By Astghik Bedevian
Parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian warned on Friday that Russia’s decision to double the price of natural gas supplied to Armenia could stoke up anti-Russian sentiment in the country.
Baghdasarian expressed hope that Moscow will agree to reverse or at least scale back the price hike as a result of the ongoing negotiations with the Armenian government. “Otherwise, it would be very difficult to answer questions from our compatriots as to how Russia and Armenia can be strategic partners when there are such increases in gas prices,” he told a news conference.
“There might also be other questions. For example, ‘Why don’t we expect any financial compensation for the presence of the Russian military base [in Armenia]?’” he said.
Russia’s state-owned Gazprom monopoly has announced similarly drastic price increases for several other ex-Soviet states, including Georgia and Ukraine. Analysts believe that their governments are being sanctioned for their increasingly pro-Western foreign policy. Armenia, however, has been one of Russia’s staunchest allies in the former Soviet Union and is not aspiring to joint NATO in the foreseeable future.
Prime Minister Andranik Markarian earlier criticized Gazprom’s plans to charge $110 per thousand cubic meters of Russia gas delivered to Georgia and Armenia from January 1. The latter currently pays $56 per thousand cubic meters. The fuel generates about 40 percent of Armenia’s electricity and is increasingly used by Armenians for heating purposes.
The Armenian and Russian presidents apparently failed to reach a definite agreement on the issue when they met in the southern Russian city of Sochi last week. Russian President Vladimir Putin distanced himself from the gas dispute, hinting that Gazprom is free to set its tariffs. Still, official Yerevan hopes to strike a compromise deal with the Russians in the coming weeks.
Baghdasarian is the first Armenian official to publicly warn of serious consequences for the close ties maintained by the two nations.