Friday, January 21, 2011

Will Azerbaijan Control Natural Gas to Armenia?

Rumors continue to swirl around the possibilitity that Azerbaijan will purchase the Georgian pipeline that provides Armenia with Russian natural gas. This blog has previously reported on Georgian efforts to privatize the pipeline, the State Oil Company of the Azerbaijan Republic (SOCAR)'s interest in buying the pipeline, and Georgia's efforts to maintain peace with its neighbors by stating it would only sell 10% of the pipeline--thereby depriving a buyer of the ability to choke off Armenian fuel supplies.

With Georgian Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze (left) visiting Baku, speculation about the proposed sale have again arisen. SOCAR President Rovnag Abdullayev stated on January 14 that his company remained interested in using the pipeline to export Azerbaijani gas to the shores of the Black Sea. SOCAR spokesman Nizammedin Guliyev confirmed that talks with Georgia on the subject were continuing, but there was no timeline to the talks. Guliyev's remarks were confirmed by Georgian energy minister Aleko Khetaguri

Despite the reports, Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister Nino Kalandadze sought to distance the Foreign Minister from the subject. In an official briefing on 17 January, he stated that Vashadze would not be discussing the proposed takeover during his visit. "At the moment the issue is not on the agenda," said Kalandadze. "It is not discussed at a state level."

The contradiction may be less than it appears. The Georgian parliament has already done its job by declaring that the pipeline was not a strategic asset. This opens the possibility of a sale of the pipeline. If there were any discussions taking place, they would would be with SOCAR, not with the government of Azerbaijan. So the deputy foreign minister's hedged denial may be on the mark: while discussions are not taking place at the state level, it would appear the discussions with SOCAR that the Georgian energy minister confirmed are ongoing.
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