By Ruzanna Stepanian
Transport and Communications Minister Andranik Manukian on Thursday denied reports that Armenia’s state-run railway is about to be privatized.
“Armenian railway will not be privatized,” Manukian told RFE/RL. “The government has no such plans.”
A Russian news agency reported this week that the Armenian government has agreed in principle to sell the railway to a company co-owned by its current director Ararat Khrimian and Manukian.
Manukian, who owns businesses in other sectors of the Armenian economy, dismissed the report as an “absolute lie.” “If they wrote that, they must make sure that I really buy it,” he joked.
Khrimian could not be reached for comment.
Manukian said the government is only considering selling part of the rail network’s aging fleet of trains and cars to private investors in order to introduce business competition into a sector hit hard by the long-running Azerbaijani and Turkish blockades. An international tender could be held as a result, he added.
Newspaper reports have suggested that proceeds from that deal would go to the Armenian Defense Ministry. There have also been rumors that a wealthy businessman close to Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian is taking an interest the entire rail infrastructure.
It is not clear how the would-be sales could affect a joint venture set up by the Armenian and Russian railways last November. The move was part of the Russian government’s broader efforts to restore rail connection between Russia and Georgia that was disrupted by the still unresolved conflict in Abkhazia in 1992.
Russian Transport Minister Igor Levitin said in December that the rail link, vital for the Armenian economy, could be restored by the end of this year.