Government launches anti-drug trafficking task force

 13:35, 1 February 2024

YEREVAN, FEBRUARY 1, ARMENPRESS. The government has launched an interdepartmental commission tasked with preventing drug trafficking.

Minister of Internal Affairs Vahe Ghazaryan said at the Cabinet meeting on February 1 that such a commission was formally enacted in 2003 but it failed to ensure practical and sustainable operations in line with modern challenges.

The new commission will be led by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and will ensure cooperation with law enforcement agencies and support the implementation of Armenia’s international obligations regarding the fight against drug trafficking.

"Baku and Moscow will not change their policy towards Yerevan" – Armenian ambassador to EU

Jan 29 2024
  • JAMnews
  • Yerevan

Interview with Tigran Balayan

“Will they eventually return Aliyev to the constructive field or will they continue to let him turn into Saddam Hussein? This is also a question of authority, of the EU’s reputation,” Tigran Balayan, head of Armenia’s representation in the EU, believes.

In analmost hour-long interview with Radio Azatutyun (Liberty), the diplomat expressed his opinion on the probability of signing a peace treaty with Azerbaijan, Armenia’s desire to join Europe and the difficulties in relations between Yerevan and Moscow.

  • Signing of Armenia-Azerbaijan peace treaty is only theoretically possible
  • “Moscow needs continuation of Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict”. Opinion from Yerevan
  • Armenia fulfills Aliyev’s demand? Pashinyan proposes a new constitution

Tigran Balayan believes that the crisis of negotiations between Armenia and Azerbaijan is not due to the platforms – Western or Russian – on which they could be held. He believes that the issue is the lack of Baku’s political will. According to the Ambassador’s assessment, Aliyev’s latest interview shows that Azerbaijan has no intention to sign a peace treaty with Armenia:

“The holding of extraordinary elections in Azerbaijan is a move to delay or derail this process.”

The diplomat said that the latest Azerbaijani version of the text of the agreement sent to the Armenian side is more than regressive. Some clauses and formulations have been removed:

“Among other things, they removed the provision on maps that will serve as a basis for delimitation, saying that they do not need it.”

According to Balayan, the decision to exclude the Azerbaijani delegation from PACE was the result of Baku’s “irresponsible and aggressive behavior”:

“Mr. Aliyev wants to remain the most bloodthirsty, cruel dictator, to do whatever he wants, both inside the country and outside it – with his neighbors.”

As the Armenian ambassador to the EU said, there are facts proving that “hired killers ordered by the Azerbaijani government tried to massacre Azerbaijani oppositionists living there abroad, including in Europe.”

He believes that the ring around Aliyev is tightening:

“I find it difficult to say how many resources Baku has to resist the pressure of the West. The main thing is that illusions of our European partners that it is possible to bring Aliyev personally and his regime to a constructive field on good will are gradually dissipating.”

He mentions the assumption of some analysts who believe that the impunity of the Azerbaijani authorities is explained by the supply of gas and oil to European partners:

“They think they should close their eyes and let Aliyev do what he wants. In fact, we are dealing with the opposite situation. Baku is much more vulnerable because European countries are its major clients, which it cannot lose.”

The head of Armenia’s representation in the European Union considers it obvious that neither Turkey, Azerbaijan nor Russia will change their policies towards Armenia in the foreseeable future. Therefore the country’s authorities should develop new programs to reduce vulnerability and increase the level of security. The “Crossroads of Peace” project, which presents Yerevan’s views on unblocking regional communications, announces such a step.

He said that the project might be included in the EU’s new Global Gateways initiative, and it will be an opportunity to attract more investment.

“Next week in Brussels a surprise awaits Azerbaijan in this regard,” he said, without specifying details.

At the same time, the diplomat stressed that the main issue for Armenia remains normalization of relations with Turkey and Azerbaijan and restoration of communications:

“Will the inclusion of the Crossroads of the World project in the EU initiative allow us to exert additional pressure, provide support for the settlement of relations with our neighbors? I think yes.”

In the interview, Balayan disagreed with the view that Armenia is turning toward the West to the detriment of relations with Russia. He said it was a turn toward its own national interests:

“And the ratification of the Rome Statute is a reflection of a foreign policy based on those interests.”

In the past, the ambassador explains, Armenia has limited some of its actions based on its national interests, substituting Russian security guarantees:

“But they have not actually worked. And we are simply striving to find new methods to ensure our security. One of its components is the international legal system, of which the International Criminal Court is also a part.”

Accordingly, the ratification of the Rome Statute, he said, is not an anti-Russian move, but is linked “solely to the danger of aggression” from Azerbaijan:

“The raison d’être of the Aliyev regime is hostility towards Armenians. Ethnic cleansing in Artsakh is not enough, now new goals have been set. Our most important task is to confront the challenges that we have been left alone to face.”

The diplomat says that first we need to understand whether the current political configuration allows us to think about EU membership, whether it is realistic:

“Desire, aspirations are very good, but there are realities that need to be taken into account.”

Armenia, in his opinion, needs several years and even a decade to realize the provisions of the Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement with the EU. And now European partners are drafting a document called “New Partnership Priorities,” which aims to promote the fulfillment of Armenia’s commitments:

“They proceed from the interests of our country. Today we have a clear policy of deepening cooperation with the EU – so much so that it meets Armenia’s national interests.”

President Laments “not Given an Opportunity” to Meet with Armenian PM

Civil Georgia
Jan 27 2024

On January 26, Georgia’s President, Salome Zurabishvili, expressed her regret for not being given an opportunity to hold a meeting with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan during his visit to Georgia.

President Zurabishvili shared a post on Facebook, stating: “The President of Georgia welcomes the visit of the Prime Minister of the Republic of Armenia to the country, but it is a pity that the President was not given the opportunity to meet and properly receive the leaders of friendly countries during their visit to Georgia.”

She also lamented the lack of communication from relevant authorities regarding high-level visits, meetings, or events planned in the country.

Prime Minister Pashinyan visited Georgia on January 26 to chair together with Prime Minister Garibashvili the meeting of the Georgian-Armenian Intergovernmental Commission on Economic Cooperation in Tbilisi. During his visit the Declaration on Strategic Partnership between the two countries was signed.

Armenia’s government receives 20% share in mobile operator company

Jan 26 2024

The owner of one of Armenia’s largest mobile operators, MTS Armenia, has announced that it will give the government 20% of its shares at no cost. The decision comes after the government approved the sale of the operator’s shares to Fedilco Group Limited, having previously blocked the move. 

The mobile operator stated that the move was being made in light of the ‘strategic importance’ of the network for Armenia. However, commentators noted that this was the third such transfer of shares from a major company to take place since 2021, and raised warnings regarding the Armenian government’s attitude to companies operating within the country. 

MTS Armenia previously belonged to Aramayo Investments Limited, a company registered in Cyprus but owned by the Russia-based MTS group. The company sold its shares to the Cyprus-registered Fedilco Group Limited on Wednesday, with the sale including MTS Armenia’s subsidiary, the MobiDream payment system. 

The operator’s statement noted that the new shareholder company was owned by Zhe Zhang and Konstantin Sokolov, whom the press release described as ‘professional investors with a diverse background in telecommunications, finance, energy, investment, and asset management’. 

A spokesperson for the Russia-based MTS mobile operator, MTS Armenia’s parent company, told Interfax that the deal was part of the Russia-based group’s ‘transformation strategy’. 

‘If there are favourable offers, MTS will sell non-core assets or assets with limited potential for growth in value, and direct the proceeds to the development of its key ecosystem business in Russia’, they said. 

However, MTS applied to obtain 100% of its Armenian wing from Aramayo Investments in August 2023, but was rejected by Armenia’s Public Service Regulatory Commission (PSRC).

This marks the third instance since 2021 that large companies have transferred shares to the Armenian government for free. In October 2021, Geopromining offered the government 15% of the Zangezur Copper Molybdenum Combine. On 18 January 2024, Armenia’s government accepted a 12.5% share of Lydian Armenia, greenlighting the operation of the contested Amulsar gold mine.

Reports that MTS Armenia’s shares might be sold began to circulate in late 2022. 

In April 2023, Armenia’s Public Service Regulatory Commission (PSRC) rejected an application submitted in January for the transfer of 100% of MTS Armenia's shares owned by Aramayo Investments Limited to Fedilco Group Limited. 

The application was rejected on the grounds that the transaction ‘harms or may harm national security and state interests’, based on an assessment by Armenia’s Ministry of High-tech Industry in collaboration with ‘interested bodies’, likely including Armenia’s National Security Service (NSS). 

However, in November of the same year, the same bodies approved the sale, with the Ministry stating that it had ‘no objections’ and the NSS that it had no comments. 

Following Thursday’s announcement, Armenian commentators raised concerns that the transfer of the share to the government might affect the country’s attractiveness to foreign investors. 

‘At first glance, we, the citizens (the state), become owners of large assets, which is gratifying, but serious reputational risks arise from the point of view of the country's investment attractiveness’, wrote economist Haykaz Fanyan. ‘Any major investor considering the possibility of entering Armenia will undoubtedly take these circumstances into account, and since such transactions are usually accompanied by 0% transparency, the assumptions will become more “hardened” ’.

Fanyan also warned that Armenia might be moving towards ‘state capitalism’. 

‘I remembered how in the 2000s the Russian population was rejoicing that the authorities were taking back from oligarchs the strategic assets privatised for pennies in the 90s, hopefully the parallels will be limited to that’, wrote Fanyan. 

According to Cyprus’ State Register of Companies, Fedilco was registered in April 2022. Hetq reported that two companies also registered in Cyprus, Nofal Holdings Limited and Ortasano Investments Limited, hold 75% and 25% shares in the company, with the ultimate owner of both companies, via Wimthed Limited, being Andreas Ourris. 

All four companies were registered in 2022, with almost no information available about them aside from press relating to MTS Armenia. 

Azerbaijani court extends detention of former top Karabakh officials

The Print, India
Jan 24 2024

BAKU (Reuters) -An Azerbaijan court on Thursday extended by four months the pre-trial detention of several former officials of the breakaway ethnic Armenian authorities of Nagorno-Karabakh charged with terrorism, illegal border crossing and other crimes, the general procurator said.

Azerbaijan in September retook Karabakh, which had been effectively independent with Armenian backing since a bitter war in the early 1990s, prompting a mass exodus of the ethnic Armenians living there. Azerbaijani forces arrested several of the territory’s most senior former officials amid the exodus.

At the time, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said his “iron fist” had consigned the idea of an independent Armenian Karabakh to history forever.

The detainees include three former presidents of the breakaway region, a general in its army, the speaker of its parliament and its foreign minister.

Among them is Ruben Vardanyan, an Armenian-born banker who made billions in Russia. He was appointed head of the breakaway Karabakh government in late 2022, before his dismissal four months later.

Vardanyan remained inside Karabakh after leaving government and was arrested by Azerbaijan forces while attempting to leave Karabakh alongside 120,000 ethnic Armenians.

Vardanyan’s family, who describe him as a “humanitarian (who) has never been involved in any military activities”, say he is being illegally held in Azerbaijan and have called for his release.

(Reporting by Nailia Bagirova; Writing by Felix Light; Editing by Andrew Osborn and Hugh Lawson)

Disclaimer: This report is auto generated from the Reuters news service. ThePrint holds no responsibilty for its content.

Armenia, Europol to enhance partnership


YEREVAN, JANUARY 24, ARMENPRESS. Armenia seeks to enhance cooperation with Europol by sending a liaison officer to the agency and strengthening information exchange.

On September 28, Armenian Minister of Internal Affairs Vahe Ghazaryan and Europol Executive Director Catherine De Bolle signed an agreement on establishing cooperation, which is aimed at enhancing partnership in fighting transnational crime.

The January 25 Cabinet meeting agenda includes an item on approving the signing of two related agreements with Europol seeking to create a secure communications line between the sides and deepen partnership.

The partnership agreement will become the basis for stationing an Armenian liaison officer in Europol, while the MoU will serve as the legal basis for creating a secure line for information exchange with Europol.

Armenia to have military attachés in Czechia and Kyrgyzstan


YEREVAN, JANUARY 24, ARMENPRESS. Armenia plans to have military attachés in Czechia and Kyrgyzstan.

The decisions on approving the new posts are included in the agenda of the January 25 Cabinet meeting.

The move is expected to strengthen bilateral partnership level.

The military attaché of the Armenian Embassy in Germany will cover Czechia, while the military attaché of the Armenian Embassy in Kazakhstan will cover Kyrgyzstan.

International Experts to Gather at Conference Addressing Key Armenian Issues

Jan 17 2024

By: Momen Zellmi

A pivotal two-day conference endorsed by His Holiness Catholicos Aram I is slated for January 19 and 20, 2024, at the Catholicosate of Cilicia in Antelias. The event, part of the ‘Analysis and Awareness Platform’ (AAP) initiative, plans to host experts from Armenia, Artsakh, the U.S., South America, France, Switzerland, and Lebanon to discuss several critical issues concerning Armenia and the region.

The conference will address a range of topics, including confronting Azerbaijan’s historical distortions, strategizing for the freedom of prisoners of war and kidnapped Artsakh political leaders, and rallying international support for the protection of Artsakh’s spiritual and cultural legacy. The event seeks to shed light on legal methods for the repatriation of Artsakh’s indigenous people and analyze the regional political dynamics.

Several notable experts will be gracing the conference with their presence. These include Prof. Ashod Melkonian, Prof. Rupen Safrasdian, Dr. Armen Maroukian, Dr. Vahram Palayan, Dr. Hrayr Balian, Dr. Khatchig Der Ghougasian, Tigran Yegavian, Dr. Vicken Cheterian, Dr. Nora Bayrakdarian, Mr. Shahan Kandaharian, and secretary Aharon Shekherdemian. Their collective expertise will enrich discussions and contribute to the formulation of strategies to address the issues at hand.

Amid the backdrop of the conference, Armenia is grappling with a host of other geopolitical issues. These include the plight of Armenians displaced from Nagorno-Karabakh in September 2023, the negotiation process with Azerbaijan, and the need to strengthen regional communications. The Armenian President has been in discussions with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, outlining the government’s efforts to address these problems. The President also attended the inauguration of the new Argentinian President Javier Milei, meeting with leaders of the local Armenian community.

Armenia’s focus on developing relations with the states of the Arab Gulf is highlighted by the recent meeting with the delegation from the United Arab Emirates. The country is also eyeing stronger ties with the European Union, as evidenced by the discussions surrounding the implementation of the CEPA. The Crossroads of Peace project, aimed at establishing connections between various Gulf and Sea regions via a single regional railway network, is another significant initiative by Armenia.