President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Ladies and gentlemen,
As per usual, talks with the President of Armenia took place in a business-like and constructive atmosphere. We discussed in detail the directions of our further interaction, Russian-Armenian cooperation, both during a private meeting, and then at a meeting with participation of the official delegations. We outlined specific plans to expand trade, economic and humanitarian ties.
We paid particular attention to issues pertaining to Armenia’s participation in Eurasian integration processes. As you know, at the October meeting of the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council in Minsk, the Customs Union member countries gave their consolidated support to Armenia’s intention to join the Customs Union and the Common Economic Space. A road map to harmonise Armenia’s national legislation with the legal parameters of both organisations is currently being prepared. We intend to continue facilitating the implementation of all necessary procedures for Armenia’s accession to the Customs Union.
The increasing complementarity of our economies speaks volumes regarding the prospects of integration cooperation. Russia is Armenia’s leading trade partner: trade with Russia amounts to 23.5 percent of Armenia’s total. Last year, our trade increased by more than 20 percent to $1.2 billion. In January-September 2013 we witnessed further growth.
Investment cooperation is growing stronger. Russia’s accumulated investments in Armenia amount to more than $3 billion – more than 40 percent of all foreign investment in Armenia’s economy. Most of these are direct investments.
About 1,300 Russian companies are active in Armenia – that is more than 25 percent of all joint ventures with foreign capital. They operate in the key sectors of the Armenian economy: gas, transport, telecommunications, and financial spheres.
The agreements we have reached on the pricing formula and volume of natural gas deliveries to Armenia further contribute to our mutually beneficial partnership in the energy sector. Cooperation in the nuclear energy sector continues to move forwards. Our plans include extending the Armenian nuclear power plant’s service life.
Together with the President of Armenia, today we attended the launch of operations at the Hrazdan thermal power station’s fifth unit. Gazprom’s investment in this project came to more than $300 million. I asked Gazprom’s CEO and that’s what he told me. But actually, it is more than $400 million. We are positive that the station’s work will help strengthen Armenia’s energy security.
During our talks, we agreed to give priority support to joint initiatives in the high-tech sectors. In particular, we discussed creating a spacecraft for communications and broadcasting in Armenia, as well as organising space research on the basis of Armenia’s Byurakan Astrophysical Observatory.
Cooperation in education sector is developing actively. The Russian-Armenian University operates successfully, and we support schools that teach in Russian. In the near future a Russian language high school and a branch of Lomonosov Moscow State University will open in Yerevan.
We intend to further encourage tourist exchanges. Last year more than 40,000 Russians visited Armenia, 17 percent more than previously.
I recall that last year in October, at the CIS summit in Minsk, we decided to declare 2014 the Year of Tourism in the Commonwealth. This creates more favourable conditions for our citizens to travel, and for the general development of recreation infrastructure.
Cooperation between Russian and Armenian regions has a lot of potential. The President of Armenia and I were convinced of this first-hand today, when – and Mr President already talked about this – we took part in the third Russian-Armenian Interregional Forum.
While in Gyumri, we also met with soldiers from the 102nd Russian military base. We believe that the presence of Russian troops on Armenian territory helps strengthen stability and security in the South Caucasus, and increases the level of practical cooperation between Russia and Armenia – both CSTO members – in military and technical spheres.
While discussing topical regional and international issues, we touched on the situation around the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Russia welcomes the resumption of direct contacts between the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan. As you know, colleagues, I recently visited Baku. Together with the President of Azerbaijan we also spoke in great detail about the settlement prospects. And I am very pleased to note that the meeting that took place on November 19 in Vienna was clearly positive. We very much count on both parties employing common sense and their desire to settle, and will do everything to facilitate this within the framework of the OSCE Minsk Group.
In conclusion I would like to thank our Armenian friends for the warm welcome. I am convinced that the agreements reached will make a significant contribution to developing the whole range of allied relations between Russia and Armenia.
Thank you for your attention.
Question: The international community witnessed a breakthrough in Geneva regarding Iran’s nuclear programme, to which Russia also contributed. In your opinion, how will this agreement affect the development of transport and communications infrastructure, particularly in our region, especially since it holds vital importance for Armenia’s economic growth prospects?
President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Naturally, Russia welcomes the agreement on the Iranian nuclear programme. In large part these agreements are based on Russian proposals. We have always advocated that this complex issue should be resolved in accordance with the principles and norms of international law, and by giving Iran the right to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, provided that unconditional security of all countries in the region is guaranteed.
The first step has been taken, and now we need to move forward. We very much hope that the international community, together with all participants in this process, will reach an agreement in the near future about how to continue working together and achieving new results. All necessary conditions for this are in place.
As regards transport infrastructure, then of course, bearing in mind that it is possible to build a transport link-up through Iran, we have some plans to develop rail transport. There are some difficulties regarding financial support for projects, but in general they are wholly feasible.
Along with this, it seems to me that we should all work properly together, including in the South Caucasus, to restore something that worked effectively during the Soviet Union and has now been lost. I am referring to the possibility of organising such a transport communication within the CIS. There are some problems, but I think that it is quite possible to agree on their resolutions. In any case, today the necessary prerequisites for this exist.
Question: Mr Putin, Russian activities within the framework of the OSCE Minsk Group and the country’s general role in the region indicate that it is interested in maintaining peace and stability in the region. Armenia also sees no alternative other than preserving peace and security. However, Azerbaijani authorities often rattle their sabers and threaten to resume hostilities. As Armenia’s strategic ally, what would Russia’s reaction be if Azerbaijan’s militaristic statements were to be realised?
Vladimir Putin: If you continue to repeat this aloud, then the conditions for achieving a peaceful settlement will be compromised, and other aspects of the problem will become preponderant.
We would like to avoid bloodshed in this region of the world, one that is so close to Russian borders and has such close ties with the Russian Federation. For no blood to be shed by Armenian citizens or citizens of the Republic of Azerbaijan. That is what we are working towards.
In my opinion, to talk hypothetically about what we would do if a war were to break out is totally counterproductive. It would look as if we are preparing for war, and we must, as the President of Armenia already said, ensure that all sensitive issues are resolved exclusively by political and diplomatic means. We shall continue to work towards this.
Question: As far as we can tell, from Armenia’s perspective the pricing formula for Russian gas will be quite advantageous, and perhaps this can be considered a useful first step in Armenia’s efforts to join the Customs Union. Mr President, you said that a so-called road map governing the two countries’ integration is being drawn up. When will it be finished and, in general, how fast will these integration processes occur?
Vladimir Putin: I already talked about how in Minsk we agreed to begin joint work aimed at Armenia’s accession to the Customs Union and Common Economic Space. We have created the relevant working groups both bilaterally – between Armenia and Russia – and on a multilateral basis. I am referring to the working group between Armenia and the Customs Union Commission. I will not hide the fact that we were a little surprised, though perhaps this is only natural, that the Armenian side is acting very energetically and with a high degree of professionalism that, frankly, puts us in a difficult position. We are having a hard time catching up to our Armenian partners.
We will do everything to ensure that this event (Armenia’s full- scale accession to the Customs Union) takes place as soon as possible. I’m afraid to specify a deadline today, because it does not only depend on the Russian Federation, but also on our partners from Kazakhstan and Belarus. But Russia, for its part, will do everything in its power to ensure that Armenia joins the Customs Union as soon as possible.
Even now, as you’ve probably noticed, we have taken practical steps to ensure favourable measures for the Armenian economy even before its full-fledged entry into the Customs Union. The pricing formula you mentioned gives us the opportunity to sell natural gas to Armenia at $189 per thousand cubic metres. Well, think about it: for Europe the price is almost $500. This is the first thing.
Second. As a CSTO member country, Armenia will receive arms in line with the Russian Federation’s domestic prices. But this is not just a security issue, it is an economic one related to budgetary expenditures. The same applies to oil and oil products. We are unilaterally removing Russia’s 30 percent export duty. Significantly less funds will be available for Russia’s budget, but this creates favourable conditions for Armenia today, for the economy’s normal functioning, and for a smooth but quite fast accession to the Customs Union.
Question: Good evening, I realise that we are now in the capital of a brotherly republic, in Yerevan, one of my favourite cities, but I would like to ask a question about another capital that I like equally, about Kiev. Just recently there has been alarming news from there, and even calls for revolution. Accordingly, government buildings are being blockaded and windows are being smashed, and so on and so forth. How would you describe or comment on the events of the past few days?
Vladimir Putin: Regarding the events in Ukraine, they remind me less of a revolution than of a pogrom. And strange as it is, this all has little to do with Ukraine-EU relations. Because if you pay attention, no one is delving into these draft agreements, no one is looking at anything or listening to anything.
People say that the dream of the Ukrainian people has been stolen. But if you look at the contents of these agreements, then while it is good to dream, many will simply not live to see their dream be realised, never experience it, because the conditions are very harsh.
In my opinion, as I already said, everything that is happening is not directly related to cooperation between Ukraine and the European Union. This is an internal political process, the opposition’s attempt to destabilise the current and – I want to emphasise – legitimate government authority. And more than that, everything that is happening now is not a revolution, but a well-organised protest. And in my view, these events were not prepared for today, but for the presidential election campaign of spring 2015. What’s happening now is just a little false start due to certain circumstances, but is also preparations for the presidential election. The fact that these are preparations is obvious for all objective observers, judging from what we see on television, how well-organised and trained militant groups actually operate. That’s my assessment.
Either the opposition cannot always control what happens there, or it’s just a certain political screen for extremist activities. We believe that the situation will nevertheless become more normal, and that in the end the Ukrainian leadership, and Ukrainian people themselves, will determine their next steps for the near future and the long-term. Let me repeat once again, and I want to stress this: whatever choice the Ukrainian people make, we will respect it.