YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–The chairman of Russia’s state-controlled diamond-mining monopoly, Alrosa, was reported to pledge support for Armenia’s declining diamond-processing industry during a visit to Yerevan on Wednesday.
Sergey Vybornov met President Serzh Sarkisian and, according to the latter’s press service, discussed with him Alrosa’s current and future commercial ties with local firms processing Russian rough diamonds. A statement by the service said Vybornov presented his company’s “upcoming plans to expand activities and implement new and large-scale projects in Armenia.”
“The head of state stressed the importance of deepening cooperation with Alrosa and implementing mutually beneficial projects,” the statement said. It gave no further details.
A separate statement by the Armenian government said Vybornov told Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan that Alrosa is ready to offer local firms a “large-scale credit line” that would allow them to buy Russian diamonds “in the next several years.” It said the two sides agreed to hold further talks on the terms of the “mutually beneficial loan.”
The Armenian diamond industry was one of the most important sectors of the country’s economy and a major driving force behind its growth in the 1990s. It has contracted dramatically in recent years due to a host of factors, including a drop in international demand for precious stones.
According to official statistics, Armenian companies produced almost 101,000 carats of gem diamonds last year, down by 14 percent year on year. The largest of those companies, owned by an Israeli billionaire, effectively halted its operations, laying off more than one thousand workers.
The industry was supposed to get a major boost with the signing in August 2007 of a Russian-Armenian agreement on renewed deliveries of Russian rough diamonds to Armenia. Alrosa was due to supply several Armenian firms with at least $28 million worth of diamonds in 2008. However, it suspended the deliveries last spring reportedly because of a tax dispute with the Russian customs.