By Anna Saghabalian
Russian Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov held talks with Armenia’s leaders on Wednesday during an official visit to Yerevan which officials said focused on ways of boosting economic ties between their nations.
Some commentators had suggested that Zubkov will use the trip, the second in less than six months, to explicitly or implicitly express the Kremlin’s support for his Armenian counterpart Serzh Sarkisian’s victory in the upcoming presidential election. However, the two prime ministers made no mention of the vote as they held a joint news conference after the talks, speaking instead about the need to boost Russian-Armenian trade.
Sarkisian skirted a Russian journalist’s question about the possible impact of the Armenian election as well as Russia’s own presidential ballot due in March on bilateral relations. “Armenia is connected to Russia by a thousand threads,” he said. “It is beneficial for Armenia to be friends with Russia. And Russian capital feels comfortable in Armenia,” he said. “Our relations must get even better and stronger in the future,” he added.
President Robert Kocharian also noted “brilliant prospects” for the development of the Russian-Armenian relationship at a separate meeting with Zubkov. Kocharian was also quoted by his office as praising Russia’s growing economic presence in his country.
Both Sarkisian and Zubkov stressed the fact that the volume of Russian-Armenian trade soared by 65 percent to about $700 million last year and may well pass the $1 billion mark this year. “We agreed that the most important problem [in bilateral trade] is transport,” said the Armenian premier.
Zubkov pointed in that regard to the launch in April 2007 of a rail-ferry service between Georgian and Russian Black Sea of ports which mainly caters for cargos shipped to and from Armenia. He said the service will be expanded and “will literally enrich our commercial links” in 2008. In particular, Armenia will be able to significantly increase exports of cement and other construction materials to Russia, he added.
Zubkov’s visit also resulted in the signing of several bilateral agreements. One of them envisages a joint exploration and development of Armenia’s uranium reserves. In a separate statement, the two governments also pledged to make joint efforts to improve the safety of the nuclear power plant at Metsamor.