By Ruzanna Khachatrian
A recently signed agreement to settle Armenia’s $95 million debt to Russia faced on Tuesday unexpectedly strong criticism in the Armenian parliament which is due to vote on its ratification on Wednesday.
Deputies questioned the wisdom of the equities-for-debt deal, forcing government ministers to provide additional explanations. Still, most of them made it clear that they will nonetheless rubber-stamp it.
“Stop selling our homeland’s independence by parts,” screamed Aghasi Arshakian, a left-wing opposition lawmaker who has long campaigned for Armenia’s accession to the Russian-Belarus union.
“Is there a political subtext in this agreement?” asked Victor Dallakian, chairman of a key parliament committee. “Maybe our strategic partner (Russia) doesn’t Armenia and its leadership’s ability to repay its debts.”
Even some deputies from the staunchly pro-Russian Communist Party voiced reservations. But virtually all of the critics said that they will vote to ratify the document in view of the close relationship between Armenia and Russia.
Under the terms of the deal signed during Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov’s visit to Yerevan on November 5, Russia will write off the debt in exchange for gaining ownership of five state-run Armenian enterprises, including the huge thermal power plant in Hrazdan. Kasyanov and senior Armenian officials said it will also boost bilateral economic ties.
“I am neither pro-Russian nor pro-American. I am pro-Armenian,” Finance and Economy Minister Vartan Khachatrian said in response to Arshakian’s allegations. “If there was a slightest threat to our independence I would not step on this podium.”
Khachatrian also revealed that that the debt settlement was “in danger” several days before Kasyanov’s arrival in Yerevan. He claimed that the Armenian government had rejected unspecified additional demands made by Russian companies that are expected to take over the five Armenian enterprises.