By Emil Danielyan
The chief of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s staff met President Robert Kocharian and other Armenian leaders in Yerevan on Tuesday for talks which officials said focused on ways of ways of shoring up economic relations between the two nations.
Kocharian was cited by his press service as telling Dmitry Medvedev that Russian-Armenian business ties are seeing “dynamic development.” He said it was made possible by an increase in Russian investments in the Armenian economy. No other details were reported.
Russia’s share in Armenia’s external trade has steadily declined over the past decade and stood at a modest 12.5 percent last year. The overall volume of bilateral trade fell by 13 percent to about $250 million in 2004.
A lack of rail communication between the two countries, which have no common border, is seen as a key reason for the drop. That communication was only partly restored with launch last March of a regular rail ferry service between Russian and Georgian Black Sea ports.
According to official press releases, issues related to the functioning of the ferry link were on the agenda of Medvedev’s separate meetings with Kocharian’s chief of staff Artashes Tumanian and Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian. The latter is also a co-chairman of the Russian-Armenian inter-governmental commission on economic cooperation.
According to Kocharian’s office, Tumanian and Medvedev also discussed practical modalities of revitalizing five Armenian enterprises that were handed over to Russia in 2003 in payment of Yerevan’s $100 million debt. Armenian officials are increasingly frustrated with Moscow’s failure so far make promised multimillion-dollar investments in those industries. The issue provoked heated debates during a May 17 meeting in Yerevan of a Russian-Armenian commission on inter-parliamentary cooperation.
The ongoing construction of a pipeline that will pump Iranian natural gas into Armenia was also on the agenda of the meeting between the two top presidential aides. But there was no word on what specifically the two men discussed. Russia’s state-run Gazprom monopoly is directly involved in the construction work and had reportedly made sure that the future pipeline is not extended to third countries, notably Georgia.
Officials said Medvedev, who is one of the most powerful figures in the Kremlin hierarchy, also discussed the ongoing series of cultural events held within the framework of the Year of Russia in Armenia that was officially inaugurated during Putin’s visit to Yerevan last March. Medvedev is the head of the Russian organizing committee for those events.