YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — Armenian Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamian on Tuesday spoke about a “difficult stage” of negotiations with Russia and neighboring Iran and Georgia on energy-related matters as he introduced the newly appointed Minister of Energy and Natural Resources, Levon Yolian, to his future staff.
Yolian, who prior to his new appointment served as deputy chairman of the Audit Chamber, succeeds Yervand Zakharian, a veteran official whom President Serzh Sarkisian unexpectedly dismissed from the post on Monday.
The presidential decrees on Zakharian’s dismissal and Yolian’s appointment did not state any reasons for the change. Abrahamian and Zakharian himself did not provide any explanations to the move either.
Yolian, 56, has been little known to the public before his new appointment despite holding a relatively high public office. In 2000-2007, he served as deputy minister of health and since 2004 has been deputy head of the Chess Federation of Armenia, whose head is President Sarkisian. Yolian has no party affiliation, but was a member of the campaign for the constitutional reform initiated by Sarkisian and his ruling Republican Party of Armenia.
“We are at a difficult stage, at a stage of cooperation, discussions, and I am confident that during this short period of time you will be able to get into the working mode and try to push things forward in a comprehensive manner,” Premier Abrahamian said, addressing the new minister.
He explained that he meant the current negotiations with Russia on a new natural gas price, as well as efforts on the construction of the third high-voltage electricity transmission line to Iran and two ongoing energy projects with Georgia.
Abrahamian clarified that the matter did not concern purchases of Iranian natural gas, but rather regarded the electricity for gas exchange project. “The negotiations are underway only as part of this project,” he underscored.
Abrahamian’s statement that Armenia is not conducting negotiations with Iran on the purchase of natural gas is, in fact, contrary to the statements made by Deputy Prime Minister Vache Gabrielian at the National Assembly several months ago.
Responding to criticism of the opposition Armenian National Congress’ parliamentary leader Levon Zurabian that the authorities of Armenia have given the monopoly rights to Russia’s state-run Gazprom corporation and now could buy gas only from Russia, Gabrielian said: “No agreement stated about [Gazprom’s] monopoly in relation with Iran. The matter concerns Gazprom’s monopolistic position when it comes to gas supplies from Russian territory…. As for other sources, in particular, purchases from Iran, there are no restrictions in the agreement. And we are also doing similar work with Iran, we are in negotiations,” he said.
Zakharian, who also attended today’s meeting at the ministry, among his achievements at the post also mentioned the improvement of the situation in Armenia’s power grid after the changer of its owner last year. The decision by the tariff-setting commission last June to raise electricity prices sparked street protests in Yerevan that eventually forced a debt-ridden Russian company to withdraw from the Armenian market, selling its stake in the electricity distribution networks to a Russian Armenian-led business group.
The new minister, Yolian, meanwhile, asked media to give him some time to get familiarized with the sphere. “I promise I’ll work in a transparent manner,” he said.