High-ranking Russian officials pledged to help spur agricultural activity in Armenia and reaffirmed Moscow’s stated support for the construction of a new Armenian nuclear plant during separate visits to Yerevan on Tuesday.
Russia’s First Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov held what he described as “quite productive” negotiations with Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian that focused on bilateral economic ties and, in particular, agricultural assistance requested by the Armenian government.
“We agreed on the main directions of our cooperation that concern agriculture in the first instance,” Sarkisian told a joint news conference after the talks. “We need support and assistance from our Russian partners in the areas of cattle and seed breeding and in the provision of agricultural equipment.”
“We mapped out very important areas of cooperation … and that applies to agriculture and seed breeding in the first instance,” confirmed Zubkov.
Armenia already began importing large quantities of high-quality grain seed from Russia in late 2010 as part of a government plan to significantly increase domestic wheat production. About 150 farmers and agricultural firms received such seeds last year.
Sarkisian and Zubkov said that a Russian-Armenian “working group” will meet in Moscow within the next month to flesh out their preliminary agreements. According to the Russian vice-premier, one of them envisages the establishment of an Armenian subsidiary of Russia’s Rosagroleasing enterprise that provides tractors and other equipment to farmers. He also said that a leading Russian agricultural bank should open a branch in Armenia and start extending loans to local farmers and food-processing companies.
Zubkov also welcomed a 16 percent increase in the volume of Russian-Armenian trade that exceeded $1 billion registered in 2011. But he said the two governments should strive to raise it further.
Zubkov’s delegation comprised Transport Minister Igor Levitin, who co-chairs a Russian-Armenian inter-government commission on economic cooperation together with Tigran Sarkisian. The two men visited later on Tuesday the premises of a Russian-owned research institute in Yerevan that that will soon be turned into a tax-free zone for hi-tech firms. Levitin told reporters that a Russian-Armenian joint venture will complete preparations for the launch of the tax haven in the next six months.
The talks coincided with a separate visit to Armenia by Sergei Kirienko, head of Russia’s state-run Rosastom nuclear energy corporation. Kirienko met with President Serzh Sarkisian after visiting the aging nuclear power station at Metsamor and inspecting the adjacent site of a new nuclear plant which the Armenian government plans to build in the coming years.
A statement by Sarkisian’s office said the two officials discussed “the development of interaction on the construction” of the new nuclear facility. Kirienko was quoted as praising Yerevan for its “open” dealings with the International Atomic Energy Agency and the European Union.
“This is a very correct approach in terms of operations of the existing plant, additional safety measures taken there and the new [facility’s] construction,” he said before receiving a Medal of Honor, a top Armenian state award, from Sarkisian.
The Armenian leader discussed the crucial Russian involvement in the ambitious project with Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev during an October 2011 trip to Moscow. Medvedev expressed hope that the two sides “will work out an optimal scheme” for implementing it. Kirienko’s deputy, Nikolay Spassky, said in Yerevan two days later that Moscow continues to regard the project as “promising.”
Armenia’s Energy Minister Armen Movsisian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) in December that Rosatom is ready to invest up to half of an estimated $4.5 billion needed for replacing Metsamor with a more modern and safer nuclear plant.