Friday, July 08, 2005

U.S. Continues Large Scale Assistance to Armenia

Emil Danielyan again writes for the Jamestown Foundation's Eurasia Daily Monitor but this time on U.S. assistance to Armenia. While the U.S. Government has declared that financial assistance to countries such as Armenia is reliant on democratic progress, even George W. Bush has to contend with the powerful clout of the Armenian Diaspora.
Reflecting the influence of the Armenian community in the United States, the U.S. Congress is blocking yet another attempt by the White House to sizably cut long-running American assistance to Armenia. The small South Caucasus state is thus due to remain one of the world's leading per-capita recipients of U.S. economic aid, more than $1.6 billion since 1992.


The Bush administration clearly had to reckon with the Armenian community's clout when it included Armenia last year in the list of 17 developing nations eligible for additional multimillion-dollar assistance under Washington's Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) program. Neighboring Georgia was the only other ex-Soviet state selected for the scheme, which is designed to promote political and economic reform around the world.

Georgia is increasingly emerging as a U.S. bulwark in the South Caucasus, due to its new leadership's pro-Western foreign policy. Still, it may get less American economic aid in 2006 than Armenia, which continues to be seen as Russia's key regional ally. Furthermore, close defense links with Moscow have not prevented Yerevan from securing over $20 million in U.S. military assistance since 2002. It is expected to make up at least $5.75 million in fiscal year 2006.
The full article can be read here.

In related news, Emil writes for Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty that Kirk Kerkorian, the U.S. billionaire of Armenian descent is set to give Armenia $60 million for infrastructure projects in Armenia. To date, Kerkorian has given in excess of $150 million to the government although many NGOs and investigative journalists involved in monitoring corruption in Armenia allege that only part of that money is actually spent.
Kerkorian’s decision to continue his multimillion-dollar assistance to Armenia was for months anticipated by the country’s cash-strapped government. It was announced less than two months after the reclusive tycoon’s unexpected visit to Yerevan during which he met President Robert Kocharian and received Armenia’s highest state award from the latter.

Kerkorian also inspected streets in the city center and roads outside it that were rebuilt with his money. He was reportedly satisfied with what he saw.
According to one activist, however, Kerkorian's Lincy Foundation has even stated in private that as long as some of the money is spent, they're happy. Not sure I buy into that argument. Think just how much progress there could be if transparency and accountability were in place.

While that article can be read here, the Armenian government can still manage to ruffle a few feathers. In another article co-penned by Danielyan, the World Bank is reported to be furious with news that the Armenian electricity distribution network has been sold to a state-run Russian company.
The normally reserved World Bank official was visibly angry as he commented on the uncertainty surrounding the fate of one of Armenia’s largest and most profitable companies. “Has the formal process of requesting permission and receiving approval from the government of Armenia and the Public Service Regulatory Commission gone on?” he asked. “To my knowledge, no.”

“Any change in the beneficial ownership of ENA has to be approved by the government of Armenia and the Public Service Regulatory Commission,” Robinson stressed. “If you have a law, follow the law. If you have a license agreement, follow the license agreement. And let’s do this in an open and transparent way.”
Seems like I'm not the only one fed up with waiting for the law to actually function in Armenia, believing that accountability and transparency is sorely needed in the country. The article can be read here.

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