By Shakeh Avoyan
Gasoline remained in short supply in Armenia on Tuesday despite urgent fuel deliveries organized by the government over the weekend and the resumption of the country’s rail communication with the outside world via war-stricken Georgia.
Armenia received late Monday the first trainload of wheat and other basic supplies since the August 16 explosion that downed a key rail bridge in central Georgia, all but cutting it off from the Georgian Black Sea ports of Batumi and Poti. The train carried no petrol, leaving the landlocked country to rely on fuel brought in by more than 30 heavy trucks from the port terminals. Thousands of tons of petrol and diesel fuel have been stockpiled there and are awaiting delivery to Armenia.
According to the Ministry of Transport and Communications, another train carrying 10 rail cars of petrol was about to bypass on Tuesday afternoon the damaged section of Georgia’s east-west railway through a smaller and hitherto disused rail bridge prepared for temporary use. “Those ten cars of petrol should reach Armenia by tomorrow morning,” a ministry spokeswoman, Susanna Tonoyan, told RFE/RL.
Meanwhile, petrol was barely available for sale in most filling stations in Yerevan. Queues of cars could be seen outside the few functioning stations, most of them belonging to large fuel importing companies. Some of them continued severe fuel rationing introduced at the weekend, while others did not sell fuel for cash, accepting only vouchers sold by those companies to privileged buyers.
Workers at filling stations blamed the crisis on a “panic” among motorists keen to stock up with unusually large amounts of petrol because of the continuing uncertainty in Georgia. “There are drivers who buy 60 liters of gasoline a day,” said Vagho Vanian, manager of a station owned by Flash, the country’s number one fuel importer. “Armenians are always quick to panic.”
“People are worried that there might be no petrol tomorrow,” said a seller at another station chain. “That’s why we don’t have enough of it … Sometimes when you start filling a car tank you see that it’s already almost full.”
“There will be lots of gasoline in town on August 29,” predicted another station worker.
Despite the shortages, the prices of various gasoline brands have remained virtually unchanged, hovering between 410 and 440 drams ($1.35-$1.45) per liter. The local market is tightly controlled by Flash and a handful of other firms owned by government-connected persons.
Ensuring continued imports of wheat and other basic foodstuffs has been the Armenian government’s main priority so far. Tonoyan said most of the rail cars that have already entered or are on the way to the country are loaded with wheat.