“Haykakan Zhamanak” charges that the Armenian government’s weekend decision to allow the Russian company RAO UES to take part in the energy sector privatization was a result of Russian “inter-state blackmail.” The paper says the decision followed the Gazprom subsidiary ITERA’s threats to halt natural gas supplies to Armenia, something which would have had catastrophic results now that the Metsamor nuclear plant does not function.
“Azg” highlights another problem which Yerevan’s eventual decision to sell its electricity distribution networks to the Russians would create. Namely, the predictably negative reaction from the World Bank and other Western lenders. The bank’s $20 million loan is conditional on a proper handling of the privatization process. If it refuses to disburse the deficit-funding money Armenia will face a serious budgetary crisis later this year.
“Aravot” editorializes that “the era of brotherhood” in the Russian-Armenian relationship is over. “RAO UES and ITERA are not going to be our baby-sitters,” the paper says. “It is naïve to think that given the centuries-long ‘fraternity’ they will allow us not to pay or underpay for their gas and electricity or to steal that commodity.” The sooner Armenians realize this the better.
“Aravot” also comments that the arrest of Mushegh Saghatelian, a former interior ministry official who has accused Robert Kocharian of masterminding the 1999 assault on the parliament, will prove counterproductive for the authorities. The charges brought against Saghatelian (including manipulation of the parliament attack inquiry, abuse of power and forgery of documents) are “strictly political” because they were triggered by his allegations about Kocharian’s role in the parliament assassinations. Saghatelian’s trial could turn into a trial of “organizers” of the parliament massacre. With the presidential election of 2003 approaching, the trial could become a public relations disaster for Kocharian, the paper says.
Meanwhile, the chief of the presidential staff, Artashes Tumanian, indicates in a “Hayots Ashkhar” interview that Kocharian need not necessarily enjoy support of major political parties to win another five-year term in 2003. Tumanian claims that the aggregate approval rating of all Armenian parties may well be lower than that of Kocharian. He says he still does not know on which party or parties Kocharian wants to rely.
Parliamentary deputy Gurgen Yeghiazarian defends Kocharian against opposition attacks over last month’s murder in a Yerevan café apparently committed by presidential bodyguards. Yeghiazarian tells “Yerkir” that the former authorities were much more brutal, presenting many of their killings as suicides. Yeghiazarian, who used to be a senior official at the ministry of national security, says he is confident that the ongoing investigation will solve the café murder.