By Aza Babayan in Moscow
The presidents of Armenia and Russia met Wednesday for a second time in a week for talks which they said centered on growing bilateral economic ties.
Speaking at a joint news conference after a meeting in the southern Russian city of Sochi, Robert Kocharian and Vladimir Putin praised Russia’s increased economic presence in Armenia and said they agreed to boost it further this year.
“It seems that there are no unresolved problems or difficult issues in our relationship,” a visibly satisfied Putin said in remarks broadcast by Russian television. He said the volume of Russian-Armenian trade was on course to jump by 70 percent to about $500 million last year.
“The past year was very productive for both Armenia’s economy and Russian-Armenian relations as a whole,” agreed Kocharian. “Despite problems with transportation, our commercial exchange and the volume of Russian investments in the Armenian economy are rapidly growing.”
Putin admitted that Russian-Armenian cooperation in the energy sector is the driving force behind closer bilateral ties. He implicitly alluded to the state-run Gazprom monopoly’s increased presence in the Armenian energy sector that resulted from a controversial agreement reached by Moscow and Yerevan in April 2006. It enabled Armenia to temporarily avoid a surge in the price of Russian natural gas in return for ceding more energy assets to Gazprom.
Important details of the deal were officially confirmed during Kocharian’s visit to Moscow last October. The trip was followed by the sale of Armenia’s Greek-owned national telecommunications company to a private Russian wireless phone operator.
Kocharian again traveled to Moscow last week on what his office described as a private visit. Russian sources told RFE/RL that the May parliamentary elections in Armenia topped the agenda of his confidential talks with Putin. This stoked more speculation that Kocharian is seeking the Kremlin’s backing for his apparent plans to retain a key role in government after completing his second and final term in office in 2008.
The Armenian leader on Wednesday publicly assured Putin that Russia will soon become Armenia’s number one foreign investor. “I reminded Vladimir Vladimirovich of his [October] remark that Russia holds a disgraceful second place in terms of foreign investments in the Armenian economy,” he said with a trademark smirk. “I have a sense that Russia will definitely hold the honorable first place by March.”