complete cutoff could have resulted in severe power shortages.