Russian Gas to Armenia Cut off after Pipeline Blasts

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Authorities in Armenia urged citizens to use natural gas more sparingly and suspended electricity exports to Georgia following weekend pipeline explosions in southern Russia that cut off gas deliveries to the two South Caucasus countries highly dependent on Russian energy resources.

The national gas operator–ArmRosGazprom (ARG)–was tapping its underground emergency reserves Monday to keep up gas supplies to hundreds of thousands of Armenian households. Officials there said they expect the Russian pipeline to be repaired this week.

A section of that pipeline running through the Russian republic of North Ossetia was ripped apart by two explosions early on Sunday which Moscow blamed on local pro-Chechen insurgents. Georgia dismissed the official explanation–accusing Russia of committing an act of sabotage.

"Everything is being done to keep gas supplies to the population unaffected by this emergency," said the ARG spokeswoman–Shushan Sardarian. She said Armenia’s should nonetheless cut back on gas consumption until the situation returns to normal.

Individual consumers were receiving gas from ARG’s underground facility north of Yerevan which has the capacity to store 80 million cubic meters of gas. Armenia’s normal rate of gas consumption is 6.7 million cubic meters a day–suggesting that its reserves should suffice for a few days. The landlocked country successfully coped for eight days with a similar disruption that took place in 2003. However–household use of the fuel was considerably lower at the time.

Russian gas helps to meet more than one third of Armenia’s electricity needs and is the main source of winter heating for a large part of its population. It is also used in liquefied form by many local motorists–especially in the public transportation sector–as a cheaper alternative to gasoline. According to Sardarian–ARG will have to introduce liquefied gas rationing if the situation does not improve in the next few days.

The North Caucasus blasts came on the heels of Russia’s controversial decision to double the price of its gas delivered to Georgia and Armenia. While the authorities in Tbilisi reluctantly accepted the new tariff–Armenian leaders still hope that the Russia’s will agree to reverse or at least scale down the price hike.

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