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By Emil Danielyan
Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed concern on Friday about a drop in his country’s trade with Armenia in the first half of this year, saying that it is dominated by a few commodities and must be diversified.

Russian news agencies quoted Putin as indicating that the issue was high on the agenda of his unofficial talks with his Armenian counterpart Robert Kocharian. The two men met in the Russian Black Sea city of Sochi earlier in the day.

“Against the background of very good progress made in the political and other areas certain developments such as a decline in our turnover of goods in the first half of the year can't fail to worry us,” Putin said at a joint news conference with Kocharian.

“We know the reasons for it -- a very low degree of diversification of relations. When just one factory closed for equipment replacement and supplies of one kind of goods dropped, the entire spectrum of trade fell dramatically,” he said, referring to the temporary closure of the Armenal aluminum plant in Yerevan which is owned by Russia’s Rusal giant.

Kocharian, for his part, was reported to attribute the negative trend to a drastic fall in the supplies of Russian uncut diamonds to Armenia this year. Armenian diamond processing companies say they have cut back on those imports because the Russian precious stones are now more expensive than they were last year.

The volume of Russian-Armenian trade shrunk against the backdrop of a 5 percent increase in Armenia’s overall first-half commercial exchange with the outside world. It already made up only 15 percent of Armenia’s nearly $2 billion external trade in 2003. The Armenian government has not yet released a country-by-country breakdown of its trade figures for this year.

Kocharian sought to put an optimistic spin on Russian-Armenian economic ties, saying that bilateral trade in goods other than diamonds is on the rise. Supplies of Russian natural gas and nuclear fuel to Armenia continue to account for the greatest share of that trade, though.

The two leaders also discussed the closer military links existing between their nations, with Putin promising to fulfill Yerevan’s request to train at least 140 more Armenian military officers in Russia. "We will fully meet the request of the Armenian Defense Ministry to train experts," he said.

Kocharian called in this regard for heavier workloads for Armenian cadets studying at Russian military academies. He said the Russians should not treat them as foreigners, according to Itar-Tass news agency.

(Photo by Armenian presidential press service.)
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