By Armen Zakarian
Armenian and Russian officials traded on Tuesday angry recriminations over a lack of progress in the implementation of a controversial swap agreement that cleared Yerevan’s $100 million debt to Moscow.
The Armenian authorities are increasingly frustrated with Russia’s failure to so far revitalize five enterprises which were handed over to it in 2003 in payment for the debt. Only one of them, a big thermal power plant located in the town Hrazdan, currently operates in earnest. The other enterprises, an electronics factory and three research institutes in Yerevan, remain largely idle.
The issue was brought up at a meeting of a Russian-Armenian commission on inter-parliamentary cooperation in Yerevan. It was also attended by Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian.
“We are not satisfied with the course of the reactivation of those enterprises and, more importantly, a lack of purchasing orders for them,” the commission’s Armenian co-chairman, deputy parliament speaker Vahan Hovannisian, said.
Tempers frayed when its Russian members said Moscow has still not heavily invested in those enterprises because it needs tax privileges that will offset high costs of transporting goods to and from Armenia.
The explanation left Sarkisian fuming. “All of those enterprises are exempt from all taxes,” he said. “What other privileges do you want?”
One of the Russian parliamentarians, Konstantin Zatulin, retorted bluntly that the Armenians should regard the equities-for-debt deal as a great favor. “As for the Russian side, it continues to treat those enterprises as an absolutely unnecessary and redundant gift written off from someone’s balance sheet,” he said.
The Russian co-chair of the commission, Nikolay Ryzhkov, was quick to rebuke Zatulin, saying that the Armenian industries covered by the deal are “not scrap metal.” “The discussion today was quite tense,” Ryzhkov told reporters afterward.
Yerevan has repeatedly raised their concerns with Russian officials in recent months. The Russians assured them they will make promised investments in all five companies.
(Photolur photos: Nikolay Ryzhkov, left, and Vahan Hovannisian.)