Iranian gas started to flow through the Georgian pipeline system on Monday for the first time in 35 years, after Georgian Energy Minister Nika Gilauri personally opened a valve at a gas station in Marneuli, south of the capital, Tbilisi.
“This is an unprecedented event - that Georgia has diversified its gas supplies and receives gas from three countries [Azerbaijan, Russia, Iran]... It means that in cases of technical or other problems, Georgia can receive gas from other sources,” Nika Gilauri said on January 30.
The Georgian Energy Minister said that Iranian gas flow will continue to flow for 10-15 days or up to a month, “depending on how stable the Russian gas supplies are.”
“Afterwards, we can have [Iranian gas] as a reserve [source] in case any problems occur in Georgia’s gas supplies,” he added.
Georgia receives Iranian gas via Azerbaijan through a pipe which was restored last year.
The Georgian Energy Minister said that the gas supply from Azerbaijan also continues to flow to Georgia and added that the gas supplied from both Azerbaijan and Iran - about 4 million cubic meters per day - covers 30% of Georgia’s need.
“This [Iranian gas] is very important for us and we want to maintain, and we will maintain, this alternative,” Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Nogaideli said on January 29.
Georgian Energy Minister Nika Gilauri also said that Russia sped up the rehabilitation of two pipelines in North Ossetia that were blown-up only after “we announced our plans to import Iranian gas.”
Russia restarted its gas supply to Georgia on January 29. Gilauri said that Russian gas is currently being delivered to the cities of Tbilisi, Kutaisi, Gori, Telavi and Rustavi.
“We assume that all of Georgia will be supplied with gas within 3-4 days,” he added.
Georgia was prompted to search for an emergency gas supply in the midst of an energy crisis which struck in the country after two pipes were blown up in Russia’s North Ossetian Republic on January 22.
Iran and Georgia agreed on a supply of 2 million cubic meters of gas per day on January 27.
Officials still decline to reveal the price Georgia must pay for the Iranian gas, saying that the price is “symbolic.”
Georgia turned to Iran for an emergency gas supply amid increasing international pressure on Iran over its nuclear programe.
While some analysts fear that Georgia’s deal with Iran might irritate the west others downplay these concerns.
In a commentary published by the Georgian daily Rezonansi (Resonance) energy analyst Gia Khukhashvili warned the Georgian leadership to refrain from striking a deal with Iran before February 2, when an emergency meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency is expected to decide the Iranian issue with the UN Security Council.
But political analyst Archil Gegeshidze thinks that a deal with Iran will not have far-reaching political consequences.
“If we consider this deal in a short-term perspective, of course it was a very important decision and an emergency one, which, I think, will be of a temporary character mainly, because, except for Russian gas, Georgia has no other alternatives. But if we consider this in a mid-term perspective, the situation changes, because there is the Shah-Deniz project [Baku-Tbilisi-Erzrum gas pipeline scheduled to be finished this year], which will be an important alternative source,” Archil Gegeshidze told Civil Georgia.
Analyst Giorgi Khelashvili shares this opinion and says that the gas deal with Iran should be perceived in the west with “understanding.”
“I think it was perceived by the United States, as well as by our other western partners, with understanding; on the other hand I think that the Georgian leadership informed their western partners about this deal in advance, before heading to Iran for talks over gas supplies,” Khelashvili told Civil Georgia.
Analysts also suggest that the first steps by the Georgian leadership to secure alternative gas supplies from Iran were undertaken shortly after Mikheil Saakashvili assumed his presidential duties in January, 2004.
“A trip to Iran was one of President Saakashvili’s first foreign visits, which I think was quite interesting and notable,” Giorgi Khelashvili said.
President Saakashvili visited Iran on July 6-9, 2004. After this visit by the President, the Georgian Energy Ministry’s spokesperson Teona Doliashvili said in an interview with Civil Georgia on July 27, 2004 that “Iranian gas can serve as an alternative source of gas supply for Georgia only in cases of emergency situations and in the event that Russia reduces or stops its gas supply [to Georgia]. It can not be a permanent supplier for us, as Iranian gas is more expensive.”