By Atom Markarian
Armenian Energy Minister Karen Galustian’s visit to Moscow entered into its tenth day on Thursday as negotiations on fresh supplies of Russian fuel to the nuclear power station in Metsamor dragged on without agreement. The Russian government, which has already received $ 4 million as an advance against the vital deliveries, is demanding that Yerevan submit a timetable for payment of the rest of the $13 million bill.
Galustian’s ministry is at pains to raise the required sum to bring the Metsamor plant, which generates 40 percent of Armenia’s electricity, back on stream. Metsamor’s only operational reactor was halted on July 10 for the next 45 days for scheduled maintenance and partial reloading of nuclear fuel.
The Armenian government earlier undertook to pay the remainder within three months, a pledge that does not seem to have satisfied the Russians. Still, officials on Thursday held out hope for an agreement with the Russian ministry of atomic energy. “The issue will be finally clarified tomorrow,” said Deputy Energy Minister Areg Galstian. “According to our information, the outcome will be positive.”
Failure to reach a deal could cloud the upcoming official visit to Armenia by Russian President Vladimir Putin. The two states will seek to underline their close relationship during the trip tentatively scheduled for September 13-14.
The cash-strapped government is meanwhile trying to obtain a loan from foreign commercial banks to pay for the Russian fuel. It is not yet clear whether any of the banks has shown interest in such a deal. Yerevan is also under an obligation to repay its $16 million debt to Russia for earlier fuel supplies by June 2002.
Metsamor’s stoppage puts Armenia’s thermal power plans operating with Russian natural gas under additional strain. The absence of a substantially cheaper nuclear energy also means additional costs for the resource-poor country.
Repayment of Armenia’s overall debt to Russian will feature large during Putin’s talks with Armenian leaders. Yerevan says it owes Moscow a total of $90 million. The Russians put the figure at $114 million, however. The two side have been negotiating on a deal whereby part of the debt will be repaid in the form of stakes in state-run Armenian factories.