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Putin slashes gas price to Armenia amid anti-Russian protests

Russian strongman Vladimir Putin on Monday slashed gas prices for Armenia during a visit to the Caucasus nation as police detained over 100 people protesting the Armenian government's decision to sign up to a Moscow-led customs union. Putin announced he would axe duties on natural resources heading to Armenia and pledged to sell arms to the ex-Soviet state at a reduced rate as Armenia readies to join the Kremlin's custom union.

"Russia will do everything it can to help Armenia complete all the procedures for joining the customs union," Putin said.

Putin said that "the price (for gas) will be set at 189 dollars (per 1000 cubic metres)," far below the price Russia offers to other buyers.

Around 1,000 people opposed to Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian's decision to spurn an improved relationship with the European Union in favour of closer Kremlin ties earlier Monday marched through the capital Yerevan. They carried banners reading "Putin go home" and waved Armenian flags, an AFP reporter saw.

A heavy deployment of police blocked the march leading to several small scuffles between demonstrators and security officials. 110 protestors were detained, the police press service said. The protest in Armenia comes amid ongoing demonstrations in Ukraine where some 100,000 people on Sunday took to the streets protesting President Viktor Yanukovych?s decision to drop plans to sign a key deal with the EU.

Several thousand protesters in Kiev blockaded government buildings Monday and declared a general strike. In September, Sarkisian unexpectedly announced that he had decided Armenia would join the Customs Union that already includes the ex-Soviet states of Belarus and Kazakhstan. The shock move scuppered plans for the country to initial an association and free trade agreement with the EU at a November summit in Vilnius after years of negotiation.

Critics accused Russia of pressuring the tiny Caucasus nation to drop its EU aspirations by hiking gas prices and inking major arms deals with Armenia's arch-foe Azerbaijan. Armenia relies heavily on Russia for weaponry that it sees as key to maintaining a balance with oil-rich Azerbaijan in their festering conflict over the disputed Nagorny Karabakh region. According to Putin's vision, the Russian-led Customs Union is the foundation of a future Eurasian economic union with its own executive body and a single currency.

Source: France24