By Shakeh Avoyan
Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian on Thursday insisted that the economic impact on Armenia of the war in neighboring Georgia has been minimal and strongly criticized opposition leaders and media for claiming the opposite.
“It’s been three weeks since the start of real hostilities in Georgia, a neighboring state through which we carry out 70 percent of our [foreign trade] turnover,” Sarkisian said, opening a weekly meeting of his cabinet. “Let us accept one fact. Has our society felt any upheavals, have the day-to-day lives of our citizens been disrupted in the past three weeks?
“Of course not. We, together with you, have managed to maintain stability primarily because of the public’s support.”
The remarks came as Armenia continued to grapple with serious fuel shortages caused by Russia’s military campaign in Georgia and, in particular, an August 16 explosion that disrupted traffic through the Georgian railway. Armenian importers and exporters are heavily reliant on that railway as well as the Georgian Black Sea ports of Poti and Batumi.
Petrol was barely available for sale in and outside Yerevan for the fourth consecutive day on Thursday despite the resumption of rail communication through another bridge in central Georgia that will be used pending the ongoing reconstruction of the damaged one. According to the Ministry of Transport and Communications, Armenia imported 10 rail cars of petrol on Wednesday and was due to receive another 19 cars loaded with the fuel by next evening.
President Serzh Sarkisian said he expects the fuel shortages to be eliminated in the next two days. His prime minister made no mention of the fuel crisis, saying only that “large quantities” of cargos are again being shipped to Armenia by rail.
The Armenian opposition led by former President Levon Ter-Petrosian has used the crisis to accuse the government in incompetence and dangerous complacency. Opposition leaders have also blamed it on a de facto monopoly on fuel imports enjoyed by a handful of local companies owned by government-linked individuals.
Tigran Sarkisian denounced the opposition criticism as an “extremely dangerous phenomenon” threatening “national unity.” “Unfortunately, our political opponents tried to earn political dividends during this time, making comparisons with the past, which can only cause a smile. We remember how they ran the country in emergency situations,” he said, referring to the Ter-Petrosian administration’s handling of severe transport blockades suffered by Armenia in the early 1990s.
Sarkisian was even more critical of independent and pro-opposition media which he said sought to convince Armenians that “we have serious problems” and that the prices of food and other basic goods will shoot up soon. “This is the most primitive provocation which is aimed at weakening not the authorities but our state,” he said.
(Photolur photo: Cars line up outside a filling station in Yerevan on Wednesday.)