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Who sought to blow up the Russian gas pipeline in Georgia and why? – interview with Ara Marjanyan

Ara Marjanyan. Photo: 168.am

The failed attempt by a criminal group to blow up the Russian gas pipeline in the territory of Georgia has caused serious concerns about the vulnerability of that section. This incident has reminded the Armenians of the energy blockade they suffered during the Nagorno-Karabakh war in the 1990s, when that very section was attacked on a regular basis. Now Armenia has a gas pipeline from Iran – even though Iranian gas is a bit more expensive, it can meet all of the country’s needs and is a guarantee against a new energy blockade. So, the question is why should anybody wish to blow up the Russian pipeline? Armenian Coordinator of the Renewable Energy Project, energy expert Ara Marjanyan believes that this incident had a wider goal than just to leave Armenia without Russian gas. It is part of the rivalry of two big regional projects: the West-East energy axis, a system of pipelines that are being built Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan, and the North-South energy partnership undertaken by Russia, Georgia, Armenia and Iran. “So, the attempt to blow up the Russian gas pipeline was not an ordinary crime but a special act,” Marjanyan said in an interview to EADaily, when asked “cui prodest?” (whose profits?) – what a goal did the attackers have and who might be behind them?

Mr. Marjanyan, once again, Armenia is facing the problem of energy security. But today it has a gas pipeline from Iran. So, what was the goal of the attack on the Russian gas pipeline? Did it have sense?

This is a very important question. It is part of the logic of the processes developing in the regional geo-economy. The geo-political realities formed in the times of the Nagorno-Karabakh war (1992-1994) are still there. The energy crisis Armenia faced in the 1990s was due mostly to unstable gas supplies and the blockade imposed by Turkey and Azerbaijan. These factors are still existent even though they are not as strong as before. Armenia is still facing an energy blockade and is paying a high price for it. The West-East energy axis – Turkey-Georgia-Azerbaijan - is chocking the country. Over the last 20 years, the Armenians have been trying to neutralize this blockade by means of the North-South format. Last year, Russia, Georgia, Iran and Armenia started serious talks towards this end. Their key plan is to pump Iranian gas on a swap basis through Armenia to Georgia. More specifically, Iran sells more gas to Armenia, while Russia, as Armenia’s key gas supplier, sells as much gas to Georgia. The scheme has already been tested in July.

Do you think that this attack was aimed against the Russia-Georgia-Armenia-Iran format?

I am sure it was. This terrorist act was aimed against Armenia’s integration into the regional energy transit infrastructures. It was the first but not the last such act. As long as the Turkey-Georgia-Azerbaijan axis is existent, we should expect new obstacles to the North-South format.

Do you mean that Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan are not interested in this format and one of those countries might be the organizer of this act?

I am sure that Turkey and Azerbaijan had a hand in this attack. As far as Georgia is concerned, its official position is confronted by a group of quite strong forces that believe that Georgia must cooperate only with Turkey and Azerbaijan. Their strategic goal is to choke Armenia and to neutralize Russia and to force the Russians out of the region. This force consists of special service agents, fighters and nationalists. Their goal is not so much to cause a new energy blockade in Armenia as to prevent that country from using the North-South corridor as an effective weapon against the Turkish-Azerbaijani blockade.

This attack has shown that the Georgia section of the Armenian-Russian gas pipeline remains quite vulnerable, especially if the Nagorno-Karabakh war is restarted. Since this section is crucial for the North-South axis, the question is, Should Armenia, Russia and Georgia consider protecting it on a joint basis?

They simply must. If you remember, when Azerbaijan and Turkey laid the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline, they used that occasion for starting active military contacts with Georgia. They organized a series of joint military exercises for protecting the pipeline. So, Armenia must also do something to ensure the defense of North-South infrastructures – be it a power transmission line, a gas pipeline or a railroad. In view of existing realities, it must be an imperative for Armenia and Georgia to ensure the security of the North-South transit routes by means of more active military-political and economic contacts.

Interviewed by Arshaluys Mgdesyan

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23.09.2016

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