By Emil Danielyan
Russia’s state-run Gazprom monopoly has hastily retracted its official confirmation of reports about its takeover of a planned Armenian-Iranian natural pipeline as part of a controversial agreement to temporarily reduce the cost of Russian gas for Armenia.
In a statement posted on its website on Thursday, Gazprom said it will be granted ownership of a major Armenian power plant and the first 40-kilometer section of the pipeline currently under construction in return for keeping the gas price relatively low until the end of 2008.
The statement was found to have been altered the next day, containing no references to the pipeline which is due to go into service this November. It now says that Gazprom’s Armenian subsidiary, ArmRosGazprom (ARG), will take over the gas-fired plant in Hrazdan and unspecified “facilities of Armenia’s gas sphere.”
The change of wording seems aimed at sparing the Armenian government public embarrassment over its claims that the Russians will get hold of the Hrazdan plant only. Still, the edited version of the Gazprom statement falls short of explicitly denying the imminent Russian takeover of a pipeline that was supposed to reduce Armenia’s dependence on its ex-Soviet master for energy.
The Russian energy giant also stood by its claims that its presently 45 percent share in ARG, which owns Armenia’s entire gas infrastructure, will be raised to a “qualitative majority.” According to the Moscow daily “Kommersant,” the Gazprom stake in the gas operator will jump to 82 percent.
This will constitute an additional handover of Armenian energy assets to Moscow which the government in Yerevan prefers not publicize for the moment. President Robert Kocharian and other senior officials have spoken instead of the short-term benefits of the deal for hundreds of thousands of Armenians using Russian gas for heating purposes. They will pay 65 drams (14 U.S. cents) per cubic meter of the fuel, instead of the planned 90 drams, until January 2009.
Under the terms of the deal, the Russian side is also obliged to pay the Armenian government $60 million in cash and make large-scale capital investments in the incomplete Hrazdan facility.
State-run Russian companies already own Armenia’s largest thermal power plant, also located in Hrazdan, several hydro-electric stations as well as the country’s entire electricity distribution network. In addition, Russia’s Unified Energy Systems utility manages the finances of the Metsamor nuclear power plant.
“The republic’s energy sector has been taken under Russian control,” “Kommersant” declared on Friday. The paper said that Gazprom will now make sure that Iranian gas is not exported to third countries, including Georgia, through Armenian territory.