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By Emil Danielyan
A leading pro-Western opposition party has called for a revision of Armenia’s traditionally close relations with Russia, citing Moscow’s controversial decision to double the price of natural gas supplied to its main South Caucasus ally.

In a weekend statement, the Hanrapetutyun (Republic) party said the price hike is politically motivated and will hit hard the vast majority of Armenians. “It is already evident that at the heart of official Moscow’s energy policy are exclusively political interests,” the statement said, dismissing economic motives cited by Russia’s state-owned Gazprom monopoly.

The party led by former Prime Minister Aram Sarkisian claimed that the current Armenian leadership is “incapable of reconsidering its failed foreign policy” and that only a new government formed as a result of a “democratic revolution” can meet the external challenges facing the country.

Hanrapetutyun, which is the most radical of political groups opposed to President Robert Kocharian, said Armenia should reduce its energy sector’s strong dependence on Russia by, among other things, speeding up the ongoing construction of a gas pipeline from Iran and re-exporting Iranian gas to third countries. Armenia should also replace the nuclear power station at Metsamor by a more modern facility in the near future, it said.

The surge in the Russian gas price has also been deplored by senior Armenian government officials. Some of them have publicly admitted the need for a diversification of Armenia’s energy resources. However, the authorities in Yerevan have at the same time rejected calls for a drastic re-orientation of Armenian foreign policy towards the United States and the European Union.

Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian made it clear last month that the gas dispute will not affect Yerevan’s close military ties with Moscow, saying that they remain vital for Armenia’s national security.

Citing unnamed government sources, a leading Moscow daily, “Kommersant,” reported on Friday that the Kremlin has decided to “compensate” Armenia for the higher gas price by selling it Russian weapons to at knock-down prices. The information has not yet been confirmed or refuted by either government.

(RFE/RL photo: Aram Sarkisian)
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