By Atom Markarian
Russia’s state-owned Gazprom monopoly has confirmed its intention to double the cost of natural gas delivered to Armenia, a move that will almost certainly push up the already high Armenian utility tariffs.
Gazprom’s deputy chairman Aleksandr Ryazanov on Tuesday that Russian natural gas imported by Armenia and neighboring Georgia will cost $110 per thousand cubic meters starting from January 1. The Armrosgazprom (ARG) national gas operator, currently pays $56 for the fuel that generates nearly 40 percent of Armenia’s electricity and is increasingly used by Armenians for heating purposes.
ARG, which is 45 percent owned by the Russian giant, said on Wednesday that it is unaware of the impending price hike. “We can not make any comment at this point because we have not received any official information,” a spokeswoman told RFE/RL.
The Armenian Energy Ministry also claimed to have not been notified of the measure.
It is bound to force ARG to raise the price of gas supplied to hundreds of thousands of individual consumers as well as the local thermal power plants.
Gazprom’s Ryazanov said the price of Russian gas delivered to several other, pro-Western ex-Soviet states will also go up sharply. “We understand that it is a political decision,” Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli said after unsuccessful talks in Moscow last week. “This is not politics, it is economics,” countered Ryazanov.
Armenia is the most pro-Russian of the former Soviet republics affected by the measure and, unlike Georgia, has never expressed a desire to join NATO. But it will now have to pay only slightly less for Russian gas than the three Baltic states that are already members of NATO and the European Union.
Russia has been Armenia’s sole supplier of natural gas, averaging 1.3 billion cubic meters a year, since the late 1990s. This dependence should ease considerably in 2008 with the expected start of gas deliveries from neighboring Iran through a pipeline currently under construction.
The state-run Russian newspaper “Rossiiskaya Gazeta” reported on Monday that Yerevan and Tehran have agreed to make it possible for the pipeline to be extended to Georgia and possibly Ukraine in the future. Moscow is strongly opposed to the idea, seeing it as a threat to its status as the region’s main energy provider.