Azerbaijan supplies gas to Georgia following blasts on Russian pipelines |

Azerbaijan supplies gas to Georgia following blasts on Russian pipelines

TBILISI, Georgia – Georgia has begun receiving natural gas from Azerbaijan following explosions on pipelines in southern Russia that cut off delivery of gas to Georgia and its neighbor Armenia during a cold snap, officials said Monday.Georgian leaders insist the blasts early Sunday were deliberate and part of a Russian policy to punish Tbilisi for its attempts to distance itself from Moscow.”We have long been warned, including by some Russian politicians, that if we continue the independence policy we are pursuing, if we insist on the withdrawal of Russian peacekeepers and so on, then Georgia will remain without electricity or gas,” Parliamentary speaker Nino Burdzhanadze told Ekho Moskvy radio late Sunday.Russia has strongly denied responsibility for the explosions on pipelines in the North Ossetia region bordering Georgia as well as a blast at an electricity-transmission tower in another region that supplies gas to Georgia.Russian prosecutors blamed sabotage for the pipeline blasts and Russian news reports said explosive residue was found near the sites.Fatima Kardonova, a spokeswoman for the Karachayevo-Cherkessiya regional Interior Ministry, said in televised comments that investigators found 22 pounds of plastic explosives and two detonators at the site of the destroyed transmission tower.Azerbaijan began pumping Russian gas to Georgia late Sunday, said Natiya Bandzeladze, a spokesman for the Georgian International Gas Corp. Azerbaijan was to provide nearly half the 9.1 million cubic yards Georgia usually receives from Russia.Bandzeladze said about half of Tbilisi’s 1.5 million residents would begin receiving gas immediately, while others in the city would have to wait up to three days and those outside the city even longer. President Mikhail Saakashvili said there would be one- to two-hour blackouts in some districts over the next several days.Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Nogaideli said Georgia had also started importing electricity from Turkey, and Georgia’s energy minister was in Iran on Monday hoping to negotiate gas supplies there.Both Georgia and Armenia tapped into reserves to keep gas flowing during subfreezing weather, where nighttime temperatures have reached minus 22 degrees in some regions. There were no immediate reports of deaths or widespread suffering in the two impoverished Caucasus countries.State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said he had no information on what caused the explosions.”Regardless right now what the cause of the explosions were, what is important is that Georgia and Armenia’s neighbors came together to come to their neighbors’ aid in a time of crisis,” McCormack said.In Armenia, Shushan Sardarian, a spokeswoman for Armenia’s gas distributor, told AP that the only reduction in supplies were to two units of an electric generating plant.Georgia has faced energy shortages for more than a decade. Municipal heating systems in Georgia went out of service in the mid-1990s amid the country’s post-Soviet economic collapse and many households rely on gas space heaters to stay warm.The gas shutdown underlined the two countries’ dependence on Russian energy supplies. Georgian officials often bristle at what they say are Russian attempts to use their control of the pipelines to interfere in the politics of its former Soviet republic, which now is pursuing pro-Western policies.The blasts “were done so that Georgia will break apart … and fall into the hands of Russia,” Saakashvili told reporters in Tbilisi.In response, a Russian Foreign Ministry statement said the Georgian government’s “hysteria is accompanied by continued provocations against Russian servicemen in Georgia,” where Russian bases remain in a vestige of the Soviet era.Earlier this month, Russia doubled the price of gas exports to Georgia and Armenia. It also announced drastic increases in prices for Ukraine – another former Soviet republic whose government has turned westward.Vail, Colorado

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