Georgia, Russia Talk Gas
Georgia plays no small role in Europe’s efforts to diversify away from Russian natural gas, but the South-Caucasus country itself could find it needs to diversify back toward its enemy’s energy. Late last week, Russia and Georgia held talks on gas shipments, but have offered only scant details about the negotiations.
Observers in Georgia pricked up their ears when Gazprom’s Chief Executive Officer Alexei Miller met Georgian Energy Minister Kakha Kaladze on September 25 in Brussels. Gazprom said that exports to and through Georgia were discussed, prompting some local concern over the chance that Georgia would take on additional volumes of Russian gas, which for Moscow is as much a foreign policy instrument as it an export commodity. In comments to Georgian media, Gia Volski, chairperson of Georgia’s ruling Georgian Dream parliamentary faction, suggested that Tbilisi treads carefully on the topic of Russian gas imports.
Granted, most of Gazprom supplies to Georgia only go through the country to reach neighboring Armenia, which relies on Russia for most of its energy needs. Georgia retains 10 percent of shipments to Armenia as a transit fee. Last year, Georgia received 200 million cubic meters of Russia gas, which accounted for only nine percent of the gas consumed by Georgia in 2014, the energy ministry told EurasiaNet.org. Gazprom puts the figure at 300 million cubic meters.
It is unclear if Georgia is looking at purchasing greater volumes beyond what comes as a transit fee. With no natural gas resources to speak of, Georgia siphons off its shares of gas from both the North-South Pipeline (Russia-Georgia-Armenia) and South Caucasus Pipeline (Azerbaijan-Georgia-Turkey). The country also has a separate arrangement with Azerbaijan, which supplies 90 percent of Georgia’s gas imports.
Tbilisi minimized its reliance on Russian gas a decade ago in the wake of a major supply breakdown in 2006. At the time, President Mikheil Saakashvili’s administration accused Moscow of trying to blackmail Georgia away from Western-integration goals.
Back in 2013, Minister Kaladze said that it would only be pragmatic to diversify Georgia’s gas imports rather than be overly reliant on a single major source, Azerbaijan.
Georgia, though, has not yet gone through with that plan where Russia is concerned, based on the energy ministry’s information. The ministry said that the meeting with Gazprom was about preparing for routine adjustments to the gas transit for the winter season.
Georgia has, however, used Russian supplies to make up for any temporary snafu in Azerbaijani supplies. Russia remains the country’s only viable gas alternative to Azerbaijan.