ST. PETERSBURG (RFE/RL)–Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has called on the Armenian government to ensure that Russian companies operate in Armenia in no less “comfortable” conditions than other foreign investors.
Putin made the statement as he met with his visiting Armenian counterpart, Tigran Sarkisian, in Saint Petersburg late on Wednesday. Sarkisian’s office said the talks focused on “a wide range of issues” related to economic ties between the two countries.
“We expect that with your and the Armenian president’s help, our business will feel comfortable [in Armenia,] — at least no worse than your other partners,” Putin said in his opening remarks posted on his website. “We hope that with joint efforts, we will manage to reach new levels.”
Sarkisian assured him that a favorable environment for Russian business is of “paramount significance” to Yerevan. He said in that context that the Armenian government plans to set up a “free economic zone” at a Russian-owned electronics plant in Yerevan.
“We hope that this project will create a platform for Russian business in Armenia,” added Sarkisian.
Sarkisian’s cabinet approved a package of relevant draft amendments to several Armenian laws at its weekly session on Thursday.
With few details of the Saint Petersburg talks made public by the Russian and Armenian governments, it is not clear whether Putin had any concerns about Russian economic presence in the South Caucasus state. The powerful Russian premier thanked President Serzh Sarkisian for creating “necessary conditions” for Russian firms doing business in Armenia when they met in Moscow as recently as on November 17.
Both then and on Wednesday, Putin emphasized the fact that Russia allocated a $500 million anti-crisis loan to Armenia last year and remains the country’s leading foreign investor. “None of our companies left the Armenian economy [during the 2009 recession,]” he told Prime Minister Sarkisian.
“All in all, I think there are thousands of companies with Russian capital functioning in the Armenian economy,” Putin stressed. The biggest of them, notably Gazprom and AFK Sistema, dominate Armenia’s energy and telecommunication sectors.
In his opening exchange with Putin, Sarkisian made no mention of Gazprom’s plans to raise the price of Russian natural gas for Armenia further next year. A statement on the meeting issued by the Armenian government did not specify whether the issue was on the agenda.
Energy and Natural Resources Minister Armen Movsisian said on Tuesday that the Armenian government still hopes to avert the price hike.