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Cablegate: Tfgg01: Armenian Pm Raises Alarm On Fuel, Grain

VZCZCXRO0655
OO RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHROV RUEHSR
DE RUEHYE #0649/01 2271525
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 141525Z AUG 08
FM AMEMBASSY YEREVAN
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 7895
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC PRIORITY
RHMFISS/CDR USEUCOM VAIHINGEN GE// PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 YEREVAN 000649

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/13/2018
TAGS: ECON ELTN PREL EWWT ENRG EAGR RU GG AM
SUBJECT: TFGG01: ARMENIAN PM RAISES ALARM ON FUEL, GRAIN
SHIPMENTS THROUGH GEORGIA

REF: A) Y...


C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 YEREVAN 000649 SIPDIS E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/13/2018 TAGS: ECON ELTN PREL EWWT ENRG EAGR RU GG AM

SUBJECT: TFGG01: ARMENIAN PM RAISES ALARM ON FUEL, GRAIN SHIPMENTS THROUGH GEORGIA REF: A) YEREVAN 646 B) YEREVAN 639 Classified By: CDA JOSEPH PENNINGTON, REASONS 1.5(B)(D) ------- SUMMARY ------- 1. (C) The Prime Minister convoked the Charge August 14 to express his urgent concerns (despite the GOAM's public reassurances) about continuing problems in the transport of critical goods, especially fuel and grains, to Armenia through Georgia. Georgian transport companies that ship to Armenia from Georgian ports announced two weeks ago a huge increase (more than three-fold) in transport fees. The PM then contacted his Georgian counterpart, who agreed to meet at the end of August to discuss the price issue. The problem was compounded by the outbreak of hostilities in Georgia, which temporarily cut off all shipments to Armenia. The PM complained that while Georgian authorities denied clearance for critical goods already at the Georgia-Armenia border to enter Armenia once the conflict was underway, Georgian shipments to Azerbaijan continued without disruption. Although ministerial-level contacts with the GOG and a slight easing of the situation in Georgia have helped restart limited shipments, the PM claimed that Armenia could experience severe shortages of key commodities within 30 days. The PM said the situation with jet fuel is especially precarious given the expected increase in the number of European humanitarian assistance and charter flights expected to come to Yerevan in coming weeks. He reiterated, however, Armenia's willingness to serve as a humanitarian corridor for supplies to Georgia. CDA stressed that the first step toward resolving Armenia's supply problem is for the Russians to end their military activity in Georgia and abide by the agreed cease-fire. He urged Armenia to use its influence in that direction. End Summary. ------------------------------------- HUGE PRICE HIKES PRECEDED HOSTILITIES ------------------------------------- 2. (C) Prime Minister Tigran Sargsian (joined by FM Nalbandian) called in the CDA for an urgent meeting on the morning of August 14 to discuss what he called "the very serious problems" Armenia is facing because of the difficulty in getting shipments of critical commodities through its traditional supply routes through Georgia. (Note: Due to closed borders with Turkey and Azerbaijan, well over 70 percent of Armenia's imports -- including nearly all of its fuel and grain supplies -- comes via transit through Georgia. End note.) Sargsian explained that nearly two weeks ago, the two Georgian firms that provide transport services for freight to Armenia from the Georgian ports of Poti and Batumi announced simultaneously an enormous price increase (more than three-fold) for their services. The two firms are reported to be an effective duopoly, with one monopolizing shipments from the port of Poti, and the other doing the same from Batumi. 3. (C) When Armenia's largest importers complained to the GOAM that such an increase was unsustainable, the PM contacted his Georgian counterpart for an explanation. After several days, the Georgian Prime Minister reportedly contacted Sargsian to say that the increases were necessary from the standpoint of "risk management." Sargsian said he wasn't sure exactly what this meant, but added that Armenian importers attribute the price hike to a "political decision" in Tbilisi. He further claimed that both of the transport companies have strong official ties and are "subject to influence" by the Georgian Government. In any event, Sargsian said he and the Georgian Prime Minister had agreed to meet at the end of August in Tbilisi to address the issue. --------------------------------------------- --------- CONFLICT STOPS ALL SHIPMENTS, BUT NOT TO AZERBAIJAN... --------------------------------------------- --------- 4. (C) According to Sargsian, the outbreak of Georgian-Russian hostilities on August 8 resulted in a total shutdown of Armenian imports through Georgia. This would have been understandable, the PM said, except for the fact that "we knew that similar shipments to Azerbaijan were moving without disruption." Sargsian recounted how a Georgian Government official at the Georgia-Armenia border soon after the start of the conflict refused to clear more than 30 rail cars of fuel and wheat bound for Armenia on the grounds that Georgia "may have need of the cargo for itself." (This tracks with what we were told by Deputy Foreign YEREVAN 00000649 002 OF 002 Minister Gharibjanian earlier in the week -- Ref B.) After a call by the Armenian Transport Minister to his Georgian counterpart, the GOG agreed to release 19 of the rail cars. According to the PM, the remaining 15 were moved back to Tbilisi. 5. (C) Although the PM acknowledged that the situation has marginally improved over the past several days, and that limited shipments have started to reach Armenia, he insisted that most cargo destined for Armenia remains blocked at Georgian ports. The PM said that what little freight is entering Armenia now is being paid at the previous transport rates, as agreed with the Georgian Prime Minister. He added, however, that the Georgians could demand retroactive payment of the higher rates depending on the outcome of the prime ministers' discussions scheduled for later this month. Sargsian complained that the Georgian Prime Minister "is no longer taking my calls," and hinted that Georgia may be punishing Armenia for its close relations with Russia. "We have not made this into a public issue," the PM insisted, "because we are trying to protect the good relationship we have with Georgia." He added, however, that Armenia could face serious shortages of critical commodities -- especially fuel and grain -- within 30 days if the current situation does not improve. --------------------------------------------- ------ HUMANITARIAN FLIGHTS COULD EXACERBATE FUEL SHORTAGE --------------------------------------------- ------ 6. (C) PM Sargsian also noted that the GOAM had accepted a proposal by the European Union that Armenia serve as a humanitarian corridor for relief supplies bound for Georgia. A survey team from the Estonian Government visited Yerevan several days ago to plan logistics for relief flights, and the PM indicated that several such flights had already taken place. When pressed, Sargsian said he did not have the details of these flights at hand, but promised to have his staff provide full information soon. He noted that while Armenia is eager to contribute to humanitarian relief efforts in Georgia, the expected increase in unscheduled charter and humanitarian flights in coming weeks will further strain Armenia's already precarious supply of jet fuel. According to Sargsian, the GOAM as a matter of policy maintains an emergency 30-day reserve stock of jet fuel, but has already started requesting all inbound flights to carry as much fuel as possible in order to minimize refueling requirements at Yerevan's Zvartnots airport. 7. (C) CDA welcomed Armenia's willingness to play a role in humanitarian efforts, recognized the urgency of Armenia's supply problems, and promised to pass on the PM's concerns to Washington and Embassy Tbilisi. But he also stressed that the most immediate priority was for Russian forces to end military activity in Georgia and abide by the terms of the cease-fire, and he urged that the GOAM use its influence in that direction. He added that the Georgian Government will be in a much better position to engage on the supply issues once a semblance of stability has been reestablished. ------- COMMENT ------- 8. (C) Despite the urgency with which the Prime Minister made his case, we remain unconvinced that Armenia is on the brink of an economic emergency. As we reported in Ref A, the lack of panic buying by Armenian consumers or large price increases by retailers suggest that significant shortages, while certainly possible, remain some ways off. Armenian officials' public statements have been entirely contradictory to their private message, as they seek to avoid creating an economic panic or enflaming public anger against Georgia. We have no insight into the large price hikes announced by the Georgian freight companies, so are not in a position to say whether that is a long-term problem or a passing phase. Nevertheless, given Armenia's lack of supply alternatives, imports through Georgia remain critically important and the Government's near-panic on the issue is at least understandable. We will watch the situation closely and continue to encourage the GOAM to address their concerns directly with Georgian counterparts, taking into consideration that the GOG is necessarily distracted at the moment by more immediate problems. PENNINGTON

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