By Armen Zakarian
Armenian officials said on Monday Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian’s unusually long visit to Russia, shrouded in secrecy, is part of his annual vacation.
A spokesman for Sarkisian told RFE/RL that the Armenian defense chief, who is seen as the country’s second most powerful man, will head back home “in the coming days.” The official, Seyran Shahsuvarian, declined to give any details of what he called a private visit.
Armenian Defense Minister will participate in the meeting of the CIS Council of Defense Ministers, which will take place in Moscow on Wednesday. A Russian Defense Ministry official told Interfax last week that the ministers will discuss a draft program of arms trade and supply between CIS member countries.
Sarkisian told reporters in Yerevan late last month that he will fly to Moscow “in early November” to finally agree terms of the repayment of Armenia’s $93 million debt to Russia. It is expected that Russian companies will get substantial stakes in state-run Armenian enterprises in exchange for Moscow writing off the bulk of Yerevan’s debt. The two sides have yet to agree on the final list of those enterprises after months of negotiation led by Sarkisian and the Russian deputy prime minister, Ilya Klebanov. The two men co-chair the Russian-Armenian commission on economic cooperation.
The Russians have reportedly tried to make sure that the debt-for-assets deal encompasses Armenia’s power distribution companies put on an international tender. But sources say the Armenian government insists that Russia’s Unified Energy Systems (UES), the only foreign company to have expressed interest in the bidding, pay for them in cash.
Sarkisian left for Moscow at the beginning of this month and is thought to have met with Klebanov. He has also met with Vyacheslav Trubnikov, Russia’s first deputy foreign minister and chief Nagorno-Karabakh negotiator.