The Armenian government still hopes to prevent an increase in the price of natural gas imported from Russia, Energy and Natural Resources Minister Armen Movsisian said on Thursday.
Movsisian said the government and Russia’s Gazprom monopoly are continuing to negotiate over a new gas tariff. “We hope to have an agreement before the end of this year,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Asked whether the Russian gas price for Armenia will rise as a result, Movisian said, “I don’t know. The negotiations are aimed at persuading them not to raise [the price.] They want to raise it while we are against.”
The minister declined to give any details as he emerged from a weekly cabinet meeting in Yerevan.
The price of the gas delivered by Gazprom has been a subject of intense media speculation in recent months amid signs that it may have already risen this year.
The Armenian customs service said in October that the country imported 304.6 million cubic meters of Russian gas worth $74.4 million in the third quarter of this year. This translates into a gas price of roughly $244 per thousand cubic meters, compared with $180 per thousand cubic meters declared by the government. Similar customs data for the first half of 2012 suggested that Armenia paid Gazprom $220 million per thousand cubic meters of gas.
Movsisian, his deputies as well as the ARG national gas distribution company have denied any secret price hikes. But they have still not clearly explained the discrepancy between their claims and the import data. Some media outlets and opposition politicians claim that the government has secretly sold its 20 percent stake in ARG to Gazprom to subsidize the retail price until next February’s presidential election.
There are also questions about the quality of the gas supplied to Armenian households. Some Armenians backed by consumer rights groups feel that the same volume of fuel now generates less heat in than in the past.
Hrant Tadevosian, ARG’s deputy director general, sought to dispel these suspicions at a roundtable discussion on the topic in Yerevan. He said the gas operator controlled by Gazprom verifies the energy content of the gas at the Armenian-Georgian border and its laboratories in Armenia.
Tadevosian insisted that it currently exceeds the internationally accepted threshold of 7,600 kilocalories per cubic meter. “The caloric content of gas has even increased recently to 8,600 kilocalories,” he said.
“ARG must prove this to all of us,” countered Armen Poghosian of the Armenian Union of Consumers.