The economic situation in Armenia is much better than it is often portrayed by government critics and it will improve further in the coming years, President Serzh Sarkisian insisted over the weekend.
Sarkisian also strongly defended the Armenian government’s recent controversial energy deals with Russia and unpopular pension reforms resisted by the opposition.
“Our economy is healthy. Our economy is strong. Our economy has undergone substantial changes and they are a very good foundation for ensuring continued economic growth in the future,” he said, addressing a conference of the Yerkrapah Union of veterans of the Nagorno-Karabakh war.
Sarkisian claimed that economic growth in Armenia in the last few years has been strong enough to increase nationwide wages in real terms. He admitted, though, that growth came in at approximately 3.5 percent last year, well short of a 7 percent target set by him last spring.
The president famously declared in March 2013 that he will sack the government if it fails to meet that target. His political allies have made clear in recent months that Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian and members of his cabinet will keep their jobs.
Sarkisian seemed to blame the economic slowdown on external factors. A 3.5 percent growth rate would have been a good indicator for many developed economies in 2013 but it is not sufficient for Armenia, he said. He added that he expects faster growth in 2014 not least because of a number of large-scale projects in the mining and manufacturing sectors.
Speaking during a question-and-answer session with participants of the gathering, Sarkisian also lambasted critics of the government’s recent agreements with Gazprom that formalized a Russian gas price discount for Armenia and settled Yerevan’s $300 million debt to the Russian gas monopoly.
The government incurred the debt as a result of secretly subsidizing the Russian gas price from 2011-2013. Gazprom agreed to write it off in return for gaining 100 percent ownership of Armenia’s ARG gas distribution network and unprecedented 30-year privileges in the local energy market. Critics, among them Sarkisian’s predecessor Robert Kocharian, consider these concessions a serious blow to the country’s energy security.
Sarkisian laughed off such claims, emphasizing the fact that the price of Russian gas delivered to Armenia remains well below international levels. He also claimed that Gazprom overpaid for the government’s remaining 20 percent stake in ARG.
The president went on to again reject opposition criticism of the pension reform, reiterating his view that it is vital for the country. “I know that 80 percent of the republic’s population is unhappy with that decision,” he said. “But we are not … idiots to waste [political] resources on a bad thing.”