YEREVAN – President Serzh Sarkisian and Prime Minister Abrahamian discussed on Friday with a visiting Russian government member the increased cost of power supplies by Armenia’s Russian-owned electric utility, which has sparked angry street protests in Yerevan.
It was announced after their talks with Russian Transport Minister Maxim Sokolov that a Russian-Armenian intergovernmental commission economic cooperation will organize an independent audit of the under-fire power distribution network.
Sokolov reportedly told president Sarkisian that the Russian-Armenian commission decided to initiate an audit of the ENA that will involve representatives of “all interested parties.” The company’s books will be inspected in a transparent manner, he said, according to a statement by Sarkisian’s office.
The statement quoted Sarkisian as also stressing the importance of a “meticulous audit” involving representatives of Armenian civil society.
Inter RAO is a successor to Russia’s now defunct Unified Energy Systems conglomerate that bought the ENA in 2006. In the last few years the ENA has posted growing losses, which many in Armenia believe blame on poor management.
The company’s outstanding debts totaling over $225 million are a key reason why Armenian regulators last week raised the ENA tariffs for a third time in two years. The price hike infuriated many Armenians feeling that they are forced to pay for corruption and inefficiency within the ENA.
Meanwhile the standoff on Bagramian Avenue continued of June 26, with hundreds of police forming a phalanx facing as many as 20,000 demonstrators who were gathered for the Electric Yerevan protest.
One of protest leaders Vaghinak Shushanian told RFE/RL that his No To Plunder movement had added more demands for the government to meet before they will lift their blockade of Baghramian Avenue and end their demonstrations.
Previously, the group had one demand — that the government cancel a planned 16 percent rate hike for electricity due to take effect on August 1.
But Shushanian told RFE/RL on June 26 that his group now insists that police who used force against demonstrators and journalists in Yerevan on June 23 must be punished along with those who ordered them to do so.
Shushanian did not name any specific police commanders.
But Vladimir Gasparian, the chief of Armenia’s national police, ultimately is in charge of the force.
Journalists who were targeted by the police violence on June 23 have named at least three police commanders as being responsible for giving orders for lower-ranking police to beat them, smash their equipment, and confiscate memory cards containing photos and videos of the crackdown.
They include two deputy chiefs of the national police force, Levon Yeranosian and Hunan Poghosian, as well as a commander of the force in Yerevan, Valeri Osipian.
Shushanian told RFE/RL as well that the protest movement is also demanding that the government recalculate and revise an electricity rate hike that was imposed in 2014.
Such a rate recalculation would likely lower electricity prices in Armenia.