By Atom Markarian
The vital supplies of Russian natural gas to Armenia have been restored to usual levels after being cut by half late last week, officials in Yerevan said on Monday.
Government sources told RFE/RL Armenia now gets about 6 million cubic meters of gas a day, enough to meet its energy needs. The deputy chairman of the government’s Regulatory Commission on Energy, Nikolay Grigorian, said the current volume of deliveries allows the Hayenergo national power grid to prevent power shortages during the temporary shutdown of the strategic nuclear power station at Metsamor.
It is still not clear why Russia’s ITERA gas exporter slashed its supplies to Georgia and Armenia. Officials at Armenia’s ArmRosGazprom gas distributor blamed the problem on disagreements between ITERA and the Russian Gazprom monopoly.
The Metsamor plant, which provides about 40 percent of Armenia’s electricity, was unexpectedly shut down on Friday after what Armenian officials said was an emergency caused by unstable electricity supplies from neighboring Iran. Its only functioning reactor will require full refueling before it can be reactivated.
“The [Russian nuclear] fuel will most probably be shipped and the nuclear plant will resume its operations in late May or June,” Grigorian said. He confirmed that the fuel will almost certainly be purchased by Russia’s biggest state-run power utility, RAO Unified Energy Systems (UES).
Under a deal finalized by the Russian and Armenian governments, UES will pay for the fresh fuel and repay Metsamor’s $32 million debts to Russian suppliers in exchange for managing the Soviet-era plant’s finances. UES, which already owns Armenia’s largest thermal power plant, will also be granted the ownership of six Armenian hydro-electric plants.
That will place at least 85 percent of Armenia’s energy sector under de facto Russian control -- a prospect that has caused alarm among the country’s pro-Western opposition politicians. They say energy deals with Russia jeopardize Armenia’s independence.
Grigorian sought to allay those fears. “The issue only appears to be political,” he said. “In fact, it’s a purely economic one.”