Monday, January 23, 2006

Blasts cut gas supplies to Armenia, Georgia

By Misha Dzhindzhikhashvili
The Associated Press

TBILISI, Georgia -
Explosions hit pipelines running through southern Russia early Sunday, cutting the supply of natural gas to the Caucasus countries of Georgia and Armenia during a cold snap.

Russia's NTV showed footage of twisted and smoking pipelines in a high mountain pass in North Ossetia. Overnight temperatures in Tbilisi fell to minus 14 degrees Celsius, about 7 degrees Fahrenheit, and by afternoon, much of the capital was without gas.

An explosion also hit an electricity transmission tower west of North Ossetia, interrupting electricity supplies to Georgia, said Sergei Petrov, a duty officer at Russia's Emergency Situation Ministry. He said the cause was not yet known.

"The situation is very difficult. We have enough gas for just one day," Georgia Energy Ministry spokeswoman Teona Doliashvili said.

It was not immediately clear whether the pipeline and power line explosions were connected, Russia's Emergency Situations Ministry said.

Spokesman Viktor Beltsov initially said the pipeline blasts appeared to be accidental, but Nikolai Shepel, chief prosecutor for Russia's southern region, said a criminal investigation had been opened.

In recent years, explosions have damaged pipelines in Russia's turbulent North Caucasus region in blasts investigators have ruled sabotage. Criminal groups as well as militants with ties to Chechnya's separatist rebels have been suspected.

Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili called on Russia to do more to explain the cutoff and restore supplies and honor its "contract as is provided for under civilized, international trade relations," he said.

Russian gas goes across Georgia to Armenia, which sends back some electricity to Georgia. Electricity supplies also were cut in Armenia.

Shushan Sardarian, a spokeswoman for Armenia's gas distributor, said officials had tapped the country's emergency gas reserves and urged Armenians to cut back on electricity usage.

Neither Georgia nor Armenia produce significant amounts of gas, and they rely on Russia for the overwhelming majority of their supplies

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