Russian gas monopoly to double price of gas for Georgia amid political tensions

Russia's state-controlled natural gas monopoly OAO Gazprom said Thursday it would more than double the gas price for neighboring Georgia, a move the Georgian foreign minister said was the price of his nation's pro-Western course.

The announcement signaled Moscow's continuing recalcitrant stance in its conflict with its small ex-Soviet neighbor even as Foreign Minister Gela Bezhuashvili was visiting Moscow in the hope of easing spiraling tensions.

Bezhuashvili said he was not surprised by the announcement because Russia had been warning that it would put Georgia on the same payment terms as other European nations, and that he had received assurances that Moscow would not cut off gas or electricity supplies to his country.

But he said Tbilisi would like to see the pricing formula.

"They present it as a commercial deal, but there is a big portion of politics," Bezhuashvili told reporters in Moscow, adding that the new price was "the price we pay for our choice" in setting pro-Western policies.

He called gas prices the only thing left to Russia as a tool to influence Georgia, "but we won't be pressured."

Bezhuashvili said his country had worked to diversify its energy sources away from Russia, which has been virtually the only supplier. It is counting on negotiations with Azerbaijan, Turkey and Iran, which can cover Georgia's 1.5-1.8 billion cubic meter annual demand, he said, reports AP.

Gazprom, which has been criticized in the past as a tool of Kremlin policy, said in a statement it plans to charge Tbilisi US$230 (Ђ180) per 1,000 cubic meters of gas, compared with the US$110 (Ђ86) that it pays now.

Relations between Moscow and Tbilisi have steadily deteriorated since the 2004 election of Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, who has sought to take the Caucasus nation out of the Russian orbit, bolster ties with the West and join NATO in 2008, a course that has angered Moscow.

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