By Hrach Melkumian
Russia’s political relations with Armenia are “close to ideal” and Moscow wants to complement them with closer economic ties, Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov declared on Thursday. Starting a three-day visit to Armenia, Klebanov called for the “integration” of the two post-Soviet economies.
Klebanov, left, with Defense Minister Sarkisian at Yerevan airport
“We really want the integration of our economies. This is the main issue that needs to be addressed in our relationship,” he said on arrival in Yerevan. He added that economic matters will be the main focus of the trip, which includes meetings with President Robert Kocharian and visits to several big factories. Klebanov, who together with Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian co-chairs a bilateral inter-governmental commission on economic cooperation, told reporters that he will explore the possibility of more Russian investments in the Armenian economy.
His visits to a copper and molybdenum factory in southeastern Armenia later in the day and Yerevan’s Mars electronics factory due on Friday are seen as reflecting growing Russian business interests in promising sectors of the Armenian economy. Both state-owned companies are slated for privatization.
Officials say Klebanov’s talks in Yerevan are also aimed at preparing for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Armenia tentatively scheduled for September 14-15.
The two countries have maintained close political and military ties since the collapse of the Soviet Union. However, their bilateral trade has declined considerably over the past decade. The disruption of Armenia’s rail communication with Russia in the early 1990s, caused by the conflicts in Nagorno-Karabakh and elsewhere in the region, has been a key reason for the drop.
Yerevan hopes that a new regular ferry link between Russian and Georgian Black Sea ports will facilitate commerce by significantly reducing high transportation costs. Klebanov said transport officials from Russian, Georgia and Armenia will meet next week to work out final details of the communication scheme.
The Russian official also reaffirmed Moscow’s support for the planned construction of a pipeline carrying Iranian gas to Armenia and possibly third countries. “We are not hiding the fact that [the Russian energy giant] Gazprom wants to participate in this project,” he said.