The ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) rejected on Tuesday opposition demands for the launch of a parliamentary inquiry into the Armenian government’s secret subsidizing of the price of natural gas that led to a controversial agreement with Russia’s Gazprom monopoly.
The country’s four main opposition parties proposed that the Armenian parliament set up an ad hoc commission that would look into the government’s recent dealings with Gazprom and its broader handling of gas supplies from Russia. In particular, it would investigate the origin of a $300 million debt to the Russian energy conglomerate which the government claims to have incurred as a result of those subsidies.
The debt was cleared through the sale of the government’s remaining 20 percent stake in Armenia’s ARG gas distribution network. A December 2013 agreement strongly condemned by the Armenian opposition also granted Gazprom 30-year exclusive rights in the local energy market.
Immediately after the signing of that agreement, the government essentially acknowledged that it had kept secret a sharp rise in the cost of Russian gas for Armenia which came into effect in April 2011. The gas price for Armenian households went up only in July 2013, shortly after a presidential election and municipal polls in Yerevan controversially won by the HHK. This fact sparked opposition claims that the gas subsidies were illegal and politically motivated.
“You concealed them in order to cling to power,” Ruben Hakobian of the opposition Zharangutyun (Heritage) party charged on the parliament floor, referring to the pro-government majority in the National Assembly.
“The people are paying the price of that secret subsidy,” said Armen Rustamian, an opposition deputy representing the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun). Rustamian denounced the Russian-Armenian gas deal as a “capitulation,” saying that it must be thoroughly investigated.
Gagik Minasian, a senior HHK lawmaker, defended the deal and made clear that the parliament majority will block the opposition motion when it is put to the vote on Wednesday. Minasian said the ruling party can only agree to parliamentary hearings on the issue.