The Armenian government seems ready to sell its remaining 20 percent share in the domestic gas distribution network to Gazprom in order to subsidize the recently increased price of Russian natural gas delivered to Armenia.
The Russian energy giant revealed late on Monday that its chief executive, Alexey Miller, discussed the matter in Moscow with Armenian Energy and Natural Resources Minister Armen Movsisian.
“In the course of negotiations the aspects of Russian gas pricing for Armenian consumers were discussed,” Gazprom said in a statement. “The meeting also looked into the possibility of increasing Gazprom's stake in ArmRosGazprom (ARG) to 100 per cent.”
The announcement came amid Armenian government efforts to secure funding for subsidizing the Russian gas price, which officially rose by 50 percent to $270 million per thousand cubic meters in April. A 30 percent subsidy promised by the government has meant that the price hike will be much less drastic for Armenian households.
Armenian officials have said that Yerevan is seeking a Russian “grant” to finance the subsidy. But they have given no details of that arrangement so far.
The Armenian Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources refused to comment on the Gazprom report on Tuesday. A ministry spokesperson said that only Movsisian can give relevant explanations.
The government was already rumored last year to have ceded its 20 percent stake in ARG to conceal a secret rise in Russian gas price and make sure Armenian voters are unaffected by it until the February 2013 presidential election. Government officials dismissed this speculation, saying that the gas price remains unchanged. However, Armenian customs data showed that ARG paid considerably more for Russian gas than was officially reported in 2012.
Opposition lawmakers were quick to criticize the government’s apparent readiness to place ARG under full Russian control. Gazprom currently owns 80 percent of the gas network.
“This once again shows that our authorities are not capable of doing anything,” said Artsvik Minasian of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun). “They can declare that we will get a grant but we won’t get it or will cede more state assets in return.”
Another oppositionist, Aram Manukian of the Armenian National Congress (HAK), claimed that President Serzh Sarkisian is keen to ensure continued Russian support for his administration. “They are selling [the ARG share] to cling to power, to solve their political problems,” he said. “And that is being done after the  elections. It was simply impossible to do this before the elections.”