By Emil Danielyan
The management of Armenia's Russian-controlled gas distribution network claimed a major improvement in its operations at an annual meeting of its decision-making board of directors in Yerevan on Wednesday. Senior executives from the ArmRosGazprom company said they have succeeded in substantially increasing collection of gas fees from individual and corporate customers over the past year.
The company's main shareholder, Russia's Gazprom natural gas giant, was represented at the meeting by its vice-chairman, Aleksandr Ryazanov. Gazprom holds a 45 percent stake in ArmRosGazprom. Another 10 percent belongs to its unofficial exporting arm, the U.S.-registered ITERA corporation. The Armenian government owns the remaining 10 percent, giving the Russians de facto control of the joint venture.
The ArmRosGazprom spokeswoman, Shushan Sardarian, told RFE/RL that the board of directors focused on the bill enforcement and huge sums of money owed to the company. She said the network management has ensured full payment for supplied Russian gas in the first nine months of the year and even managed to cut the consumer debt for earlier supplies to 17 billion drams ($30.5 million).
The figure stood at 21 billion in September 2001. The money is mainly owed by state-run thermal power plants and large chemical enterprises.
Sardarian also said that ArmRosGazprom currently has no outstanding debts to its own supplier, ITERA. The latter has in the past repeatedly cut deliveries over Armenia's failure to pay for the gas in full and on time. The bulk of the debt was repaid last year.
But in January, ITERA claimed that Armenia still owes it $6 million for 2001 gas imports and incurred $3.85 million in additional debts during the first three weeks of this year. The latter figure was disputed at the time by Energy Minister Armen Movsisian who pledged to clear all debts within the next six months.
Russia has been Armenia's sole gas supplier since the creation of ArmRosGazprom in 1997. Part of the hydrocarbon fuel exported to by Armenia by ITERA still comes from Turkmenistan though. The total volume of gas deliveries stood at 5.2 million cubic meters a day in January and has since fallen considerably. Officials attributed the drop in gas demand to increased power generation at hydroelectric plants that have been boosted by swollen rivers following an unusually long period of heavy rains this year.
Meeting with Gazprom's Ryazanov on Wednesday, Prime Minister Andranik Markarian assured that gas consumption in Armenia will again pick up in the coming winter months. He also argued that more and more Armenian households are having their centralized gas supplies restored after a ten-year interruption.