By Hrach Melkumian and Atom Markarian
The signing of a crucial agreement settling Armenia’s $97 million debt to Russia, expected by the end of this month, appears to have been again delayed.
The Armenian government had announced earlier that Ilya Klebanov, a Russian government minister dealing with the matter, will arrive in Yerevan on June 20 at the latest to "complete the negotiating process and sign the final documents." But officials signalled on Thursday that the visit is unlikely to take place this month.
“I have never said that Klebanov will arrive on June 20,” said Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian, who has led the year-long debt negotiations from the Armenian side. Sarkisian thus distanced himself from a May 31 statement by Prime Minister Andranik Markarian’s press service which said the deal will be signed in late June.
“Klebanov will come to Armenia when he gets clearance from appropriate Russian government agencies to take a final decision. That will happen pretty soon,” Sarkisian told reporters without giving any specific dates.
However, Finance and Economy Minister Vartan Khachatrian claimed that he did expect to see Klebanov in Yerevan “from June 18 to 20” and that he learned about the delay from the press.
Markarian’s press office had said that the two governments have to settle only “procedural issues” before signing the agreement whereby Russia will be given controlling stakes in some Armenian enterprises in return for partly or fully writing off Armenia’s debt. The signing of the so-called equities-for-debt deal has been repeatedly delayed, apparently due to disagreements over the list of the Armenian industries and their market value.
The most important of them is Armenia’s largest thermal power plant located in the central town of Hrazdan. According to Khachatrian, Yerevan has estimated its value at “around $100 million” and the Russians “seem to agree” with the figure. He said it does not include the plant’s largest but incomplete Fifth Unit which the Armenian government believes is worth some $55 million.
Khachatrian also rounded on the Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh), the former ruling party, for its harsh criticism of the impending deal. The HHSh said in a statement this week that the debt settlement endangers Armenia’s independence by making the country even more dependent on Russia.
But Khachatrian countered that most of the debt to Russia was accumulated in the 1990s, when the HHSh was in power, and that it has to be repaid in one way or another. He said the administration of former president Levon Ter-Petrosian used Armenian enterprises shares as collaterals for securing Russian loans.