YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—Armenia granted Russia’s Gazprom giant ownership of a pipeline supplying limited amounts of natural gas from Iran under pressure from Moscow, a senior Armenian pro-government lawmaker said on Tuesday.
The pipeline was controversially handed over to Armenia’s ARG gas distribution network mostly owned by Gazprom shortly after it was built in 2007. Government critics decried this development at the time, saying that it limited the country’s ability to diversify its energy resources. Some of them also accused Yerevan of bowing to Russian pressure.
The government denied such pressure. It also dismissed speculation that the Russians forced the Armenian side to significantly limit the capacity of the pipeline running from Iran.
“When the construction of the Iran pipeline was underway the Russian side had problems with that,” said Vartan Ayvazian, the chairman of an Armenian parliament committee on economic affairs. “They were not quite enthusiastic. All over the world there is pressure in commodity markets.”
Ayvazian, who is affiliated with the ruling Republican Party of Armenia said that the pipeline’s handover to ARG was the result of such pressure. “You can’t always see obvious facts,” he told journalists.
Ayvazian also implied that Gazprom’s control of the pipeline has limited Iran gas supplies to Armenian consumers.
The Iran pipeline was meant to reduce Armenia’s heavy dependence on Russia for energy. However, the volume of Iranian gas imports has remained quite modest ever since they began in 2009. According to official data, Armenia imported 500 million cubic meters of gas from Iran last year, compared with almost 2 billion cubic meters supplied by Gazprom.
The government has faced renewed questions about the small amounts of Iranian supplies after announcing last week a sharp rise in the price of the Russian gas for Armenia. Some of its critics have suggested that the Iranian gas may well be cheaper.
Energy Minister Armen Movsisian dismissed such criticism on Monday. He said that Iran sells natural gas to Turkey and other nations for $370 per thousand cubic meters, compared with Gazprom’s new price of $270 per thousand cubic meters set for Armenia.
Movsisian insisted that Armenia can afford buying modest volumes of Iranian gas only because it pays for them with electricity supplies.