Wednesday, September 15, 2021 Government Hopes To Prevent Russian Gas Price Hike September 15, 2021 • Robert Zargarian Armenia - Deputy Prime Minister or Armenia Mher Grigorian. The Armenian government is negotiating with Gazprom in an effort to prevent a further rise in the price of Russian natural gas supplied to Armenia, Deputy Prime Minister Mher Grigorian said on Wednesday. “Every year we address this issue and try agree on at least keeping the price unchanged, rather than raising it, even though there is an insistence on the part of the Gazprom Group that the profit margin set by the 2013 [supply] contract does not satisfy them,” Grigorian told lawmakers. “But that is a working process, and with your permission I won’t say more because negotiations are underway right now.” “I cannot say what will happen in two or three years’ time. We hope to maintain the same price this year,” he added during the government’s question-and-answer session in the Armenian parliament. Grigorian spoke the day after Gazprom Chairman Alexei Miller visited Yerevan and met with Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian. Very few details of the talks were made public. The Russian energy giant most recently raised its gas price for Armenia by 10 percent, to $165 per thousand cubic meters, in January 2019. Yerevan tried unsuccessfully to get the Russians to cut it last year, arguing that that global energy prices have collapsed because of the coronavirus pandemic. International energy prices have rallied strongly this year amid renewed economic growth around the world. In June, Gazprom set its average gas export price for European countries at $240 per thousand cubic meters. Yerevan Reacts To Azeri Hurdles For Iranian Vehicles In Armenia September 15, 2021 • Naira Nalbandian • Susan Badalian An Azerbaijani checkpoint set up at on the main road conneting Armeia to Iran, September 14, 2021 Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian reacted cautiously on Wednesday to Baku’s decision to check and tax Iranian vehicles using a strategic road that passes through border areas along southeastern Armenia controversially handed over to Azerbaijan after last year’s war. Pashinian suggested that the move is aimed at pressuring Yerevan to open a transport corridor that would connect Azerbaijan to its Nakhichevan exclave through Armenia’s southeastern Syunik province. But he stopped short of calling it illegal or demanding an end to what many regard as a serious blow to Armenia’s trade and transport links with Iran. Azerbaijan gained control of a 21-kilometer section of the main Armenian highway leading to the Iranian border in December after Pashinian ordered Armenian army units and local militias to pull out of the surrounding area. He said it is located on the Azerbaijani side of Armenia’s Soviet-era border with Azerbaijan. The order came weeks after a Russian-brokered ceasefire stopped the Armenian-Azerbaijani war over Nagorno-Karabakh. Pashinian and other government officials assured critics at the time that travellers and cargos will continue to pass through the road section without any problems. Azerbaijani forces set up a checkpoint there on Sunday to start stopping Iranian trucks and buses, checking their drivers’ documents and cargos, and demanding cash payments from them. The authorities in Baku said they are enforcing an Azerbaijani law that requires foreign vehicles entering the country to pay road and transit fees. An RFE/RL correspondent witnessed on Wednesday the checkpoint manned by armed and masked Azerbaijani servicemen. A roadblock set up by them caused a traffic jam along the two-lane highway. Dozens of Iranian trucks were parked on the roadside. “They demanded $260 from me but I didn’t have it,” one Iranian driver bound for Yerevan told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service. “They told me to pay up on my way back. I told my employer to send me the money so that I can return to Iran.” Two other Iranian truckers were reportedly detained at the checkpoint later in the day. The Azerbaijani Interior Ministry accused them of “illegal entry into Azerbaijani territory,” an apparent reference to Nagorno-Karabakh. Earlier this year, Baku demanded that Iranian trucks stop transporting cargos to and from Karabakh without its permission. Armenia - Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian at a session of the Natioanal Assembly, August 26, 2021. In what was the Armenian government’s first public reaction to the road checks, Pashinian said that Baku seems to be retaliating against Yerevan’s refusal to open the transport corridor sought by it. “While acknowledging that regional transport links must be opened, Armenia makes clear that foreign cargos crossing into Armenian territory, including from Azerbaijan’s western regions on their way to the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic, must pass through passport, customs and other checkpoints,” he said. Speaking in the Armenian parliament, Pashinian also defended the Armenian troop withdrawal from the road section running along Syunik’s border areas. He said he made the decision, condemned by the Armenian opposition as illegal and dangerous, to prevent a “fresh military escalation” in the Karabakh conflict zone. Opposition lawmakers continued to accuse Pashinian’s government of jeopardizing national security. “Until when will the Azerbaijanis stay in that area and what steps are you taking?” one of them, Hripsime Stambulian, asked during the government’s question-and-answer session in the National Assembly. “The Foreign Ministry is in constant touch with our Iranian partners,” replied Deputy Prime Minister Suren Papikian. “We are trying to stabilize the situation with joint efforts.” Papikian stressed the importance of the ongoing reconstruction of an alternative Syunik road bypassing the Armenian-Azerbaijani border zone. He said its completion will “more or less” solve the problem. Kocharian Demands More Active Efforts From Political Allies September 15, 2021 • Gayane Saribekian Armenia - Former President Robert Kocharian meets with senior members of ihs opposition Hayastan alliance, Yerevan, September 14, 2021. Former President Robert Kocharian has told senior members of his opposition Hayastan alliance to intensify its political activities and public outreach efforts. Kocharian met with them late on Tuesday to discuss recent political developments and lingering challenges facing Armenia. The meeting reportedly brought together parliament deputies affiliated with Hayastan and other activists of the country’s leading opposition force. A Hayastan statement on the meeting issued on Wednesday said Kocharian instructed them to “increase public activity at this moment fateful for the country” and “further step up contacts between the Alliance and the public.” It said he also told them to set up “even more efficient organizational structures in order to give new impetus to the Alliance’s activities.” “Members of the Alliance reaffirmed their aim: to achieve as soon as possible the ouster of the government wrecking Armenia and leading it to destruction,” added the statement. It did not give other details. Seyran Ohanian, Hayastan’s parliamentary leader, said Kocharian wants his political allies to first and foremost improve communication with Armenians unhappy with the country’s current leadership. The opposition bloc will at the same time remain ready to stage anti-government street protests, he said. “If the current authorities take actions aimed at the fall of the Republic of Armenia and loss of its sovereignty then we will use all tools at our disposal … to prevent that,” Ohanian told reporters. Armenia - Former President Robert Kocharian and senior members of his Hayastan (Armenia) bloc hold an election campaign rally in Yerevan's Republic Square, June 18, 2021. Hayastan won almost 22 percent of the vote and finished second in the June 20 parliamentary elections, according to their official results challenged by it court. Like other opposition groups, Kocharian’s bloc holds Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian responsible for Armenia’s defeat in last year’s war in Nagorno-Karabakh. It also accuses Pashinian’s administration of failing to adequately deal with the country’s post-war security challenges. Hayastan lawmakers repeated these accusations last month during the opening sessions of the new Armenian parliament marred by bitter verbal exchanges with pro-government deputies and even violent incidents. Arusyak Julhakian, a deputy representing Pashinian’s Civil Contract party, claimed on Wednesday that the ex-president, who had ruled Armenia from 1998-2008, is dissatisfied with Hayastan’s work in the National Assembly. She also dismissed the bloc’s fresh pledges to keep fighting for regime change, saying that “the public doesn’t trust them.” Reprinted on ANN/Armenian News with permission from RFE/RL Copyright (c) 2021 Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, Inc. 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.