By Karine Kalantarian
Official Yerevan left on Tuesday the clearest indication yet that it is dismayed at Russia’s apparent reluctance to reconsider its decision to double the price of Russian natural gas for Armenia.
President Robert Kocharian appears to have failed to clinch more favorable terms for his country during his latest meeting with his Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin on Sunday. The talks followed weeks of unprecedented verbal attacks on Moscow launched by Armenia’s government-controlled TV stations and newspapers.
Kocharian’s spokesman, Victor Soghomonian, said the Armenian leadership is “worried” that the gas price hike and the resulting media criticism are fuelling anti-Russian sentiment in Armenia. But he indicated that it will not try to counter the ongoing shift in Armenian public opinion that has traditionally been friendly towards Russia.
“It is the Russian side that has to think about doing something about that,” Soghomonian told reporters.
The presidential press secretary further declared that some aspects of Russian-Armenian cooperation on energy “need to be reconsidered” in the light of the recent developments. He would not say whether that means Kocharian wants to weaken the strong Russian presence in the Armenian energy sector.
Also indicating his frustration with the Russian position was influential Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian, who has been closely involved in Yerevan’s economic dealings with Moscow. “This issue is not purely economic,” Sarkisian said in a newspaper interview published on Tuesday. “Apart from economics, there is also the issue of trust here.”
“The existing situation has agitated the public and raised many questions,” Sarkisian told the Russian-language “Golos Armenii” newspaper. “But I think that answers to those questions will be given soon,” he added ambiguously.
Soghomonian repeated his earlier statement that the two governments hope to cut a mutually acceptable deal by the middle of next month. And he again denied a Russian newspaper report that Kocharian offered Putin not raise the gas price in return for a 45 percent stake in a gas pipeline from Iran currently under construction.
Russia’s state-controlled Gazprom giant has confirmed reports that Armenia will not be charged more for the gas if it agrees to give the Russians control over a major thermal power plant and the right to use Iranian gas. The idea has been rejected by Prime Minister Andranik Markarian.