Baku, December 26, AZERTAC
President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev has been interviewed by Rossiya-24 TV channel of the Russian Federation.
In the interview, the head of state answered questions related to Azerbaijani-Russian bilateral relations and other issues. AZERTAC presents the interview.
- Mr. President, hello and thank you very much for hosting us again in Azerbaijan. We can sum up the results of 2019 together. What was this year like for Azerbaijan and for Russian-Azerbaijani relations?
- It is a pleasure to see you in Azerbaijan again. You are welcome! I recall our meeting last year. It has become a good tradition to meet at the end of the year. And, of course, there is something to say to both Azerbaijani and Russian viewers. The year was very busy indeed in terms of the development of bilateral relations. We are summing up the results of the year, which I am sure will go down in the history of our relations as one of the most active and dynamic in terms of bringing our countries even closer together. We had a lot of contacts at the highest level. I have met with the President of Russia several times, and every meeting was very useful, fruitful and focused on the results. The instructions we gave to our teams have been fulfilled.
We are actively implementing the program within the framework of five roadmaps, which cover almost all areas of our activities – trade, transport, energy, humanitarian sphere, tourism. Two more roadmaps were added to these at the end of the year – on innovation and youth policy. This was our initiative and it was received well by the Russian side. I must say that in February next year we are planning the first Russian-Azerbaijani youth forum. We believe that in order to preserve and enhance our achievements bilaterally, the new generation must communicate, get to know each other and prepare themselves for adulthood in terms of cooperation. Therefore, I am sure that the first youth forum of Azerbaijan and Russia will be very useful, pleasant, interesting, and thus the younger generation will get to know each other. I am sure that, just like the current generation, it will strive to strengthen our ties in the future.
A lot has been done in the industrial field. We are pleased that one of the largest industrial projects was commissioned in Azerbaijan this year. It was funded by “Gazprombank” in the amount of about $500 million. A pharmaceutical company with 100 percent Russian investments was also opened in Azerbaijan this year. This is also a very important event because we are largely dependent on imports in terms of pharmaceuticals. Also, the foundation of a service center for the repair and maintenance of helicopters in conjunction with “Russian Helicopters” was laid this year. I must say that we have more than 100 Russian helicopters and, of course, they require maintenance. We hope that this center also becomes regional and the neighboring countries that have Russian military equipment can take advantage of our capabilities.
The year was also successful in terms of military and technical cooperation. We continued to implement the previously signed contracts, which are estimated at billions of dollars, and discussed in detail the possibilities of new contracts so that the momentum that exist in this area continues.
The foundation was also laid for the construction of a “GAZ” automobile plant in addition to the “KamAZ” and “Ural” automobiles which are already being produced in Azerbaijan. A three-year contract for the supply of subway cars has been signed with a Russian company. We are updating our fleet of subway cars. The “Azerbaijan” pavilion has been opened at the Exhibition of Achievements of National Economy. This is also a momentous event. It has been restored in its original form. This is already a cultural center of Azerbaijan on such a famous international platform.
A new automobile bridge connecting our states across the Samur River was opened on 24 December. This is also a very important event because the old bridge was built in the 1950s and could no longer withstand that volume of cargo and car traffic. Therefore, on 24 December, a bridge was officially commissioned at the border. It will become a new gateway for our cooperation, as well as a gateway for regional cooperation in terms of implementing the North-South project. Cargo transportation along it increased eight times last year and by a further 60 percent this year. Therefore, Azerbaijan, which has largely completed all the projects related to the implementation of this important transport project on its territory, now provides transport and logistical opportunities to neighboring countries. I could continue the list.
- There are many projects indeed, and it is important that they are being implemented, and this is a completely different level. This is a level of industrial cooperation and interaction – highly technological. You will probably agree – I hope the dynamics continues next year – that this year will mark the beginning of another era in the relations between Russia and Azerbaijan, and we will have other projects ahead. Other records are awaiting us. All this needs to be developed in the face of administrative barriers and restrictions that hinder our business today. If we look into next year, which of these restrictions can be lifted next year in your opinion? What steps should be taken?
- These issues were discussed in detail during this year. What you are talking about is an integral part of the development of our relations, including those in the trade and economic sphere. Therefore, instructions have already been given to relevant agencies of our countries on simplifying customs procedures, applying modern technologies in terms of control over the transportation of goods and in terms of simplifying the process of border crossing. Modern technologies are being used in this direction both in Azerbaijan and Russia. Therefore, I think that this will be one of the directions – in particular, the removal of administrative and other bureaucratic obstacles.
As far as the economic cooperation is concerned, I am sure that trade will grow. There has been growth of 25 percent this year. Last year it was about 20 percent. So this shows serious dynamics in trade and economic relations because it is not easy for us to increase it from the existing high base. To do this, of course, we must successfully implement the roadmaps I spoke about and significantly unify the approaches to the transport and tariff policy, including coordinating our activities on new transport projects. A new highway is being built in Azerbaijan from Baku to the Russian border. It will run parallel to the existing one along the Caspian coast, and this route will reduce the distance by many kilometers. Therefore, it will be much faster and more comfortable to get to the Russian border.
- If we speak in absolute terms, our mutual trade is approaching the sum of $3 billion. As for the dollar, Russia and Azerbaijan are gradually switching to settlements in national currencies in order to reduce their dependence on the dollar. Today, the possibility of connecting Azerbaijan to the Mir payment system is also being discussed. Recently, at a CIS summit, Vladimir Putin suggested considering the prospect for creating a common financial market. What is your attitude to such initiatives?
- We are seriously considering these initiatives. We are discussing issues related to the transition of trade between countries to national currencies with other neighboring countries as well. As you know, this issue is also being widely discussed there and first steps are being taken in this direction. Therefore, I think that, first of all, it is necessary to determine the nomenclature of goods in our circulation that can be sold in national currencies and then take steps in this direction.
We received an offer to join the Mir payment system relatively recently and are seriously studying it now. I think there is a good prospect there, especially due to the sharp increase in the tourist flow from Russia to Azerbaijan. Last year, about 900,000 Russians visited Azerbaijan and a further 900,000 people in 11 months of this year. So we are approaching a million. Since we are actively developing the tourism sector and trying to keep record of our revenue from it, it is, of course, very easy for us to calculate how much tourists spent by means of their payment cards. But many tourists also spend cash. This mainly applies to tourists from the former USSR. Therefore, if this system is applied to Azerbaijan, we will have a clear accounting of proceeds, and it will be much more comfortable and convenient for the Russians to come to Azerbaijan and not encounter exchange problems at exchange stations.
- And what about a common financial market?
- The financial market is a more complicated issue. We have not received any specific proposals on that yet. We have heard a statement about it. Of course, we will study it seriously. Our approach is always based on pragmatism, on the practical side, of course. If it is profitable, interesting and comfortable, if it stimulates trade and facilitates business activity, then, of course, we will take this issue very seriously.
- Of course, Russia and Azerbaijan are always major energy projects. We are partners here but we are also described as competitors. I don’t know whether this is at all deserved, if we are talking about the development of the Turkish Stream project and the Southern Gas Corridor. What are your plans for next year? You must reach Europe...
- Yes, I would like to touch upon this issue first of all because we hear and see in the media of different countries sometimes the theories that this is some kind of competition. This is categorically not the case. This has never happened and I am sure never will. Never has the topic of energy projects that are being implemented by us or Russia been the subject of some serious discussions. So I think that both Russia and Azerbaijan support the projects we are implementing.
As for the Turkish Stream project, we know how important this project is for both Russia and Turkey. Both countries are our close partners. Therefore, we supported this project from the very beginning.
Regarding the exports of Azerbaijani gas to the European market, after the implementation of the Southern Gas Corridor project 10 billion cubic meters of gas will be delivered. Compared to the volume supplied by Russia – I don’t remember the exact figure, but depending on the year it was somewhere around 150-170 billion cubic meters – this is a very small quantity. Therefore, the Southern Gas Corridor project is no competitor, of course. And we never saw it that way. It is simply a project that will allow Azerbaijan the opportunity to sell its gas resources in international markets. A part of the gas is already being supplied to the Turkish market along this corridor. At the end of November this year, the TANAP – the Trans-Anatolian gas pipeline project which is a part of the Southern Gas Corridor – reached the Greek border. The construction of a gas pipeline from the Turkish-Greek border to Italy is already more than 90 percent through. Therefore, we expect to fully commission this project with a length of 3,500 kilometers next year. This will also allow us the opportunity to commission new gas fields that are currently being developed and not to worry anymore that Azerbaijan is a landlocked country. By means of the transport and energy corridors, we have long accessed the market of the Black Sea and the Mediterranean seas and are now entering the gas market of Turkey and Europe with large volumes – relatively large, of course.
- And the partnership can be continued with purchases of Russian gas for delivery to Europe.
- Of course! I think that within the framework of effective and multilateral cooperation, we will be able to implement many joint projects in the future that seemed unfeasible before. And an example of such cooperation has been the construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway, which has linked the railways of Azerbaijan and Turkey. Today, Russian suppliers transport goods from Russia through Azerbaijan to Turkish ports, primarily to Mersin. And there is also the prospect of transportation by rail even without transshipment in the ports to European countries. Today we are already talking about possible volumes of millions of tons. In fact, when we initiated the construction of a railway link between Azerbaijan and Turkey, it seemed to many that this was aimed only at shippers from China and Central Asia. But Russian shippers are already transporting goods in this direction today. Therefore, I do not rule out the possibility that at some stage, the existing gas transportation infrastructure we are and Russia is creating on Turkish territory may be a common infrastructure.
- It is probably important to mention the energy systems of Azerbaijan, Russia and Iran. There is also a large area for cooperation here.
- That's exactly right! We are working in parallel with Russia. This is a very effective regime. I receive quarterly updates on energy exchange. It is important that in case of some kind of a breakdown we can always rely on each other. When the breakdown occurred in Azerbaijan and there was almost a complete blackout last summer, the Russian side provided us with indispensable support in the volumes that we could accept to provide certain strategic facilities with electricity.
The same thing happens when a breakdown occurs in Dagestan – we immediately reorient our energy flow to the Russian market. There is an excess of electricity in the amount of thousands of megawatts in Azerbaijan today. We export electricity to Georgia, Turkey and some European countries. With Russia, we also sell electricity when it is necessary. We have also built a new power line with Iran. Therefore, the energy corridor between the three countries already exists, and the ministers of the three countries regularly meet and discuss issues of future cooperation in this direction.
- Can this become a common power system?
- Yes. It is almost becoming that already. As I said, we are working in parallel with the Russian Federation. We have established energy coordination and exports, as I said, in the western and southern directions. Therefore, I think that coordination and multilateral cooperation – perhaps not only trilateral involving Azerbaijan, Iran and Russia, but also in a larger volume – will benefit everyone.
- You are probably aware of the pressure being put on the Russian “Nord Stream 2” project. Azerbaijan’s ambitions in the European market, as you have already said, are slightly smaller, but they too can come under such pressure. Are you feeling it?
- No! As far as energy projects are concerned, we are not. I will tell you more – European consumers are interested in accessing Azerbaijani gas – even though the volumes are small, as I said. Therefore, with regard to issues related to energy, we do not feel such pressure.
- European consumers are also interested in “Nord Stream-2”, but American producers are not really. This interest is not so mutual. Speaking about political interaction in general, about the political background, do you see perhaps some influence of the relations between Russia and Western partners? How these relations affect Azerbaijan?
- Well, I would say that we do not see this directly, of course, because this is somewhat outside the area of our activity. But in general, of course, when relations between countries, between the countries we are partners with become more tense, this affects everyone negatively.
- Perhaps you are warned against being friends with Russia?
- I don’t think so. Because I think that everyone already knows, including Europe, that Azerbaijan pursues an independent foreign policy and openly declares that. Our words never diverge from our deeds. We have good relations with European countries. We have signed or adopted strategic partnership documents with nine EU countries. This is a third of the EU, but after Brexit it will be more than a third. Last year, we initialed the Agreement with the European Union on partnership priorities, which expresses support for the territorial integrity, sovereignty and the inviolability of the borders of Azerbaijan.
We are in the process of negotiations with the European Union. And all this absolutely does not interfere with the building of relations with other countries. Europe also understands that Azerbaijan, in terms of relations with its neighbors, is pursuing a completely independent course. Azerbaijan is a country that can withstand possible influence and pressure, and has demonstrated this more than once. The reason for this is that we are economically independent. We live within our means. We do not need loans, we have become, according to the International Development Organization, the IDA, a donor country. The external public debt in Azerbaijan accounts for around 17 percent of the GDP. By this indicator, we are in ninth place in the world. Therefore, economic independence gives us strength to defend our position on the political field. And we are doing it with some success. We are also able to counter possible pressure because our policy enjoys the support of the people, we are confident that we are right. Therefore, all the attempts that were previously made to coerce Azerbaijan into doing something have failed.
- And you are not going to join the European Union?
- That's right!
- There is no tidbit that can be shown to you and then taken back…
- When I recently met with Azerbaijani journalists, I spoke in detail about these issues, because different opinions that are far from being true are sometimes expressed in the media. I dwelled on this issue in detail and said that no-one was waiting for us there. We are not even on the list of candidates. Azerbaijan is a country that, unlike some countries of the former USSR that are part of the Eastern Partnership project, has not signed an association agreement. I have read it from beginning to end and realized that this is not an agreement. This is an instruction. The instruction that is being issued for us to follow. I put a question to my team: why do we need this instruction? What will it give us? Is there any practical benefit for Azerbaijan? I personally did not see it. Therefore, we suggested that the European Commission should instead work on a bilateral agreement where there would be benefits for us, so that I could tell the people of Azerbaijan why we are going to do this. After all, we can’t sign an agreement in order to please someone or just say yes, we have signed it. We don’t work like that. Any agreement we are going for must have a concrete result.
We have just spoken about Russian-Azerbaijani relations. You see, there are concrete results in everything. Everything we agree on and sign, we implement. We proposed the same to the European Commission, and I must say that negotiations on a new agreement are generally going well. Over 90 percent of the points have been agreed. But the provisions that have not been agreed upon are categorically unacceptable to us. And if the European Union’s position is changed, then we can continue negotiations with a focus on results.
- This year marks the 25th anniversary of the agreement on an indefinite ceasefire in Nagorno-Karabakh. Also this year, the parties announced the beginning of a move towards peace under the program adopted by Baku and Yerevan, and several interesting events took place, including, for example, the exchange of journalistic delegations in Armenia and Azerbaijan. What other positive developments could you mention in this very difficult issue this year?
- Unfortunately, nothing else. I believe that 2019 was a lost year for the conflict settlement. The reason for this is the inconsistent, contradictory and incomprehensible position of the Armenian side. During the year we heard completely contradictory statements from the top leadership of Armenia. For example, one of them was that Nagorno-Karabakh is an “independent state” and Azerbaijan must hold negotiations with this so-called “independent state”. This was an attempt to completely undermine the negotiating process and to essentially bring it to a standstill. Of course, neither we nor the mediators, the co-chairing countries of the OSCE Minsk Group, could agree with this. They also made a statement and, as far as I know, seriously urged the Armenian leadership to abandon this populist, harmful and dangerous policy.
Apparently, heeding the voice of reason, the Armenian leadership changed its position but for the worse. The next statement by the Armenian prime minister was that Nagorno-Karabakh is Armenia – period. Then we have a question: first they say that it is an independent state that no-one has recognized, including Armenia itself, then they say that Nagorno-Karabakh is Armenia, which is also a lie. In other words, they don’t know themselves what Nagorno-Karabakh is. And if they don’t know what Nagorno-Karabakh is, we can explain to them. I did this in October, in a live broadcast of your channel, within the framework of the Valdai Forum. I said that Nagorno-Karabakh is Azerbaijan – exclamation mark. And this, unlike the theses of the Armenian side, is true because both historical justice and international law explicitly state that Nagorno-Karabakh is an integral part of Azerbaijan. And when Azerbaijan joined the UN, it did so within its full territorial integrity. If we add here the resolutions of the UN Security Council that require an immediate and unconditional withdrawal of Armenian forces from the occupied territories, resolutions of other international organizations and the fact that no country has ever recognized this absurd and illegal entity, the so-called Nagorno-Karabakh republic, we will see that resolution of the conflict should lie in the plane of recognition of the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and respect for its sovereignty. Therefore, as soon as the Armenian leadership understands this simple truth, we can have chances to advance the negotiating process.
- Yes, will this program be continued? Do you remain committed to these positions?
- In terms of our position on the settlement?
- Yes, in terms of the movement towards peace.
- Yes. The movement towards peace should be accompanied by an active negotiating process. Despite the statements of the Armenian side that we should hold negotiations with Nagorno-Karabakh, negotiations are currently held between Azerbaijan and Armenia. And my meetings with Prime Minister Pashinyan, including the official meeting, as the OSCE Minsk Group classifies our meeting in Vienna in March, once again confirmed that the negotiating process and format remain unchanged – much as the Armenian side may want to change it. Therefore, the movement towards peace and real progress on the negotiation track must go hand in hand.
- Next year will be a special year for our common history. We will celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Great Victory, victory in the Great Patriotic War. And we are already getting used, unfortunately, to the fact that every holiday is overshadowed by attempts to revise history. Now, these attempts to revise history have been supplemented by attempts to glorify fascism, which is completely unacceptable to people and descendants of generations who defended our country and won this victory for us. How will you celebrate this holiday? First of all, how will the Azerbaijani people celebrate it? And what is your attitude to what is happening in our common history?
- You have raised a very important issue. This is an issue that must be on the agenda of all countries, and I believe that all countries and their leaders should clearly express their position. It is impossible to conduct a policy of silence on this issue. It is impossible to conduct a policy that would please everyone, so to speak. In general, I believe that each country should have its own position on each issue, and primarily on this issue. Because we are seeing dangerous trends towards rewriting history, glorifying the Nazis and distorting historical truth. We must take this issue very seriously. Therefore, this issue is on the agenda within the framework of cooperation in the CIS, and during the last informal CIS summit in St. Petersburg, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin spoke in sufficient detail and quoted historical documents, many of which we had heard for the first time. When I studied at MGIMO, I studied history well, but these documents did not exist then, they were not taught to us, and I think that...
- It was an omission.
- It was an omission, but most likely it was due to political correctness. After all, these documents touch upon such sensitive issues that, apparently, Soviet historical science decided to keep under the “confidential” tag. But thanks to the detailed speech by the President of Russia, they were disclosed to everyone, and I believe that this was a very big surprise for many. We saw once again what was happening at that time. Therefore, attempts to rewrite history or glorify fascism are totally unacceptable.
Azerbaijan honors the memory of those killed in the Great Patriotic War although, let me tell you quite frankly, this wasn’t the case in the early years of independence, unfortunately. When a group calling itself the Popular Front came to power through a military coup, they canceled the 9 May holiday, war veterans were subjected to persecution and moral terror. Almost the same is happening in some countries now. Only after Heydar Aliyev returned to power was historical justice restored. Veterans began to enjoy the support of the state again, 9 May was declared a national holiday and we have been celebrating this holiday since 1994. It is a non-working day. Every year I meet with veterans, we lay flowers and wreaths together and honor the memory of those killed. Veterans of the Great Patriotic War enjoy great state support in Azerbaijan.
I would also like to say that Azerbaijan has made a great contribution to our common victory. More than 120 heroes of the Soviet Union come from Azerbaijan. Our enterprises produced military equipment, including the famous Katyusha, day and night. Azerbaijan’s industry was developed in those years. Azerbaijan also supplied 70 percent of oil, 80 percent of fuel and 90 percent of lubricants for the Soviet army, without which victory in the war would not have been possible. We know that many Nazi attacks bogged down only because there was no timely supply of fuel. And it is no coincidence that fascist Germany sought to capture Baku. By the way, I talked about this at the CIS summit in Ashgabat in October: there is famous footage showing Hitler being presented with a cake, and on this cake there is a depression filled with melted black chocolate and saying “Caspian Sea” in German. He takes a swastika and puts it right on Baku. Such were his plans. The capture of Baku would be a disaster for the Soviet Union, because the Soviet Union would have lost an important component. It would have been a disaster for our citizens too because all oil wells were mined. If the Nazis had managed to capture Baku, everything would have been blown up and hundreds of thousands of people would have died. Therefore, the memory of the Great Patriotic War and those who died for their homeland – out of more than 600,000 people who participated in the war from Azerbaijan 300,000 were killed – is sacred for us. We honor and remember this.
And one more thing. We must ignore all political correctness with regard to the glorification of fascism. We should call a spade a spade regardless of who makes speeches and who does what. There is one issue which I also raised in Ashgabat in October, because the agenda included preparations for the 75th anniversary of the celebration of our common Victory. I said that it is unacceptable when fascists are glorified in the CIS, as is the case in Armenia where there is a six-meter monument to fascist minion Garegin Ter-Harutyunyan in Yerevan. This man, known by the nickname Nzhdeh, was arrested by SMERSH, sentenced to 25 years of imprisonment and died in a Vladimir prison. He was not rehabilitated. And a six-meter monument is erected to such a person in Armenia. Streets and squares are named after him. How can this be in agreement with the statement of the Armenian leadership that they are also against the glorification of fascism? I openly said this, expressed my position and gave the chance to the prime minister of Armenia, who was not involved in this shameful event, to express his position. Unfortunately, his reaction was completely irrelevant. In response, he stated that Solzhenitsyn had also been in Soviet camps. I had to take the floor again and say that it was cynical to identify Solzhenitsyn with a fascist executioner.
Then, after some time, at a meeting with Russian journalists, he went even further and said that Molotov had also met with Hitler and there was nothing wrong in that. But this thesis is generally difficult to comment on. Even basic knowledge of history would have been sufficient to understand that Molotov was the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Soviet Union, and one of his tasks was to minimize the risks of starting a war. We know well that the Soviet Union was not ready in 1939, and indeed in 1941, if it had been ready, there wouldn’t have been as many losses. Therefore, I think that all these irrelevant statements require very serious attention. And political correctness or some political interests should not be a reason not to condemn attempts to rewrite history and glorify fascism.
Next year I plan to be in Moscow on 9 May. I have received an invitation from Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin. I usually celebrate this date with veterans in Baku, but this time I will be in Moscow in the same way as five years ago, when we celebrated the 70th anniversary of our Victory.
- It is very joyful and important to hear these words from you today. We will be happy to meet you in Moscow. Thank you very much for the interview!
- Thank you!
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