YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–The head of Russia’s state-run railway, RZD, said on Thursday that its Armenian subsidiary is continuing technical preparations for the possible opening of Armenia’s border with Turkey and renewed rail communication between the two countries.
“We are conducting work on the future exploitation of the border crossing with Turkey,” Vladimir Yakunin told reporters in Yerevan. “Although this issue has not yet been solved, we will nonetheless be working on the rail component, and this issue has already been agreed with the government of Armenia.”
“Naturally, in our strategies, we proceed from the assumption that sooner or later political problems [between Armenia and Turkey] will be settled. And as far as I know, the Armenian leadership attaches huge importance to this issue,” Yakunin said.
The Armenian railway network, which is managed by RZD, began upgrading a railway station and other infrastructure near the Turkish-Armenian border shortly after Yerevan and Ankara made significant progress in fence-mending negotiations in late 2008. The subsequent stalling of the normalization process made the border’s opening highly unlikely in the foreseeable future.
RZD took over the struggling network, now called the South Caucasus Railway (SCR), in January 2008 in accordance with a long-term management contract signed with the Armenian government. The deal committed the Russians to investing $230 million in Armenia during the first five years of operations and another $240 million in the following years. The government repeatedly accused them, until recently, of failing to honor this and other contractual obligations.
The SCR’s chief executive, Shevket Shaydulin, said in late December that RZD investments in the network soared in 2009 and that the company will fully honor its commitments by the end of 2010.
Yakunin also defended his company’s track record in Armenia, saying that RZD boosted capital investments despite the global recession. He also pointed to Yerevan’s newly renovated main rail station, which he inaugurated on Wednesday together with Armenian Transport Minister Manuk Vartanian.
The RZD chief met with Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan later in the day. A government statement said Sarkisian “highly assessed bilateral cooperation” with the Russian rail giant.