Opposition leaders in Yerevan expressed serious concern on Tuesday at renewed speculation about the privatization of a key pipeline in neighboring Georgia supplying Russian natural gas to Armenia.
Last month, the Georgian parliament removed the so-called North-South pipeline from a list of strategic state facilities not subject to privatization. The move raised fears in Yerevan that Azerbaijan’s state oil company SOCAR, which currently manages Georgia’s domestic gas distribution network, could acquire it to block the vital Russian gas deliveries to Armenia.
Georgian Prime Minister Nika Gilauri insisted that his government could only sell a small minority share in the facility and will remain its principal owner. Armenian Energy Minister Armen Movsisian gave similar assurances afterwards.
Still, the Turkish newspaper “Hurriyet” claimed late last week that SOCAR is well placed to buy the pipeline after all. The Georgian government has not yet reacted to the claim.
A spokeswoman for the Armenian Ministry of Energy on Tuesday repeated Movsisian’s statement that Yerevan is not worried about the fate of the pipeline. Senior representatives of the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) and Zharangutyun (Heritage) Party dismissed these assurances.
The HAK’s Vahagn Khachatrian spoke of a “serious threat” to Armenia’s national security, saying that the Armenian government should itself move to buy the pipeline. “A deal must be struck at a reasonable price,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
Stepan Safarian, a senior Zharangutyun lawmaker, agreed. “Instead of belated reactions to developments, we must today avert tomorrow’s undesirable developments by acquiring the pipeline at any cost,” he told RFE/RL.
Both men downplayed the fact that Armenia is also importing natural gas from Iran.