By Atom Markarian
Russian Minister of Industry, Science and Technology Ilya Klebanov arrived in Yerevan on Tuesday for crucial negotiations which he said will end with the signing of a long-awaited agreement settling Armenia’s $98 million debt to Russia.
Klebanov and Armenian Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian have represented their governments in the year-long discussions on details of the so-called equities-for-debt deal.
“This has not been an easy work because both Armenia and Russia are doing this for the first time,” Klebanov told reporters at the Yerevan airport. “But the agreement will be signed tomorrow, and in accordance with that agreement the matter should be resolved before the end of the year.”
Klebanov confirmed that Russia will write off Armenia’s entire debt in return for obtaining controlling stakes in four Armenian enterprises. The most important of them is the Hrazdan thermal power plant, the biggest in Armenia. The list also includes the Yerevan-based Mars electronics factory and two research institutes that used to be part of the Soviet defense industry.
Klebanov said the four enterprises are “approximately” worth $98 million, but added that their separate market values will be determined by “international auditors” by the end of this year. “We think that we have now agreed on a text [of the agreement] that will allow to close the issue this year,” he said before meeting with President Robert Kocharian.
Russia’s state-owned power utility, RAO Unified Energy Systems, will likely become the new owner of the four operating units of the Hrazdan plant. But the fate of its biggest, fifth unit, which is currently under construction, remains uncertain. The Russians are reportedly seeking guarantees that it will not produce energy and thereby compete with RAO UES in the local market any time soon. According to Klebanov, Moscow and Yerevan hope to make a separate deal on the Unit Five in the coming months.
Russia and Armenia began negotiating the unprecedented debt repayment arrangement last year. The talks had been expected to yield an agreement by
September 2001, in time for Russian President Vladimir Putin's official visit to Armenia. However, the signing of the deal has been repeatedly delayed.
Last December Klebanov and Sarkisian reached a tentative agreement on the list of the state-owned Armenian companies to be transferred under Russian control. The Russian government had reportedly tried to win control of other, more lucrative Armenian industries, such as copper mines and power distribution companies.