By Hovannes Shoghikian
Senior government officials from Armenia and Russia reviewed economic links between their countries and mapped out more bilateral projects ahead of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s visit to Yerevan on Monday.
The Russian-Armenian intergovernmental commission on economic cooperation wrapped up a regular meeting in Yerevan just hours before the start of Medvedev’s first trip to Armenia in his current capacity.
“We all got convinced once again that Russian-Armenian economic cooperation has a great deal of potential for further development,” Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian, the commission’s Armenian co-chairman, said at the end of the meeting. He said the two governments should continue to “work consistently” to achieve that development.
Opening the meeting earlier in the day, Sarkisian expressed hope that the Armenian and Russian presidents “will positively evaluate the results of our work.” Citing Kremlin sources, Russian news agencies have said economic issues will dominate Medvedev’s talks with President Serzh Sarkisian.
“Economic cooperation between our countries continues to develop steadily and it is quite natural to hope that bilateral trade will reach $1 billion this year,” the commission’s Russian co-chairman, Transport Minister Igor Levitin, said for his part.
The Armenian government said in a statement that Russian-Armenian trade was high on the meeting’s agenda along with the fate of Armenian enterprises that were handed over to Russia in payment of Yerevan’s $100 million debt to Moscow. Most of those enterprises, notably the Mars electronics factory in Yerevan, have stood idle since then.
According to Levitin, the Russian government would like to give Mars to a private Russian company which he said is ready to revitalize it with large-scale investments. “But the plant’s efficient and competitive functioning requires either the creation of a free economic zone or a techno park,” Levitin told journalists. He said he hopes the Armenian government will agree to the proposed tax breaks.
The two sides also announced an agreement to set up a Russian-Armenian joint-venture in Armenia that will manufacture bitumen, a construction material used for paving roads and streets. Armenia is heavily dependent on its imports from abroad. Levitin said the plant will not only meet domestic demand but also export some of its production.
The commission apparently avoided discussing in detail possible Russian involvement in other, far more large-scale, economic projects planned by the Armenian government. That includes the construction of a new nuclear plant and a railway linking Armenia to neighboring Iran.
“The issue is still in the discussion stages as experts are preparing to make feasibility evaluations,” said Sarkisian. “So naturally, decisions will be made only after the [feasibility] studies are over.”
(Armenian presidential press service photo: Dmitry Medvedev and Serzh Sarkisian meet near the Russian Black Sea city of Sochi on September 2.)