By Emil Danielyan
The Georgian section of a vital pipeline delivering Russian natural gas to Armenia is in poor condition and needs urgent repairs, Georgian officials admitted on Friday.
The Itar-Tass news agency quoted the head of Georgia’s gas transportation company, Yuri Shiukashvili, as saying that the government in Tbilisi lacks the “considerable” financial means and technical capacity to refurbish the 250-kilometer section. The Georgian side is barely able to keep it operational, he said.
Russia’s Gazprom gas monopoly on Wednesday expressed concern at the current condition of the facility and said its chairman, Alexei Miller, raised the issue at a meeting with Georgian energy officials. "We are alarmed by the state of disrepair of gas transportation networks in the republic," Miller’s deputy, Alexander Ryazanov, was quoted as saying.
Russia is presently the sole supplier of natural gas to Armenia which imports approximately 1.6 billion cubic meters of the hydrocarbon fuel a year. The bulk of it is used by thermal power stations that meet about 40 percent of Armenia’s energy needs.
There has been no reaction yet to the Gazprom warnings from Armenian government officials. They have for years been pushing for the construction of an alternative gas pipeline from neighboring Iran. The realization of the $120 million project has been hindered by a lack of funds on the Armenian side and apparent Russian reluctance to see Iranian competitors in the Armenia’s energy sector heavily dependent on Russia.
But in an interview with the Moscow daily “Nezavisimaya Gazeta” published on Friday, Prime Minister Andranik Markarian announced that the long-awaited construction of the Iran-Armenia pipeline will likely start this year and end by 2006. “Discussions on this project are currently in the final stages,” he said. “All technical issues have already been agreed with the Iranian side. We are also holding negotiations with the government of Russia and a number of private Russian enterprises.”
“The pipeline has a great significance for us,” Markarian added, arguing that it will “significantly increase Armenia’s energy security and independence.”
He at the same time noted that the risk of a major disruption of Russian gas supplies on Georgian territory is low at the moment.
The pipeline passing through Georgia had been repeatedly blown up in the early 1990s, aggravating severe power shortages experienced by Armenia at the time.