By Shakeh Avoyan
The resumption of gas supplies from Russia will enable Armenia to restore supplies of electricity to crisis-stricken Georgia in the coming days, the Armenian national gas company said on Tuesday.
The ArmRosGazprom (ARG) operator confirmed that Russian gas began flowing into Armenia via Georgia late Monday after an almost nine-day hiatus caused by explosions on a Russian pipeline running to the two South Caucasus nations. The mysterious January 22 blasts led ARG to suspend gas supplies to two of the four operating units of a major Armenian power plant which generate electricity for Georgian consumers.
“Later today we will fully restore gas supplies to the Hrazdan thermal power plant, and since we have a contract with the Georgian energy distribution company we will also resume exports of electricity to Georgia as soon as possible,” ARG spokeswoman Shushan Sardarian told RFE/RL.
The gas operator, which also handles electricity exports, delivered 200,000 kilowatt/hours of power a day to Armenia’s northwestern neighbor in the weeks preceding the pipeline blasts. The volume of the Armenian exports totaled 172 million kilowatt/hours in the course of last year, according to official figures.
Georgian Energy Minister Nika Gilauri confirmed on Tuesday that their resumption is imminent. The Georgian Caucasus Press news agency quoted Gilauri as saying that his government will end crippling power shortages resulting from the cut-off in Russian gas supplies. Georgia is also importing Iranian gas via Azerbaijan in accordance with a one-month agreement signed in Tehran last week.
Speaking in Tbilisi late Monday, President Mikheil Saakashvili described the deal as “historic” and pledged to reduce his nation’s dependence on Russia for energy resources, again accusing Moscow of deliberately blowing up the pipeline. “The reduction of Russia’s share in the Georgian gas market will weaken its temptation to resort to energy blackmail and sabotage,” he said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin hit back at Tbilisi the next day, saying that while repair teams were working to fix the pipeline in freezing temperatures, “we only saw them spitting at us,” “Georgian citizens must know that such a policy toward Russia won't help to improve conditions of ordinary people,” he told a news conference in Moscow.
Armenia barely avoided a serious energy crisis this time around thanks to a substantial amount of gas stored by ARG in an underground facility just north of Yerevan. According to Sardarian, the Russian-Armenian joint venture will need at least one month to replenish its reserves. “Natural gas is being imported at the moment at the rate of 375,000 cubic meters per hour, which is fully within the norm,” she said.
Armenia consumes between five and six million cubic meters of gas on a daily basis. The latest emergency is widely seen as having vindicated its government’s decision to import gas from Iran through a pipeline currently under construction. Its first section expected to be completed by the end of this year.
Russia is believed to be opposed to the project and reportedly forced the Armenian government to significantly reduce the pipeline’s planned diameter in order to prevent Iranian gas from being re-exported to Georgia and possibly other countries in large amounts. Armenian opposition leaders and commentators say the administration of President Robert Kocharian committed a serious mistake by bowing to Russian pressure. They say the prospect of Iranian gas reaching European markets through Armenian territory would have given Yerevan serious leverage in its unsuccessful efforts to prevent a doubling of the price of Russian gas for Armenia.