Russian Deputy Prime Minister Boris Alyoshin began on Thursday a two-day visit to Armenia, denying reports that he will try to renegotiate a 2002 swap agreement that settled Yerevan’s $100 million debt to Moscow.
But he did say that the two governments should “complement” the deal in order to revitalize the five Armenian enterprises transferred to Russian control in payment of the debt. Armenian officials, meanwhile, said they expect substantial Russian investments into them.
“I have not heard about such a review [of the agreement] while working in the government,” Alyoshin told reporters on his arrival in Yerevan. “Not only we don’t plan to reconsider the program but also plan to creatively complement it so that the two sides find it comfortable to operate within the framework of that program.”
Alyoshin, who was appointed to the post late last year, also took over as a co-chairman of a Russian-Armenian intergovernmental commission on economic cooperation. The agreement in question was signed in November 2002 by his predecessor Ilya Klebanov and the Armenian co-chairman of the commission, Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian.
Citing reports from Moscow, some Armenian media have claimed that the Russian government has grown disillusioned with the equities-for-debt deal even though some observers in Armenia and outside it believe that it significantly increases Russia’s presence in its main regional ally. Alyoshin dismissed those reports, saying that the debt settlement has served as a “very important experience” for his country. He said it remains committed to turning the Armenian companies into successful business.
Of particular concern are four of them: the Mars electronics plant in Yerevan and three research institutes that used to work for the Soviet military-industrial complex. They have for years stood idle or worked at a fraction of their capacity.
The most significant of the enterprises in question is Armenia’s largest thermal power plant located in the town of Hrazdan. It has still not been formally handed over to its new Russian owner, RAO Unified Energy Systems. The procedure was due to take place last September, but was delayed for unknown reasons.
The Hrazdan plant’s transfer is now expected to be sealed at the end of Alyoshin’s visit on Thursday.
Sarkisian said the Armenian side expects from the Russians detailed “development plans” for each of the five entities. “Any proprietor is interested in making sure that their businesses operate at a profit,” he told RFE/RL. “We too are interested in that.”
Sarkisian also revealed that Yerevan is seeking Russian support for “an alternative pipeline” to ship natural gas to Armenia. But he did not specify whether that means financing the planned construction of an Iran-Armenia pipeline or building a new channel for Russian natural imports through Georgia.
(Photolur photo: Alyoshin, right, greeted by Sarkisian at Yerevan airport.)