Russia’s largest oil company controlled by the Kremlin looks set to gain a foothold in Armenia, a development that could reshape the Armenian fuel market dominated by a handful of government-linked businessmen.
Igor Sechin, the powerful chairman of the Rosneft giant, and the chief executive of an Armenian company signed a tentative agreement on the creation of a joint venture specializing in fuel sales during a visit to Yerevan on Thursday.
The little-known company, Oil Techno, supplies lubricants to Russian agricultural businesses, transport companies and food producers.
The agreement was signed after Sechin’s separate meetings with President Serzh Sarkisian and Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian. The latter was present at the signing ceremony held in his office.
President Sarkisian was quoted by his press service as saying that Rosneft’s presence in Armenia will give a major boost to Russian-Armenian economic ties.
“We are happy with the entry of such a serious investor into the Armenian market and will make every effort to make the project a success,” Tigran Sarkisian told Sechin for his part, according to a government statement.
The statement quoted Sechin as saying that he sees a “serious potential for supplies of petrol and aviation and diesel fuel” in Armenia. No further details of the planned joint venture were reported. The Rosneft chief, who is a close and influential ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, made no statements to the media in the Armenian capital.
It is thus not yet clear if the Rosneft subsidiary will engage in wholesale imports of fuel or its retail sales in Armenia. A Rosneft statement issued on Friday said only that it will specialize in “marketing and distribution” of oil products.
The bulk of the gasoline sold in the country is currently supplied from oil refineries in Romania and Bulgaria. The lucrative fuel imports have been effectively monopolized by three or four Armenian firms ever since the late 1990s. Their owners are wealthy entrepreneurs with close ties to the government.
According to the national customs service, petrol and diesel imports to Armenia have steadily declined over the past decade. They went down by around 3 percent to $362 million last year. The drop has resulted in large measure from a growing use of liquefied natural gas by local owners of cars and buses.