YEREVAN (RFE/RL and Public Radio of Armenia) — Karen Karapetian, a top executive at the Russian gas giant Gazprom, has been appointed Armenia’s new prime minister.
Armenia’s presidential press service announced on September 13 that President Serzh Sargsyan had signed a decree appointing him to the post. (See related editorial on page 18.)
Former Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamian resigned on September 8, citing his government’s failure to address challenges facing the country.
Karapetyan, 53, served as the mayor of Yerevan from 2010 to 2011. After leaving the post of mayor, he moved to Moscow where he was appointed as the first vice president of Gazprombank. He then became deputy CEO of Russian gas producer Gazprom’s Mezhregiongaz unit.
In 2015, Karapetian became a deputy director-general of another Gazprom subsidiary, Gazprom Energoholding.
Gazprom fully owns Armenia’s gas and electricity supply and distribution networks via the country’s gas-import firm, Gazprom Armenia.
Chairing his last cabinet meeting on September 8, Abrahamian denounced the lingering “polarization of the society” and said Armenia needs “a new beginning.”
The move comes just weeks after Sargsyan proposed a government of national accord.
Abrahamian was appointed prime minister two years ago, but the country’s economy slowed sharply last year. That increased its dependency on aid amid investment from Russia, including remittances from Armenians working in Russia, which are a badly needed source of income.
The government has also faced a flare-up of violence in Azerbaijan’s breakaway Nagorno-Karabagh region and the seizure in July of a Yerevan police station by armed men demanding the release of a jailed opposition politician.
Vazgen Manukian, a veteran politician heading an advisory state body, on Friday urged Karapetyan, Armenia’s incoming prime minister, to challenge government factions and government-linked businesspeople opposed to economic reforms.
Sargsyan said that he expects the new government that will be formed by Karapetian to initiate “substantial” policy changes that would improve the investment climate and thereby ease socioeconomic hardship in the country. He said Karapetian is committed to such reforms.
Manukian said the new premier must “go against some government factions” if he is to succeed in his mission. “The government system is made up of different sections and interests, and the prime minister can introduce great changes by skillfully exploiting their differences and gaining public trust,” he said.
Manukian, who had served as Armenia’s first post-Communist prime minister from 1990-1991, also urged Karapetian to take on “oligarchs” controlling lucrative sectors of the Armenian economy thanks to their privileged treatment by the government.
“I don’t know whether or not he will manage to do that,” he said. “I hope he will.”
Commenting on Abrahamian’s failure, Manukian said: “He was more connected to the system. He was actually part of the system for many years, and even if he understood that he has to change something it was much harder for him to do that than for an outsider. An outsider has an advantage.”
Karapetian is such an outsider, added the chairman of the Public Council, a body advising Sargsyan on major policy issues.