YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–The dramatic dismissal of Yuri Luzhkov will not adversely affect the implementation of a massive redevelopment project in Yerevan that was supported by Moscow’s longtime mayor, a senior Armenian official said on Wednesday.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev fired Luzhkov on Tuesday following a high-stakes political standoff between the Kremlin and the powerful city leader. Medvedev named First Deputy Mayor Vladimir Resin, a longtime Luzhkov ally, to serve temporarily as mayor.
Both Luzhkov and Resin have voiced support for the Armenian government’s ambitious plans to build a new upscale residential and financial district in place of a rundown neighborhood outside central Yerevan. Luzhkov personally inspected the Noragyugh neighborhood in January and pledged to help attract large-scale Russian investments in the redevelopment scheme requiring billions of dollars in funding.
Resin reaffirmed that pledge when he visited the Armenian capital in June. “We agreed to jointly promote this project,” he said after talks with Yerevan Mayor Gagik Beglarian.
It remained unclear what concrete form the assistance promised by the Moscow municipality could take. Luzhkov’s ouster raised more questions about Russian participation in the project.
Davit Gevorgian, head of the external relations department at the Yerevan municipality, insisted that Medvedev’s decision did not reduce chances for its implementation and that “serious potential investors” remain interested in the scheme.
“Business is the driving force behind that project,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “If it wasn’t economically justified, then, believe me, there would not have been such interest.”
“So it would not be correct to link it with one person,” said Gevorgian. “The implementation of that large-scale project does not depend on one or two visits by Luzhkov.” “Our cooperation is based on programs and it is going on between structures, between the government of Moscow and the Yerevan Mayor’s Office,” he added.
Asked whether Luzhkov planned to personally invest in the Noragyugh project, the official said, “I have no such information.”
Throughout his 18-year tenure, Luzhkov presided over a massive construction boom that changed the face of Moscow. His wife, Yelena Baturina, owns one of Russia’s largest construction companies and is widely considered the country’s richest woman.
The authorities in Yerevan have yet to approve an architectural master plan for redeveloping the area covering 184 hectares of land. Speaking to journalists in June, Beglarian skirted questions about funding for the project and possible dates for its launch. He said only that construction will not get underway until Noragyugh’s 1,500 or so families are resettled in apartment blocks to be built elsewhere in the city.
According to Gevorgian, a Moscow delegation led by Deputy Mayor Sergei Baydakov will visit Yerevan next week to participate in an annual festival held by the municipal administration. He said Baydakov will also discuss with Armenian officials “cooperation between the two cities.”