Wednesday, December 1, 2021 Russian, Armenian, Azeri Officials Hold More Talks On Transport Links • Aza Babayan Russia -- A Russian-Armenian-Azerbaijani working group on cross-border transport issues meets in Moscow, January 30, 2021. Senior Russian, Armenian and Azerbaijani officials were meeting in Moscow on Wednesday to try to hammer out final details of an anticipated agreement on restoring transport links between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The meeting began less than a week after the leaders of the three states held talks in another Russian city, Sochi. They reported further progress towards opening the Armenian-Azerbaijani border to passenger and cargo traffic. Russian President Vladimir Putin said a trilateral working group dealing with the matter will meet in Moscow in the coming days to announce “decisions which we agreed today.” He did not elaborate. The session of the group co-headed by deputy prime ministers of Russia, Armenia and Azerbaijan began in the afternoon and was still not over late in the evening. “I cannot give at this point details of the agenda of the trilateral working group,” a spokeswoman for Deputy Prime Minister Mher Grigorian said earlier in the day. The Russian-brokered ceasefire that stopped last year’s war in Nagorno-Karabakh commits Armenia to opening rail and road links between Azerbaijan and its Nakhichevan exclave. Armenia should be able, for its part, to use Azerbaijani territory as a transit route for cargo shipments to Russia and Iran. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has repeatedly claimed that the deal calls for a special “corridor” that will connect Nakhichevan to the rest of Azerbaijan via Armenia’s Syunik province. Commenting on the Sochi talks over the weekend, he declared that the “Zangezur corridor is becoming reality.” The Armenian Foreign Ministry effectively denied that on Tuesday. Grigorian likewise insisted that the three leaders discussed conventional cross-border transport links, rather than “exterritorial roads” implied by Aliyev. Armenia Steps Up Mandatory Testing For Unvaccinated Workers • Marine Khachatrian Armenia - People line up outside a mobile vaccination center in Yerevan's Liberty Square, September 24, 2021. The government introduced on Wednesday mandatory weekly testing for all unvaccinated workers as part of its efforts to boost Armenia’s low vaccination rates facilitating the spread of the coronavirus. Public and private sector employees refusing vaccination have been required to take coronavirus tests twice a month at their own expense since October 1. They will now have to pay for such tests every week in accordance a directive issued by Health Minister Anahit Avanesian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians have gotten inoculated in the last two months. The government hopes that the new testing requirement will encourage many others to do the same. Less than 20 percent of the country’s population has been vaccinated so far, a figure reflecting widespread vaccine hesitancy. Davit Melik-Nubarian, a public health expert, welcomed Avanesian’s directive. But he said the authorities should find ways of motivating not only registered workers but also many other citizens such as pensioners and self-employed farmers. “If we look at official statistics, [we will see that] employees, who can be influenced by us, make up a disproportionate percentage of vaccinated people,” Melik-Nubarian told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service. Armenia - A man is vaccinated against coronavirus at a mobile vaccination center in Yerevan, October 24, 2021. The Armenian Ministry of Health is also looking forward to the introduction on January 1 of a mandatory coronavirus health pass for entry to cultural and leisure sites. Only those people who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 or have had a recent negative test will be allowed to visit bars, restaurants, theaters and other public venues. The measure championed by Avanesian has been criticized by some restaurant owners concerned about a loss of their revenue. They have also complained that it is still not clear how the authorities plan to ensure compliance with the health pass. Melik-Nubarian questioned the authorities’ ability to enforce it. “There is concern that it will prove impossible to verify compliance,” he said. “That would mean that the decision remains on paper and people will hear one thing but see another in real life.” The daily number of officially confirmed coronavirus cases and deaths in Armenia began falling two weeks ago after several months of steady increase that overwhelmed the national healthcare system. The Ministry of Health recorded 502 new cases and 43 deaths on Wednesday morning. Karabakh War Veteran Arrested On Coup Charges • Naira Bulghadarian Armenia -- The main entrance to National Security Service headquarters in Yerevan. A prominent war veteran highly critical of Armenia’s government was arrested on Wednesday one year after being charged with plotting to assassinate Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian. Ashot Minasian was the commander of a volunteer militia from the southeastern town of Sisian that took part in the 1991-1994 and 2020 wars in Nagorno-Karabakh. Minasian and three opposition figures were detained in November 2020 amid anti-government protests in Yerevan sparked by Armenia’s defeat in the six-week war with Azerbaijan stopped by a Russian-brokered ceasefire. The National Security Service (NSS) charged them with plotting to kill Pashinian and overthrow his government. The NSS claimed to have found large quantities of weapons and ammunition in a property belonging to Minasian. All four men rejected the charges as politically motivated before being freed by courts a few days later. One of them, Artur Vanetsian, headed the NSS from 2018-2019. He is now a leader of one of the two opposition groups represented in the Armenian parliament. Acting on prosecutors’ appeal, Armenia’s Court of Cassation ordered lower courts in October this year to hold fresh hearings on Minasian’s pretrial detention. A Yerevan court of first instance afterwards refused to remand him in custody. The higher Court of Appeals overturned that ruling on Wednesday. Minasian’s ensuing arrest was strongly condemned by opposition politicians and other critics of Pashinian’s government. Aram Vardevanian, a lawyer and lawmaker representing the main opposition Hayastan bloc, called it a further blow to judicial independence in Armenia. Earlier this year, the Armenian Ministry of Justice asked the country’s judicial watchdog to take disciplinary action against a judge who refused to issue an arrest warrant for Minasian in November 2020. The judge, Arman Hovannisian, described the move as government retribution for his decision. 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.