YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—The Armenian government is not concerned about a Georgian parliament vote allowing the privatization of a key pipeline supplying Russian natural gas to Armenia, Energy and Natural Resources Minister Armen Movsisian said on Wednesday.
He insisted that the Georgian government will not sell it to Azerbaijan or private investors and is pursuing other objectives that do not threaten Armenia’s energy security.
The Georgian parliament technically paved the way for such a sale last week when it removed the so-called North-South pipeline from a list of strategic state facilities not subject to privatization.
The move raised fears in Yerevan that Azerbaijan’s state oil company, which currently manages Georgia’s domestic gas distribution network, could acquire it to block the vital Russian gas deliveries to Armenia. Azerbaijan has been Georgia’s principal gas supplier in recent years.
Opposition groups in Georgia also expressed concern about possible consequences of the measure. They fear that the pipeline could end up under Russian control, giving Moscow additional leverage against the country.
Georgian Prime Minister Nika Gilauri has sought to allay such fears, saying that the Tbilisi government would only sell a small minority share in the facility and will remain its principal owner. Economic Development Minister Vera Kobalia likewise said this week that only up to 15 percent of the pipeline stock might be privatized “within two or three years.”
“We have no concerns at the moment,” Movsisian told a news conference in Yerevan. “Even if the pipeline is put up for sale, that will not create any emergency situations for our country.”
“Georgia has not stated that it is going to sell [the pipeline,]” he said. “Georgia has simply removed that pipeline from the list of strategic facilities.” The purpose of the move is to formally and structurally separate the facility from smaller gas pipelines connected with it, added the Armenian minister.
Movsisian was also confident that the authorities in Tbilisi will not reconsider this stance and give up control of the trunk pipeline in the future. “I don’t think that they will do such a thing because that would bring about political issues and so on,” he said. “I don’t think they will be so short-sighted as to resort to such a thing.”
Despite starting to import gas from neighboring Iran in May 2009, Armenia remains heavily reliant on Russian gas. Besides, more than 80 percent of its gas distribution network is owned Russia’s Gazprom giant.