By Armen Zakarian
Presidents Vladimir Putin of Russia and Robert Kocharian of Armenia sounded broadly satisfied with the close relationship between their nations but announced no concrete agreements after talks in Yerevan on Friday.
“We have had very comprehensive and useful negotiations on all issues relating to bilateral relations, regional and international problems,” Putin said at the end of his one-day visit to Armenia.
“Russian-Armenian relations are steadily developing in virtually all directions of our cooperation, including the economic, political and humanitarian spheres,” he added.
Kocharian described the talks as “friendly and constructive.” “I am happy with the atmosphere and results of our negotiations,” he told a joint news conference with his Russian counterpart.
Putin’s meeting with Kocharian was expected to be dominated by economic issues and in particular the future of Russia’s already extensive involvement in the Armenian energy sector. Observers expected the two leaders to discuss Russia’s apparent desire to purchase Armenia’s power distribution network and effectively control a future pipeline that will pump Iranian natural gas to the South Caucasus country.
Kocharian said Russian-Armenian cooperation in the energy sector was among the issues discussed at the summit but would not go into details. “We have interesting and serious projects here and we discussed their general continuation,” he said without elaborating.
“We agreed to further spur the participation of Russian and Armenian entrepreneurs in investment and privatization activities,” Putin said for his part.
Russia is Armenia’s sole supplier of natural gas and has a commanding stake in the country’s gas infrastructure. In addition, Russian companies control most of Armenia’s power plants. Earlier this month, Energy Minister Armen Movsisian spoke out against their possible takeover of the Armenian Electricity Network which is currently owned by a British-registered company.
The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict did not appear to have featured large during the talks, with Putin noting that the two presidents exchanged “a few words” about prospects for its resolution. Putin also puzzled reporters when he said that he and Kocharian discussed Russia’s cooperation with Azerbaijan within the framework of the Russian-led Commonwealth of Independent States.
The apparent slip of tongue may be exploited by a growing number of Armenian opposition politicians and media that accuse Moscow of opposing Armenia’s democratization by supporting Kocharian’s government. Some of them have claimed that Putin’s visit is aimed at shoring up Kocharian’s popularity at home. However, the Russian leader left no such indications in his public pronouncements.
The two presidents were also asked to comment on the situation in Kyrgyzstan whose Russian-backed President Askar Akayev was swept away from power on Thursday in the latest in a series of popular uprisings across the former Soviet Union. Kocharian, whose radical opponents have drawn inspiration from such revolts, pointedly referred the question to Putin, saying: “You have more information on Kyrgyzstan. We have no embassy there.”
Putin was keen to dispel widespread belief that the success of the Kyrgyz revolution was another setback for the Kremlin’s policy toward Russia’s “near abroad.” “The developments in Kyrgyzstan were not unexpected for us,” he said. “It is the result of both the government’s weakness and the country’s socioeconomic problems. I think the Kyrgyz opposition will do everything to put the situation under control as soon as possible.”
“They are not new figures,” he said of Kyrgyzstan’s new leaders. “We know them quite well and they have done a lot in the past to improve Russian-Kyrgyz relations.”