When Russian state energy giant Gazprom took control of Kyrgyzstan’s gas network last month, the prime minister called the transfer a “historic event.” Gazprom chairman Aleksey Miller promised his company "guarantees a stable gas supply.”
Neither seems very reliable to residents of southern Kyrgyzstan today, the 24th day the region has been without gas.
Four days after the formal transfer ceremony, Uzbekistan cut gas supplies to southern Kyrgyzstan. Residents of Osh, Kyrgyzstan’s second-largest city, complain they have been forced to use expensive electricity or cook over wood or dung stoves. Fortunately, the weather is warm. One resident describes a previous cut-off, during winter, when he used seven candles to boil water to make tea for his children.
Gazprom was meant to end such outages. Under the deal, which the Kyrgyz parliament approved in December, for a symbolic $1 Gazprom snapped up Kyrgyzgaz and its property and gained rent-free use of land any facilities stand on. In exchange it took on Kyrgyzgaz’s estimated $38 million debt and pledged some $600 million to improve Kyrgyzstan’s crumbling gas grid. In the long-term, the Kyrgyz hope Gazprom can streamline energy supplies and ease the dire power shortages the country experiences every winter.
But since the agreement, the supply has only gotten worse. Uzbekistan’s state-run gas purveyor, UzTransGaz, suspended deliveries because the previous agreement between Kyrgyzgaz and UzTransGaz stipulated that if the Kyrgyz firm changed hands, the Uzbek party would no longer be required to supply gas, Bishkek’s 24.kg news agency reported on April 14. "We didn't warn Uzbekistan about the sale of Kyrgyzgaz to Gazprom, which is why gas supplies were cut off this morning at midnight," Mamatkalyk Akmatov, head of the Osh gas department, told the news agency. (Southern Kyrgyzstan cannot tap into gas from northern Kyrgyzstan because the network does not run across the mountains.)
Today, May 7, Prime Minister Joomart Otorbayev complained that his Uzbek counterpart is not taking his calls.
Uzbekistan often turns off the gas to southern Kyrgyzstan, citing payment arrears. That doesn’t seem to be the problem this time. Kyrgyzgaz said on April 30 that it had made a $70,000 advance payment to UzTransGaz.
Instead, as frustration mounts, many are starting to suspect that Uzbekistan, famously sensitive about Russian encroachment in Central Asia, may be trying to undermine the Gazprom deal.