By Ruzanna Khachatrian
The Armenian parliament voted narrowly on Wednesday to ratify a far-reaching agreement clearing Armenia’s $95 million debt to Russia.
The agreement was endorsed by 67 members of the 131-strong National Assembly. Only three deputies voted against, with most of the other lawmakers failing to take part in the voting.
One of the deputies objecting to the ratification, Manuk Gasparian, accused the parliament’s pro-government majority of abusing its electronic voting system. He claimed that some of them voted for their absent colleagues.
The voting protocol, for example, showed a member of the largest Miasnutyun faction, Gevorg Davtian, voting for the Russian-Armenian deal signed in Yerevan last month. However, Davtian is currently absent from Armenia. Armenian lawmakers are not allowed to vote in absentia.
The swap arrangement giving Russia control of five Armenian enterprises in payment for the debt faced unexpectedly strong criticism in the Armenian parliament which debated it on Tuesday. Critics expressed concern that it could deepen Armenia’s economic dependence on Russia.
“The government has opted for a scenario that underscores Russia’s economic expansion in Armenia,” Semyon Baghdasarian, an independent legislator, told RFE/RL. He said that Moscow already maintains strong military presence in Armenia and is putting “strong pressure” on Yerevan give the Russian language an official status.
But the Armenian government, backed by some Western donors, argues that it will no longer have to divert substantial sums from the budget to meet the Russian debt repayments. It also says that Russian ownership will revitalize the enterprises in question.