YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—President Serzh Sarkisian and a top Kremlin official called for the strengthening of Russian-Armenian relations on Tuesday as they opened a conference in Yerevan that discussed closer economic cooperation between various regions of Russia and Armenia.
The conference, the first of its kind, brought together government officials, businesspeople and non-governmental activists from over 20 Russian regions and all Armenian provinces. The chief of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s staff, Sergei Naryshkin, as well as the Russian ministers of transport and local government also arrived in Yerevan on the occasion.
Medvedev welcomed the event with a written message read out by Naryshkin. He said closer interregional links will make a “substantial contribution to the friendly Russian-Armenian relationship.”
Addressing participants of the forum, Sarkisian said it highlights “the special allied character of Russian-Armenian partnership.” “There are around 1,400 enterprises with Russian-Armenian or fully Russian capital operating in Armenia,” he said. “Their investment portfolio is approaching the $3 billion mark.”
Sarkisian urged regional leaders and entrepreneurs in both countries to set up more joint ventures. He said the Armenian government is ready to assist in their operations with tax privileges and simpler “administrative procedures.”
Prime minister, Tigran Sargsyan, delivered a more extensive speech that detailed Yerevan’s economic reform agenda. “Last year alone we abolished about 30 percent of all [government] licenses,” the Armenian premier said in an apparent bid to woo Russian investors. “Enterprise registration can now be done in 15 minutes.”
“Today the Russian Federation plays an exceptional role in Armenia’s economy,” he added. “Russia is Armenia’s leading trading partner. It plays the key role in those sectors that are related to the development of Armenia’s infrastructures.”
Russia’s Transport Minister Igor Levitin told the forum that Russian-Armenian cooperation has reached a “principally new level” in the last several years. He welcomed a 40 percent rise in bilateral trade recorded last year.
Levitin and Tigran Sarkisian chaired on Monday a session of a Russian-Armenian inter-governmental commission on economic cooperation. The two men also inaugurated an industrial exhibition displaying the production of more than a hundred Russian and Armenian firms.
The first day of the conference was marked by the signing of a plan of joint actions to be taken by the Russian Federal Agency on Tourism and the Armenian government in 2012-2013. The government also signed cooperation agreements with the administrations of two Russian regions.
President Sarkisian told Naryshkin at a separate meeting later on Tuesday that the conference testifies to the “high level” of bilateral ties. “It stems from our national interests and reflects friendship between our peoples,” he said.
“Indeed, the conference has showed what interests the regions of our countries have,” Naryshkin said. It will therefore “further strengthen the partnership of Russian and Armenian,” he added, according to Sarkisian’s press office.