The United National Movement (UNM) said it will hold a protest rally on March 6 against what it calls are dubious goals pursued by the Georgian government in talks with Russia’s state-controlled energy giant Gazprom.
The rally will involve a human chain stretching from the government headquarters close to Freedom Square to the Russian embassy building at the end of the Chavchavadze Avenue, according to UNM’s secretary general, MP Sergo Ratiani; the distance between the government headquarters and the embassy building is more than five kilometers.
“Recently the Georgian government, in particular [Energy Minister Kakha] Kaladze are directly lobbying for interests of Gazprom and Russia and it is being done in detriment of Georgia’s political and economic interests,” MP Ratiani said on February 24.
Leader of UNM parliamentary minority group, MP Davit Bakradze, said that the government was trying to “conceal” the talks with Gazprom and the public only learned about it from the statement made by the Russian side in late September, 2015. Combined with “contradictory statements” of the Energy Minister over the negotiations, it “triggers legitimate suspicions and questions marks about goals, scale and purpose of these talks,” UNM MP Bakradze said on February 24, adding that the planned protest rally will aim at “making our voice heard to the government that the Georgian people will not allow return of the epoch of Russian darkness to Georgia.”
According to the Georgian Energy Ministry talks with Gazprom have been focusing on three issues: possible monetization of transit fee for Russian gas transported to Armenia via Georgia; amount of cash to be paid to Georgia in case of monetization of transit fee, as well as price of gas Georgia will have to buy from Russia to replace volume of gas the country now gets as a transit fee; and length of the contract terms.
As a transit fee, Georgia now gets 10% of Gazprom gas transported to Armenia; Gazprom wants to monetize transit fee and pay cash.
If monetized, Georgia is not likely to receive enough cash to buy the same amount of gas it is now receiving as a transit fee.
The most recent meeting between Georgian Energy Minister, Kakha Kaladze, and senior executives from Gazprom was held in Vienna on February 19, but no final agreement was reached.
“In principle we are not against of monetizing, which is an international practice, but it depends on an amount of fee payable for transit – there no agreement on this issue yet,” Georgia’s Deputy Energy Minister, Mariam Valishvili, said on February 25.
Length of the potential new contract terms was also an issue of disagreement, at least during the previous rounds of talks with Gazprom. The Russian energy company was insisting on a long-term, multi-year contract – something Georgia was strongly against of, insisting on a short-term contract.
Georgia hopes that it can fill the gap the country has during gas consumption peak in winter, when more volumes of gas becomes available after the completion of the second phase of the Shah Deniz project, expected by 2018-2019.
Georgia receives gas from two sources in Azerbaijan – one directly from SOCAR and another one from the BP-operated South Caucasus Pipeline (SCP), which transports gas from Shah Deniz offshore field in the Caspian Sea to Turkey via Georgia.
Gas supplies from these sources accounted for 88.5% of Georgia’s total gas needs in 2015.
Georgia received 200 million cubic meters from Gazprom as a fee for transiting Russian gas to Armenia and on top of that Georgia also imported 75 million cubic meters of gas from Russia in 2015, accounting for 11% of Georgia’s total gas imports last year.
Mariam Valishvili, who has been Georgia’s Deputy Energy Minister since 2008, said earlier this month that Tbilisi had been trying in vain since 2011 to achieve redistribution of Georgia’s share of gas from Shah Deniz consortium between summer and winter periods – meaning receiving more gas in winter and less in summer from the Georgian quota.
Speaking at a public discussion on Georgia’s energy policy, hosted by Tbilisi office of Heinrich Böll Foundation on February 10, Valishvili said that Georgia’s talks with Gazprom has served as a “triggering” factor for SOCAR, which now acts as a commercial operator of Shah Deniz, to engage in talks on changes in allocation of Georgian quota between summer and winter periods.
SOCAR said in late January that it negotiated with South Caucasus Pipeline Company to increase gas supplies to Georgia during the winter period by 50 million cubic meters. Valishvili said that although it’s still not enough to fill the gap, the new arrangement is better than the previously existed one.