A Russian diplomat denied on Thursday media reports that Russia has suspended a controversial program that encourages and facilitates immigration from Armenia.
Launched in 2006, the Russian government’s Compatriots program offers employment, accommodation and financial benefits to married residents of former Soviet republics willing to settle in Russia. It is designed to address the country’s serious demographic problems.
The program has sparked an uproar from Armenia politicians, public figures and media worried about the continuing outflow of people from the country. The Armenian government has added its voice to these concerns, with Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian repeatedly calling its implementation in Armenia “unacceptable.”
Sarkisian raised the matter at an October meeting in Yerevan of a Russian-Armenian inter-governmental commission on economic cooperation. Russian officials continued to the dismiss the Armenian concerns. But subsequent reports in the Armenian and Russian media said that Moscow has agreed to stop implementing the immigration scheme in Armenia.
The Russian consul general in Gyumri, Vasily Korchmar, denied them. “The claims that the program will be suspended or discontinued are unfounded,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Korchmar indicated that Russia could only close the offices of its Federal Migration Service (FMS) in Armenia. “Whether or not the FMS representation will continue working [in Armenia,] the situation will not change in any case,” he said. “Consulates or other diplomatic services can deal with [the program.]”
The diplomats stressed that not all Armenian nationals are eligible for the scheme. “Only our compatriots can apply for it,” he said. “Namely, people that have Russian roots or have lived in Russia as well as other parts of the USSR in the past.”
Korchmar added that some 2,000 Armenians have emigrated to Russia through the Compatriots program in the last six years. In his words, popular interest in the program in Armenia has decreased in the last 18 months.