The government denied on Thursday reports that it is concealing a more than 20 percent increase in the price of Russian natural gas for Armenia that was allegedly agreed with Russia’s Gazprom monopoly early this year.
Both Energy and Natural Resources Minister Armen Movsisian and the chief executive of the national gas distribution company insisted that Armenia continues to pay $180 per thousand cubic meters of gas imported through Georgia.
The Armenian customs service raised questions about the declared gas price with information posted on its website recently. It said that said the country imported almost 2 billion cubic meters of Russian gas, worth roughly $240 million, in the first half of this year. This led analysts and media commentators to contend that the actual price is now set at $220 per thousand cubic meters.
Speaking to journalists, Movsisian flatly denied this. But he declined to explain the discrepancy between his statements and the customs service data.
Vartan Harutiunian, the director general of the ArmRosGapzrom (ARG) gas distribution network, also denied a price rise. “There is no such thing,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am), refusing to comment further.
The Moscow press office of Gazprom, which owns 80 percent of ARG, refused to make any comments. An official there said the cost of the Russian gas supplied to Armenia is a commercial secret.
Armenak Chatinian, an economic commentator for the Yerevan daily “Orakarg,” suggested that the Armenian government may be secretly subsidizing the gas price because of a presidential election due in February. He cited media claims that the government is ready to cede about half of its 20 percent stake in ARG to Gazprom for that subsidy.
Natural gas is used for generating about one-third of Armenia’s electricity and is the main source of winter heating. It is also liquefied and pressurized to power most public buses and around half of the personal cars in the country. A gas price hike can therefore have a major impact on the cost of life there.
Earlier this year Gazprom reportedly announced plans to drastically raise its gas tariff for Armenia starting from 2013. President Serzh Sarkisian discussed the issue with his Russian counterpart Vladmir Putin when they met in Moscow on August 8.
Sarkisian said after the meeting that they reached a “mutual understanding” on the new price. He said it should mirror “the real market price of gas” and at the same time help to “preserve the effectiveness of Armenia’s economy.” He did not elaborate.