Transport and Communications Minister Gagik Beglarian dismissed on Thursday a senior Russian official’s objections to the Armenian government’s long-standing plans to build a railway connecting Armenia to neighboring Iran.
Vladimir Yakunin, the influential head of Russia’s state-run rail network RZhD, said at the weekend that that the ambitious project is not economically viable. He compared it to “cutting through a window in the wall leading nowhere.”
“That is Mr. Yakunin’s subjective opinion which has nothing to do with reality,” Beglarian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “But I can understand him. That statement stems from the interests of the company headed by him.”
Beglarian would not say why he thinks RZhD is disinterested in the Iran-Armenia rail link. “That project is very important for our state and people,” he said instead, adding that the Armenian government will press ahead with its implementation.
Yakunin called the project “realistic” when he visited Armenia in 2012.
Shortly after taking office in April 2008, President Serzh Sarkisian promised that work on the railway will start “in the coming years.” However, his government has still not attracted an estimated $3 billion in investments needed for building its 305-kilometer Armenian section. The figure is roughly equivalent to Armenia’s entire state budget.
Accordingly, the government has been vague about possible dates for the start of the railway’s construction. Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamian seemed to have added his voice to domestic skepticism about the project during a cabinet meeting in February.
“Mr. Beglarian, is there any hope on this issue?” Abrahamian asked the transport minister. “We are working on the project’s implementation,” replied Beglarian.
The planned railway would not only facilitate Armenian-Iranian trade but also make it much easier for Armenia to use Iranian territory for import and export operations with other nations and China in particular. Much of Armenian-Chinese trade, which amounted to $590 million last year, is already carried out through Iran’s Persian Gulf ports.
The issue was reportedly high on the agenda of Sarkisian’s official visit to China in March. The Armenian president called for “active” Chinese involvement in the project.