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By Emil Danielyan
Russia’s state-run natural gas monopoly, Gazprom, revealed on Wednesday plans to raise its controlling stake in Armenia’s gas distribution network to 80 percent in the next two years.

The company’s press service told the Russian Regnum news agency that this will be in line with a controversial and complex agreement reached by Gazprom and the Armenian government in March 2006.

The deal enabled Armenia to avoid a surge in the price of imported Russia gas until January 2009 in exchange for ceding more energy assets to Gazprom, including an incomplete but modern thermal power plant located in the central town of Hrazdan. The two sides officially confirmed last November that the Russian giant has also seen its share in the ArmRosGazprom (ARG) distributor rise from 45 to almost 58 percent. Consequently, the Armenian government’s ARG stake was diluted to just over 30 percent.

According to Regnum, Gazprom plans to own 80 percent of ARG as a result of buying additional shares in the Armenian gas operator that are due to be issued by 2009. ARG spokeswoman Shushan Sardarian effectively confirmed the information. “We plan to further expand our network and have other investment projects,” Sardarian told RFE/RL. “We will need to attract more capital in order to implement them.”

Officials at the Armenian Energy Ministry could not be reached for comment.

The Gazprom-controlled company is also widely expected to be granted ownership of a gas pipeline from neighboring Iran. The pipeline’s first Armenian section is due to be inaugurated this spring.

The 2006 deal gave the Russians near total control over Armenia’s energy sector, raising more concerns about the country’s economic independence and energy security in particular. Armenian officials have repeatedly dismissed such concerns. President Robert Kocharian pledged last month to help boost Russian presence in other sectors of the Armenian economy.

(Photolur photo)
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