12, 2017

President Serzh Sargsyan’s Interview with Armenia TV Channel

- The European Union, in fact, went to compromise with Armenia and signed the Agreement in the form and philosophy suggested by Armenia and yourself. Armenia’s formula was to act as a bridge between the EAEU and the European Union. How well will the policy of “and-and” work amid worsening West-Russia relations, or if they worsen. Shall we not have to give up the reforms and commitments we have undertaken by signing the document with the European Union?

- It is not a good idea to consider the signing of the new agreement with the European Union as a compromise. This is my firm belief. I think that good sense got the better of it: the signing of an agreement means that the signatories have at least obtained the minimum of what they wanted to. The way we managed to sign the agreement is a matter of negotiations. We have never regarded the dialogue as a contradiction between the West and the East.

We have always been convinced that we should cooperate, uphold the dialogue with both the West and the East, specifically with Russia, although Russia can hardly be called an Easern power.

This is a very good opportunity for me to briefly touch on the history of the talks, because probably many of those who used to express different opinions before the signing of the agreement did not even take the trouble of looking back at the origins.

You may remember, the EU announced the launch of the Eastern Partnership program in 2009, and since 2010 we had been negotiating to benefit from the program and sign a relevant agreement.

And if you remember, during the same period, even earlier, integration processes were taking place in the CIS as well. When we first started negotiating with the EU, we were sincere enough to tell our European partners that Russia was our ally, a sincere friend of our people, and the our economy was first of all connected with thousands of threads with Russia’s economy and the economies of other CIS countries. We can not negotiate on a topic, on an agreement that can hamper our economic ties, first of all.

Our European colleagues listened to us, accepted our point and, as they themselves said, showed understanding so that we could negotiate over a long time. But there was a moment when the negotiator began to set terms and said, “You know, the provisions of the Eurasian Economic Union are at odds with the provisions of our agreement, and so on. That is to say, we had to choose between the two so-called economic markets.

We had to remind them that an arrangement to that effect was made as early as in 2010, and if they believed that this was an impediment, we could not take such a step as might be fraught with very big risks.

If you may remember, we did this transparently; we declared many times that the Eastern Partnership Program, the Association Agreement did not conflict with other integration processes.

- Yes, but originally it went the other way since the Europeans were very categorical.

- At the outset, not in the process.

- After joining the EAEU?

- No, before that. I say the motive for the decision. When people say that I made up my mind overnight, it seems very funny to me because every one has the record of our public speeches and public debates, and there can be no other opinion here.

- You once said that you had given the European colleagues at least a 4-month advance notice of Armenia’s joining the EAEU. Is that true?

- Yes of course, but it is not just about it. I mean the public speeches that can be traced back and seen retrospectively.

In any case, the negotiations continued. They continued under new terms and principles, and this was mainly outlined at the Riga Summit in 2015.

The Riga summit is a historic summit in this regard and it has been decided that the Eastern Partnership countries should be treated differently because, as a matter of fact, we shared the common background of being post-Soviet countries, but Armenia was essentially different from Ukraine and Belarus, and from Moldova, just like Georgia differs from Ukraine, Azerbaijan and so on.

The talks continued in that very spirit, and I am now glad that we managed to sign the agreement. As I said, I consider it to be the triumph of the common sense shown by our EU partners and ourselves.

The problem here is something else. Should we think about the contradictions that may emerge one day, even though we sometimes have to do so, and if we pin our actions on that same assumption, we will not achieve a great deal.

After all, the EU has a huge market, the Customs Union, too, has a huge market, and our goal was and should be the promotion of exports. In other words, we need to produce more products, and now it depends on us to what extent our economy will grow, as much as we can export our goods, and these products can be exported both to the Eurasian market and the EU market just it is the case now.

About 28% of our exports go to the EU market, a bit less - to the Eurasian Economic Union market. Of course, there is some difference in their structure in terms of ready-made goods and raw materials, but in any case, the figures are as stated above.

We must always go this way; we have to combine interests and not try to play on controversies. Those trying to play controversy have always suffered a great headache. There are many such examples.

- Mr. President, you have repeatedly stated that integration associations and processes take time to feel the economic impact: this is the case with both the EAEU and the European Union. In the case of the European Union, visa liberalization may be the first indication, the so called first swallow. As far as I can understand, the talks over visa liberalization arrangements are over, and now it is time to negotiate visa liberalization. Is there a deadline set for this: when will it happen?

- I want everyone to understand that the signing of the new agreement is a separate process, while the liberalization of entry visas or the elimination of visa requirements is another process. Of course, these are most likely dependent on each other, but the signing of the new agreement does not mean that the visa liberalization process is on.

Yes, an opinion was voiced at the Summit that perhaps it was necessary to start a dialogue in this direction. I think that maybe in the first half of the coming year or before that, though it seems to be a thankless task to make a public statement on the terms, but I think we will start the dialogue in that period. There are many problems there, it is a lengthy process. If we work well, I think it will be possible to reach the target in 2-3 years.

- You touched upon the exports to both the EAEU and the European Union? Our businessmen shall be communicating with the European Union through the GSP+ system, but very few are actually using it. I would like to know whether new opportunities will be opened up for business people with the newly signed documents.

- First of all, I would not say that very few people are currently using it. 40% of our exports are carried out under that system. Yes, there are a lot of products, and as far as can remember, we enjoy privileged conditions in the European Union for 6,200 types of products, i.e. they are cleared either at a zero or at a significantly lower rate.

Of course, the agreement creates more favorable conditions, but the important thing is to produce goods. We must be able to produce high-quality competitive products, and then our exporters will face no barriers whatsoever.

Today, there are no obstacles for those who produce competitive, high-quality products; they sell their output in both EU and EAEU markets, as well as in other markets.

Thus, that system is very useful for us: it allows us to have such an important volume in the EU market, that is, one third of the overall trade turnover.

- Mr. President, there is a fairly balanced position and formulation in the new document signed between the European Union and Armenia regarding the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Some experts tend to believe that this is a very important achievement for the Armenian side, in the sense that this is a legal document that will be ratified in all EU countries. The other part of the experts is inclined to think that this is a formulation that does not hurt us, but it creates a more inert background. What would you say?

- I am not quite familiar with the opinion of the second group, as it is a strange idea. You said that this agreement should be ratified by parliaments of member states, and if say our parliament ratifies an agreement, does it not become a binding document for us?

- Yes, it does.

- Yes, but once binding, these documents will imply that in the matters concerning the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict these countries should be guided by those instruments, which have been enacted.

You may remember very well that this document reaffirms the commitment of the European Union to assist the OSCE Minsk Group in its activities. The document clearly states three principles that the OSCE Minsk Group format proposed to all of us, I mean the negotiating parties. That is, there are three principles there, the format is available, and we have the commitment of the European Union.

What else should there be so that people would not question the usefulness and importance of this document? I think this is one of the most important parts of this document.

- The latest news about the conflict was the meeting of the Armenian and Azerbaijani Foreign Ministers in Vienna, but in essence, the meeting could not discuss the document on the negotiating table, but it was aimed at coordinating the Presidents’ agendas and general meetings. Please tell me if the allegation is true that the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict settlement or the settlement points have not been talked about for at least 2 years now.

- Yes, we have not talked about specific points. But if you see what happened in the past two years, that process should be considered natural.

During the last two years, we had meetings in Vienna, Saint Petersburg, we had arrangements, and now the so-called process goes in two directions.

The first direction is to ease the tensions; it is necessary to create investigative mechanisms that would lead to a certain atmosphere of mutual trust, and then it will be possible to further deepen the provisions of the document.

I said once, and I am repeating now, it is impossible to negotiate with one hand and shoot with the other. Negotiations do not like shooting: under such conditions it is impossible to come to an agreement. Shots throw back the process; casualties are always painful and bring a very nervous atmosphere to the negotiation process. Each word, each clause should be weighed in a friendly atmosphere so that an agreement might be reached.

- Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was in our region recently. He came to Armenia and Azerbaijan, and, according to the official statement, the main issue on the agenda was the Karabakh conflict. What did Lavrov offer?

- There was no conceptual proposal; in general, there was no new proposal. The agenda of the Armenian-Russian relations is so rich that during the visits of high-ranking officials we are not discussing the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh alone. As to Karabakh, I can state again that Lavrov presented what had been discussed during his press conference.

The Russian Foreign Minister is convinced that this conflict can be settled in the OSCE Minsk Group format and the proposed principles are the only ones that are able to resolve the conflict.

- It appears that at this stage both sides are more steadfast in their positions. Do you think that this is the ultimatum stage, and if so, which way to go now? What is your vision of the settlement?

- My vision is as follows: there must be calmness on the line of contact. Casualties should be ruled out. The hunting we can witness today should be ruled out. This will create a certain atmosphere, some mutual trust.

Where does confidence come from? It comes when you begin to honor the agreements reached earlier? If you do not make the arrangements once, the worm of distrust begins to gnaw, fostering an atmosphere of distrust. This should be ruled out, after which the talks will continue in a tranquil atmosphere.

- I am sure you have followed the parliamentary debates where some parliamentary oppositionists suggested suspending Armenia’s membership of EAEU based on some political and economic arguments. How do you treat it? It is clear that your party members have already expressed their position by voting, but do you see a rationale in their arguments?

- I do not see rationality. I see here just a desire to serve certain interests or some conviction that that comes from ignorance, but if they are convinced they can bring serious arguments, I have not heard any serious arguments.

- For example, 900 commodities can be marked up from January 1, 2018.

- They can not have a significant impact.

-In other words, no price hike ...

- They can not have a significant impact neither in terms of a drastic price hike nor as a hindrance to the economy. This is not an assumption. When we became a full member of that structure in 2015, the rates changed for thousands of goods, and, of course, there was no over-inflation in our country, so now the impact is not great and the impact will be compensated by other products, At cheaper prices, and, I think, we have adopted a balanced approach and this approach led to the fact that, for example, in the year 2016, we witnessed deflation in the country. This is also a fact that they can not deny and today we do not have tangible inflation. Yes, some commodity prices are up due to the rise in prices for these products in the international markets, but overall inflation is manageable.

And let us take into consideration the fact that though everyone is saying that we did not raise wages, etc., the rate of wages is a little higher today than the inflation rate. This, I think, is a very important circumstance, the same thing happened in 2016.

- One of the worst issues in the regional developments is the relations between Iran and the West. It is known that the U/S. President has repeatedly stated that he is questioning Iran’s nuclear program. What is Armenia’s position on these developments and whether it will not endanger the Armenian-Iranian programs that have been activated this year, and what new developments are expected in the near future?

- We have always expressed our position, expressed publicly and expressed our views during the meetings and we believe that the implementation of the agreements reached in the negotiations proceeds from our viewpoint, first of all our interests, of course, it is desirable that the agreement be maintained and it is desirable that the provisions of that agreement be implemented.

After all, I think we should think the following way: the better people live in Iran, the better for Armenia. It is useful, as the trade will flourish, inbound tourism will thrive, and our contacts will be strengthened.

Ultimately, any community consists of individuals, subjects, and to what extent these individuals are prosperous, those subjects are so well-off that the whole community.

Iran is a friendly country; we have thousands of years of cooperation with Iran, but we are dissatisfied with today’s trade turnover, the level of economic cooperation is not satisfactory, there is enormous potential here. Iran needs stability, peace and, indeed, we can benefit from its stability and peace.

- Indeed, the 17th Francophonie Summit in Armenia is one of the major events to be held in 2018. Please tell me how important it is for Armenia.

- It is very important that 2018 will be rich in key events. As you mentioned, the Francophonie Summit scheduled for October 11-12; besides we will celebrate the 2800th anniversary of Yerevan in the same period, and the 100th anniversary of the First Republic and the May battles. These are major events to be attended by many guests.

The Francophonie summit is the biggest event ever held in Armenia in terms of participation of foreign delegations and, in particular, the heads of state.

We have had no such experience before. This calls for hard work, accurate estimates and great discipline.

We will do our best to come out with dignity as it is an opportunity and a challenge at the same time: a challenge in the sense that we should be able to really hold it at a high level, and from the point of view that once we manage to hold such a big forum, the next will not wait too much.

- You traveled to Artsakh recently, where you called at army units, you followed the military drills, and I would like to know your opinion on the activities carried out on the line of contact. For instance, whether sabotage actions have dropped almost to zero owing to the work done so far. Two or three years ago diversions were a big problem, and now they have already been eliminated. What is the problem now facing the Defense Army?

- I share the opinion that minimization of the possibility of sabotage has of course, to do with the equipment we now have at the line of contact.

If you recall a long time ago, I mean, after installing the equipment, two or three operations were attempted, these attempts failed with heavy losses, and this seems to have been the result that now the possibility of sabotage has diminished.

As for the problems, the point is just in the name of Defense Army: our task is to ensure the most effective defense of our eastern borders and the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic.

I do not want to go into details, but be sure that we have specific programs that will exclude other activities as well. As we used to say that we had a plan and diversions would be ruled out, many expressed doubts. Now I declare with full responsibility that other hostile operations will also be eliminated in the foreseeable future.

- On October 24, at the National Research University of Defense, you spoke about the Seven-Year Plan for Army Reform. Mr. President, the army has always been reformed; our army was being reformed when Vazgen Manukyan, Vazgen Sargsyan and you were Defense Ministers. I remember one of your first reforms, the biggest corruption outcrop was eliminated when by your decree soldiers came to be drafted and demobilized on the same day of the year, an automated scheme started to work, and everyone knew when to go home. I meant that the army has always been reformed, so why did you set a term?

- You are right, the army has always been reformed, new weapons have been introduced, structural changes have taken place, but in a few months we will live in a country with a completely different governance system, and changes must first be made in conjunction with that management system in the armed forces so that the transition is very smooth.

This is one, which is very important. Secondly, we have not always been able to establish long-term reform plans. The military has always planned its work for a year, two years, three years ahead, when the government proceeded to the discussion of mid-term plans, but now on the one hand, we have the opportunity to plan longer reforms and, on the other hand, it is just necessary.

We need to see what capabilities we will have in seven years. We should not consider what we can invest, but what resources are needed. The philosophy is a little changed.

- It was somewhat unusual because long-term programs are not often announced in public, since the most common phrase we have got is “Let’s see what’s coming tomorrow.” So, seven years is enough.

-But as we grow up as a state we grow up as armed forces. Obviously, the army has long been satisfied with what we have allocated to the army. I think we need a stage in order to do more for the army and there are opportunities.

- The Global Military Index considers Armenia to be the most militarized country in Europe and the third in the world. Are you not worried about the prospect of our becoming an army-state?
- No, of course not. First of all, it is our fault, I mean the authorities, in the sense that we do not do the necessary explanatory work as soon as such information is available.

You know, such ratings, such standards, are always unique and do not fit the impression created at first glance.

What do I mean? You say “militarized state,” the first impression I think is that there is a tank in the street, and even if there is not a tank, the state may be militarized in general, with restricted civil rights and so on. Thank God, no one can say so.

This rating was determined by a number of criteria, for example, by the number of heavy equipment per capita, it is a bit different than that of militarized at least in our perceptions.

Of course, under normal conditions nobody would have thought that three million people would have built up such big armed forces, but it is not just a fancy for us: we were obliged to do so.

On the one hand, we are accused of being less militarized than Azerbaijan, and on the other hand, we are said to be too militarized, and now we have to understand what the golden average is.

- That is we are adequate to our needs.

- We are obliged to do so; we simply need to get the minimum, which will help us cope with our security problems. We are just forced to do so. The April 2016 showed that we did afford much, and we do not have anything to spare.

- Mr. President, under your leadership, for the second time there is a bill to abolish draft deferment. Unlike the first attempt as you were the Minister of Defense, this time the bill was adopted. First, what has changed over the years and whether the deferral has a principal significance for you?

- You know, the times are changing, the philosophy of our actions and the logic of the laws are changed, and secondly, I must state that the deferment has not been canceled: the philosophy has changed, the logic has changed, and not at 180 degrees.

And who can say that if we have a genius conscript, we will definitely take him to the army. There is nothing like this.

The government can do it by its decisions, but the government must be convinced that the conscript is genius, and that he does not think of becoming genius because many do so. I want to become a genius scientist or a genius artist, let me not take part in the defense of the homeland; it is a bit unacceptable to me.

Secondly, all our students are offered the possibility of deferral under one of our programs, provided that they serve as officers in the Armenian army after graduation. And so can we continue.

Naturally, the oppositionists were supposed to misinterpret the new arrangement. I declare now that we have not eliminated the right to deferment.

On the other hand, they have always talked about social injustice that the children of the rich do not serve, the children of government officials do not serve, and the question arises, first of all, who is using the current right of deferment, the socially insecure class, It is not that children from more prosperous families have greater opportunity to study in higher education institutions.

Now, that injustice will also be addressed, and this will also affect the education system, the higher education system, the quality of the higher education system, the quality of the education will increase, and those who will be taught in the universities who really want to get higher education and not those universities are used to avoid the army.

The new law on higher education has already been put into circulation, and I think there are also significant changes there. In the foreseeable future, we have to make a breakthrough in the higher education system for five to ten years.

- Mr. President, the Law on Conscription has been discussed much, and the philosophy is understandable. You mentioned in your speech the question of high-ranking officials’ children not serving in the army. In essence, all those who were in favor of a more healthy debate, were the first to say that we are for the defense of our country, our homeland, should the law be binding for everyone. At this stage, or maybe after some time, why not make it mandatory for public officials to have served in the army when getting high state positions? Rights and liabilities should be equal for everyone.

- First of all, I must say that we do not know any such instance when children of some people have avoided army service in breach of the provisions of the applicable law. By narrowing the opportunities, we set equality, or at least we want to do so.

As for what you said, I am categorically against it for two reasons. First of all, is it the fault of those who have not served in the army due to legitimate reasons? When we say we want to have the rule of law, when we speak about the rule of law, we can be asked a simple question; you have given me the chance, and I took advantage of that opportunity, why are you limiting my rights now?

Secondly, in all societies, including our society, there are people who do not serve because of their health or family situation.

And who said that people with second-class disability, even those with a first-class disability, can not serve well in the state apparatus? In other words, we should not limit the rights of others, but should encourage those who have made extra efforts to protect the homeland.

- You have repeatedly talked about the necessity of education in your speeches and repeatedly stressed that we should build a knowledge-based reality - from the army to industry. Meanwhile, 2018 is the year when science and education funding shall be down.

- There is no reduction, as a matter of fact. Especially if you take into consideration the part of science that is reflected in the budget of the Ministry of Defense, in the ministries’ budgets; we must definitely take this into account.

We must also take into account that there are several foundations in Armenia that are ready to provide scholarships or grant grants to those who are engaged in science.

This is also a circumstance. Let us not forget that the European Union already has many foundations, which are prepared to fund specific directions of science. Funding should not only address social problems, but finance also implies productivity, and what I have just said implies a result; it does not mean that every topic should become a machine, a plane, a computer, etc. But at least one in five, one in ten should behave like this, otherwise where to get funds for them?

- Let us talk about law enforcement. Armenia is ranked 62nd in the Global - Organized Crime Global Compact, while neighboring Georgia is 38th and Azerbaijan is 43rd. In addition, there were shocking murders in the center of Yerevan during the year. I know you have made several program speeches in law enforcement agencies, the Investigations Committee and Police. In general, are you satisfied with the work of our law enforcement agencies, given the fact that we have always told tourists that Armenia is one of the safest and most secure countries in the world?

- First of all, I must say that the work of any department, even if it is enough, needs improvement. This is not just my personal approach; it is a normal logical approach,

Secondly, what I want to say is the same thing I have just said, we should be cautious about different indexes, different ratings and I must say that in the same report, Armenia is very much ahead of the countries you mentioned in terms of tourism and travel.

Regrettably, murders are committed in any country, unfortunately, including Europe, the United States. The problem consists in the rate of crime disclosure, and what is most important, crime prevention.

In this respect, I think, a lot of work has been done in our country, and if we take clear figures, for example, killings are getting fewer year after year. For example, the number of intentional murders – I will not state accurate figures to avoid speculation – is down by about 15-20% this year, and almost all the scandalous murders that have been detected, and the executors have been arrested. God willing, let us just hope that one day there will be no murders in our country, but no country is safeguarded from crime.

As for security in Yerevan, I think the right approach here is our own feeling and our guests’ opinions.

In this regard, I think the situation is satisfactory, although we have no right to relax with these achievements. We really need to be a safe country, safe inside the country, and safe on the borders.

- Mr. President, this year you came up with another program speech in parliament and you mentioned an unusual deadline as you spoke about the year 2040, stating that an objective has been set to make the population of Armenia 4 million by 2040. Once, as your first term was nearing completion, you said that the government and the leaders of the country should set high standards. Even if they are convinced that the mark is too high, there must be a standard, indeed. Is 4 million an expected outcome of action, and is that road realistic or is it just one of the points you mentioned, that is to say, we should strive to see how it would be?

- It is the rate of normal development for us, but I think it is realistic. There is no concrete action plan now as to what we should do every year, but a working group has been set up after my statement, and that working group is busy with the task.

I think our forthcoming task is to bring emigration to the zero level in the course of the next five years: the ratio between those who come in and who leave must be positive for Armenia or at least zero.

It is clear that with natural growth – birth rate, death toll, marriage, divorce – that is in the natural way we can not reach the proposed target of million in the foreseeable future or even far in the future. Therefore, on the one hand, by paying close attention to healthcare, families, their stability and social status, youth employment, and so on, we should be able to provide opportunities for immigration.

I find this very realistic, because many people who have emigrated from Armenia have not found what they were looking for. And these people can be redeemed.

- Azerbaijan has recently commissioned the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway talks are underway on having railway communication between Russia and Iran, while the largest communication project in Armenia is the North-South Highway. Since the launch until now, the cost of the project has increased twice. Secondly, even the Minister of Transport is vague about the deadlines. Now it is said that the southern section can be paid for vehicles, but there is still no money for the northern part. Why did this happen, Mr. President, and whether there will be enough money to complete it?

- Of course there will. First, it should be noted the following: the estimate, if I was not mistaken, was made public in 2009 or 2010, it was the estimate of a Japanese company that was a general estimate and that assessment was not based on feasibility calculations because it was a large program and not only at the level of Armenia. In fact, it is the largest ever infrastructure project in Armenia’s history, and in that sense we must have a conscious approach to the problem.

When a specific sketch grows into a specific project, a lot of problems may arise. If you want to build a tunnel or you want to go with crosswalk, you want to build a bridge or turn around again? For this very reason, the first estimate can never be taken as a basis.

Secondly, the assessment did not take into consideration the costs related to the alienation or evacuation of privatized land and population: these are huge costs. Anyone wanting to spend a little money, we want people to go from here, we build a road here, it is not our approach, especially that the Asian Bank demands that we make those accomplishments at market prices, something higher than that, 10 percent higher than that. That is to say, we are working in line with all these rules.

The next problem is that when the project started, it was not that the global economic crisis was already noticeable.

You may remember that we were obliged to borrow debts due to the crisis in order to provide for more stability in the country so that we did not have social tensions, we preferred stability in the country to the rapid construction of that road?

Which was the right way? I think this was the right path; otherwise we could have a 150km long road, but social tensions in the country. Long-term programs, of course, are mandatory for implementation, but they are subordinate to certain changes based on the interests of the particular country.

- Mr. President, pensions and salaries will not be raised in 2018, while prices for foodstuffs will rise and will rise from January 1, you have already discussed it, what the government plans to do to mitigate social tensions.

-The only way to live better is to work harder, and the only way to prosperity is economic growth, and I think the government is making great efforts.

We have to do everything to make our economic growth tangible. Now you will say why you do not mention a specific figure. Yes, I do not mention a specific figure, given certain circumstances, but it should be tangible.

We need to produce more products, we need to create more jobs, but one of the most important issues is to provide highly paid jobs.

We are not so right to say that wages will not rise in 2018. The rates will not go up, but people will get more. In October this year, the average wage is higher by 4.8% than in the same period last year. Growth will be small, but it will. We must strive to ensure that the growth of salaries is ahead of the price increase.
That is to say, we will continue to raise wages, although it will not be too big, we just have to strive for having a progressive rate of salaries against inflation, this is important, as we are now in that framework.

- Mr. President, why do not you state figures? In general, my question refers to Karen Karapetyan’s government. You publicly set performance benchmarks for all previous prime ministers, and there was a kind of public arrangement: either you meet the target, or you leave. There is no public arrangement in case of Karen Karapetyan’s government, and it is hard to guess your stance. How do you assess the government’s activities, and is there a quantitative standard?

- First of all, I must say that Karen Karapetyan’s government faces a very specific problem, and the problem is literally the following: to achieve effective management.

Yes, we did not set specific tasks of economic growth, because they were caused by some problems related to integration processes, and so on. But I think that Karen Karapetyan and his government have set themselves the goal of ensuring economic growth of 5-6%. And if a person sets himself a task, which is not at odds with your own perceptions, is it that necessary to make a public statement?

I think this is not a bad indicator. Five per cent growth will allow us to benefit from its results, and it will be tangible.

- Mr. President, the country is going to switch to parliamentary governance in 2018, and it seems that many vacancies will be available. The Republican Party is a ruling party and has been given the opportunity to form a government in a new parliamentary atmosphere. Do you already have a new power chart?

- The power chart is set by the Constitution. If you mean specific officials, then you may guess that my colleagues and I are in constant search.

One thing is clear: all positions will undoubtedly be filled within the proposed deadlines. When you say that someone is going to be offered a position, and the other one – another position, you may be right; people have the right to make predictions, people have the right to expect something, but any authority does not make such statements anywhere in advance, and that is natural.

These are not elections the terms of which are enshrined in the law or Constitution, and you have to do it either based on certain rules, or by proceeding from particular ideas.

In my opinion, the issue of appointing state officials in advance is a very wrong approach.

- There are long-livers among the members of our government who have been serving since 2008, while others have left. In general, how do you treat the officials who have stepped down? Do you think they have left forever and their time has passed, or they can come back, perhaps the second or third time?

- I have a feeling of deep respect for all those who have ever served the Republic of Armenia, but what I said does not mean that these people are indispensable, or they must always be in service. What I said does not either mean that those who resigned have gone forever. The logic is as follows: first, all institutions, including state institutions, should be refreshed; stagnation is unacceptable.

Second, reshuffle should be combined with skills. Good ideas always lead to brilliant opportunities. I appreciate good ideas, innovations, but innovations should not be such as to cause big problems in the future. If I answer your question briefly, an individual approach has to be shown here.

I can cite examples of either irrevocable departures or comebacks, I just do not know whether it is convenient or not. For my part, I can say that Armen Gevorgyan, the incumbent Chief of President’s Administration, used to work at Government for a long time. Then he opted for another job, but finally he came back and is now working brilliantly. So, the approach is individual.

- Karen Karapetyan has stated several times that he is ready to hold on the post of prime minister in 2018. Now and in the near future as well, media outlets will surely write a lot about what you will be busy with. So far, you have kept saying the time will come, and I will make my decision. I wonder if you have not decided yet, and what factors can influence your decision.

- First of all, I must say that the time has not come yet; I will make a relevant statement in due course. Different factors are at stake, ranging from personal to other factors. I think that in the end we have the right to decide together with Republican Party’s coalition partner who and where can work more effectively.

As for Karen Karapetian’s desire, it is a very good, healthy, logical desire and, generally speaking, I believe that Karen Karapetian is quite an acceptable and useful candidate as prime minister and as a person for me and for the Republican Party. So, there is no need to look for something here, I do not mean you but those who are still in search. The time will come, and we will very quietly announce our decisions.

- Mr. President, do you personally feel weary, or do you feel you have got a new breath? How well do you feel inside the government?

- It is up to my colleagues to assess my health status, my ability to work or sickness. I am doing well anyway.

- I am asking this question because to judge from your plans announced over the last few months, you do not look like an official who wants to conclude his career. You ushered in a period of army reform for the upcoming 7 years, you published a new strategy for community development for the next 10 years and, as a matter of fact, you made a strong statement for community leaders. You have developed a new anticorruption program for the next 4 years and a new scale of judicial reform that has just started to gain momentum. All these programs do not seem to have been developed by a departing or retiring person.

- In all cases, this is the right way. You have to fulfill the commitments assumed voluntarily until the last moment.

In any case, nobody urged me to run for the presidential elections and become President of Armenia. And if I volunteered, I should be ready and I am actually ready to fulfill my responsibilities until the last moment. Then we will see to what extent and in which sphere I can come of service. I say this frankly.

- What do you mean, Mr. President?

- I am not making believe, pretending or overcharging. We will just go the way we decide upon together.

- Will you stay in politics?

- We’ll see, we’ll see.

- Mr. President, thank you for the interview.

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