Putin Faces Protests in Armenia


GUMRI (Combined Sources) —  Hundreds of people marched in Yerevan on Monday to denounce visiting Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday, December 2, and protest against plans to join a Moscow-led customs union.

Some of the estimated crowd of 500 in central Yerevan held up banners declaring “Putin, go home” or “No to the USSR”, a reference to the Russian leader’s efforts to bind former Soviet republics together more closely in economic and security alliances.

Police in Yerevan said they detained 110 protesters, the local news agency Arminfo reported.

Putin flew to Gumri on Monday for talks on Armenia’s decision in September to join Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan in a Customs Union, which he touted as having already brought “tangible dividends.” He went to the capital later in the day.

Putin has made clear Moscow wants to increase its influence in the strategic region sandwiched between Russia, Turkey, Iran and the oil and gas deposits of the Caspian Sea basin.

“We are going to strengthen our position in the South Caucasus, drawing on the best of what we have inherited from ancestors and good relations with all countries in the region,” Putin told a Russian-Armenian regional forum. “Participation in the Customs Union … already is bringing Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus tangible dividends.”

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“Despite the unfavorable external economic conjuncture in the latest years, the GDP of the trio grew by 1.3 percent in the first half of 2013. The elimination of the customs and administrative obstacles contributes to the growth of trade circle,” Putin noted.

Putin said that within the frameworks of the Customs Union the volumes of the trade have grown by 2 percent in January-August of this year without taking into account the fuel-energy sector.

Putin said that under an agreement signed Monday to regulate natural gas deliveries to Armenia, Moscow will forgo 30-percent export duties. Russia will supply Armenia gas at a price of $189 per 1,000 cubic meters, he said.

Russian state gas export monopoly Gazprom also said on Monday it would take over full ownership of its subsidiary ArmRosgazprom, by acquiring the remaining 20 percent of shares from Armenia.

Russia is the biggest foreign investor in Armenia and its largest trading partner. Bilateral trade grew 22 percent to $1.2 billion last year. Most trade has been imports to Armenia.

In 2010 Russia extended its lease on a military base in Gumri. The presidents visited the base on Monday.

After the official welcome ceremony at Gumri’s Shirak Airport, Sargisian and Putin attended the opening ceremony of the second Armenian-Russian Inter-Regional Forum on “Russia-Armenia: The Customs Union.” Both offered opening remarks.

Before that Sargisian and Putin attended an exhibition presenting the regions of Armenia and Russia.

At the State Drama Theatre of Gumri the presidents followed the ceremony of putting on line the fifth energy unit of the Hrazdan Thermal Power Plant.

The presidents laid a wreath at the memorial to the victims of the 1988 devastating earthquake in Spitak. The memorial is dedicated also to the rescuers, to all countries and peoples that lent a helping hand to Armenia after the disaster. December 7 will mark the 25th anniversary of the earthquake.

As Sargisian told a news conference, this week, parliament will ratify a military cooperation agreement, enabling Armenia to purchase Russian weapons at domestic prices. The Armenian leader also informed Putin on Armenia’s activities ahead of joining the CU and unified economic space, with the Russian President pledging Moscow’s assistance.

Also, the parties agreed to continue efforts to boost trade and Russian investments in Armenia, create joint enterprises and promote scientific and hi-tech cooperation.

The Karabagh conflict settlement was also on the agenda, with Russia welcoming the renewal of direct talks between Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders. Putin further vowed to continue efforts to promote political settlement of the issue.

Asked about Russia’s actions in case of a possible Azeri aggression, Putin noted that even hypothetical discussion of the matter would be counterproductive: “the more often we repeat those words, the less chances we have for peaceful settlement.” “We hope for both sides to show common sense and will to solve the conflict,” Putin concluded, yet again urging a political and diplomatic solution to the issue.

(Reuters, Armenpress, Armenian Radio and PanArmenian.net contributed to this report.)

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