By Aza Babayan in Moscow
Russia pledged on Tuesday to address Armenia’s growing frustration with its failure to reactivate Armenian enterprises that were placed under Russian ownership as part of an equities-for-debt agreement between the two countries.
Transport Minister Igor Levitin, a co-chair of the Russian-Armenian commission on economic cooperation, announced that the two governments have agreed to set up a task force that will look into the matter and try to suggest solutions.
“We proposed to the Armenian side and received its agreement to the creation within our commission of a separate sub-commission that will deal with this issue. It must be resolved by specialists,” Levitin told reporters in Moscow after a meeting with the commission’s Armenian co-chair, Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian.
The five Armenian enterprises were handed over to Russia in 2003 in payment for Yerevan’s $100 million debt to Moscow. The Russians promised to make multimillion-dollar investments in the moribund Soviet-era industries.
However, 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.
Armenian officials have repeatedly expressed concern about this situation. The issue became a subject of heated debates at a May 17 meeting in Yerevan of Russian-Armenian commission on inter-parliamentary cooperation.
Levitin said he and Sarkisian specifically discussed the fate of the incomplete Fifth Unit of the Hrazdan plant which was not covered by the debt settlement. Russian energy firms have shown interest in its privatization. Levitin said the two sides decided to “put an end to this issue” at the next meeting of their intergovernmental commission scheduled for October.
Sarkisian denied that the slow implementation of the debt deal highlights a lack of Russian interest in the Armenian economy. “I don’t think that is the case because over the last couple of years Russian capital has increased its presence in Armenia,” he argued.
Speaking at a joint news conference, the two men described their meeting as productive. They said the talks also focused on ways of boosting Russian-Armenian trade which is seriously complicated by the absence of a rail link between the two allied nations.
Levitin reiterated his optimism regarding the restoration of Russia’s railway connection with Georgia and Armenia that was disrupted by the conflict in Abkhazia in 1992. He said that Russian and Georgian officials will hold more talks on the issue in Tbilisi on July 1 which he hopes will result in a “positive solution.”