YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—Belarus is keenly interested in Armenia’s experience in the peaceful use of atomic energy and hopes to receive Armenian technical assistance after constructing its first-ever nuclear plant, President Alexander Lukashenko said during an official visit to Yerevan on Monday.
Lukashenko also called for deepening ties between the two former Soviet republics “in all directions” after meeting with President Serzh Sarkisian for talks that focused on economic issues.
The two leaders presided over the signing of several bilateral agreements. One of them relates to “cooperation and exchange of information” on nuclear safety.
“We are also interested in Armenia’s experience in atomic energy,” Lukashenko told a joint news conference with Sarkisian. “You probably know that Belarus is building its first-ever nuclear power plant. An exchange of information about safe exploitation of nuclear plants as well as new approaches to building energy blocks is of mutual interest.”
“You have serious experience in exploiting such facilities and we hope that Armenia will be able to send at least a dozen good specialists so that they assist us in the initial stages of operating the under-construction nuclear plant,” he said.
Belarus, whose population bore the brunt of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster, plans to finish the ongoing construction of two nuclear reactors in 2016 and 2020.
Lukashenko is scheduled to visit on Tuesday Armenia’s nuclear power plant at Metsamor, more than 30 kilometers west of Yerevan. The Soviet-era plant built in the 1970s generates around 40 percent of the country’s electricity.
“I am very pleased to pay yet another visit to friendly Armenia which is an important and very close partner of Belarus in the Transcaucasus,” the long-serving Belarusian leader said. “The development of multi-faceted cooperation with Armenia stems from our long-term foreign policy and economic priorities.”
Lukashenko added in that regard that boosting bilateral commercial links is the chief priority of the two governments. He described as “shameful” the annual volume of Armenian-Belarusian trade, which stood at roughly $60 million last year. “I am confident that our negotiations today here in Armenia will definitely result in the doubling of our commerce in the next 1.5-2 years,” he said.
Sarkisian similarly stressed the importance of the “solid package of documents” signed after their talk. “We expect that they will give the right impetus to the development of bilateral cooperation,” he said.
Lukashenko, who has been ostracized by the West for harshly suppressing dissent in his country, also praised the Armenian authorities’ handling of a recent presidential election and said Sarkisian’s victory in the disputed ballot testifies to the “unconditional trust of the Armenian people.” “We are ready to stand by the realization of your plans in the post-election period,” he declared.
Lukashenko used his latest trip to Armenia to also underline his close personal rapport with Gagik Tsarukian, a wealthy businessman leading the Prosperous Armenia Party. Tsarukian, who has been personally involved in Armenian-Belarusian business projects, was widely expected to be Sarkisian’s main election challenger until unexpectedly dropping out of the presidential race last December. His party has since remained in de facto opposition to the Sarkisian administration.
Lukashenko was greeted by Tsarukian on his arrival at Yerevan airport on Sunday and chose to stay in a guest villa owned by the tycoon during his visit. He will attend on Tuesday the inauguration of a new church built by Tsarukian in Abovian, a town 15 kilometers north of Yerevan. The Armenian president is also due to be present at the ceremony.