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Slovak PM gives interview to AZERTAC and AzTV

Slovak PM gives interview to AZERTAC and AzTV

Baku, May 8, AZERTAC

Prime Minister of the Slovak Republic Robert Fico gave an interview to AZERTAC and AzTV.

AZERTAC presents the interview.

AzTV: Thank you for agreeing to this important interview with our television and AZERTAC. We would like to know your impressions about the visit. We know that you met with President Ilham Aliyev today, and the first results of your visit are already available. You have also talked about the future of our bilateral cooperation. What are the results of this visit?

Prime Minister Robert Fico: Thank you for the opportunity to share my impressions of this visit. Indeed, this is my first visit to Azerbaijan as Prime Minister, and it is very important. I was pleased with your hospitality. I met with your President, and he is a very pragmatic and constructive person in both domestic and foreign policy. I think we share the same qualities in that. This is my approach too. I have to say that I am a politician who does not interfere in the internal affairs of other countries, and believe that every country has the right to choose its own path. Again, if we treat each other with respect like this, I am sure that our cooperation will have a different quality. I want to congratulate your President on his fifth mandate. His program permitting, I invited your President to visit Slovakia where we will welcome him with the same level of hospitality and friendship.

We have no problems with Azerbaijan. We saw both in our one-on-one meeting and in the meeting at the level of delegations that our views of foreign policy do not diverge. The volume of mutual trade is very low. It is a little over 70 million euros. The active balance is on the side of Slovakia. This is due to the machine-building industry, of which the Slovak automotive industry accounts for approximately 75-80 percent. Of course, this was taken into account during preparations for the visit. There is a saying in Slovakia: you can't do 10 things at once. Therefore, Mr. President and I agreed to pay attention to three main areas that are important for us.

I would like to congratulate the President and the people of Azerbaijan on restoring your territorial integrity. As Slovakia, we are interested in contributing to the process of reconstruction in Karabakh, and Slovak companies are involved in a “Smart village” project. As far as I know, things are at an early stage. Mr. President expressed an interest in continuing this project. Slovak companies can also participate in the construction of a small airport.

We can also contribute to the field of military industry. I have supported the development of the defense industry in Slovakia. Mr. President and I have discussed some projects. Technology will come from Slovakia and finance from Azerbaijan. The weapons to be produced will either be exported or remain in Azerbaijan. As we know, the parameters of the war in Ukraine have completely changed. There is currently a serious shortage of weapons. If we can do that, I think it will be beneficial for both countries.

We can also import Azerbaijani natural gas into Slovakia. I would not like to go into too much detail. Russia and Ukraine can no longer export gas to Europe for obvious reasons. Of course, we are interested in bringing a large amount of gas into Slovakia. We are talking about 20 billion cubic meters of gas per year. This will contribute to diversification of gas coming into Europe. We are very close to signing this agreement. I have seen Mr. President's very pragmatic and friendly approach. At the same time, he is an experienced politician, and we agree on many issues. I wanted to obtain information about your country, and your President was very friendly. We have talked about cooperation in Karabakh, energy and defense cooperation. We are ready to cooperate with your President in these three areas. I want to thank you again for your wonderful hospitality.

The Azerbaijani side has created excellent conditions for the Slovak delegation during the visit. There have been a few visits before, but I am not in favor of paying visits just for the sake of visits.

AZERTAC: Thank you for the interesting answer, Mr. Prime Minister. it's evident that Azerbaijan-Slovakia relations have entered a new phase of development in recent years, highlighted by the opening of Azerbaijan's Embassy in Bratislava and increased high-level reciprocal visits. How do you view the positive dynamics currently observed in our bilateral relations?

Prime Minister Robert Fico: I will share a view about the European Union, but they will not like it. First of all, I want to say that I spoke with your President about the opening of your trade representative office in Bratislava. I think Bratislava is the right place to cover Central Europe. When we look at the geographical location of this city, we can see that the capital of Austria is only 70 kilometers away. The distance to Budapest, the capital of Hungary, is 100 or 120 kilometers. So if you look at the map, you will see that a triangle is formed.

Our business people are part of our delegation along with members of the government. They can participate in military exhibitions here and in Slovakia. We have agreed on this. I will come to Baku again in six months. Because as you know, you will be hosting COP29. It would be great if Mr. President also visited Slovakia during the year.

I will share a view about the European Union, and I don't think they will like it there. The European Union is in love with itself. They have convinced themselves that they live in the best place in the world and that they have the right to lecture others. But other countries can be better than us. Sometimes it seems to me that the opportunities in the European Union are diminishing. We are struggling to find out what is normal and what is abnormal in the European Union. European Parliament elections will be held in Strasbourg soon. However, the election campaign is not about who will create the best social and economic conditions. Excuse me, but this campaign is about the presence of two of three toilets in some places, it is about trans-genders. These topics are now in vogue there – in Europe. But it does not bring any progress to society. The European Union has become too ambitious, and this is harmful for us. Let's look at green energy. This will clearly harm the EU industry. We have promised that we will no longer produce gasoline-powered cars in 2035. We are spending a lot of money on war and Ukraine. We could spend it on the European Union. It is quite frustrating because respect for sovereign and independent opinions is getting lost. If you bow down, they will leave you alone, there will be no problem. But if you express your sovereign opinion, you will have problems.

Today, while talking with your President, I saw a person in front of me who fully understands the course of the world. I am truly happy to have a base for the further development of our future cooperation. This visit is a good starting point for both parties. Otherwise, it would be very sad. Today we talked about very interesting topics and it would be good to continue this. We will try to have more frequent meetings. As I said earlier, meetings should bear fruit. All these visits should not be paid just for the sake of visits. Therefore, the number of these visits should be increased, but these visits should make a tangible contribution.

AzTV: Yes, Mr. Prime Minister, you have mentioned some problems within the European Union. We have also experienced some artificial interference with our country, the interventions of certain politicians from the European Union. For example, for 30 years, some politicians from the European Union remained tight-lipped and blind to the occupation of Azerbaijani territories by Armenia. Now they are creating artificial problems and attacking Azerbaijan. They are saying that if Azerbaijan attacks Armenia, we will apply sanctions against Azerbaijan. But our people want to openly ask these politicians of the European Union – why did they not speak out during these 30 years when our territories were under Armenian occupation? Therefore, we understand it perfectly well. We also understand your problems very well, you have internal problems within the European Union. This is exactly what I would like to point out, Mr. Prime Minister.

Prime Minister Robert Fico: Such an attitude undermines the image of the European Union. It is double standards because the European Union does have them. As for the war in Ukraine, we can quickly agree to impose some sanctions within the framework of the European Union, but when it comes to Gaza, we cannot reach agreement. Because the European Union does not have its own foreign policy, we turn to the other side of the Atlantic, we look there and wait for what the United States does. I don't want to bore you with the internal affairs of Slovakia. Please don’t get me wrong, Mr. Journalist. The whole of Europe knows that the criminal law against the opposition was abused in Slovakia in the 2000s. At that time, I was also in the opposition. I was also accused of committing a crime and was about to be arrested. Those accusations were political rather than economic. The European Union and the European Commission have not said anything about the events in Slovakia. Because at that time, there was a government in Slovakia that implemented everything the European Union was saying. The European Union thinks differently about the war in Ukraine. The situation is changing. I repeat that the solution to this war is not military. It is just that there are forces not in Europe, but in the whole world that look at the issue objectively. What kind of a dialogue can we talk about in the absence of your delegation in PACE? In the meeting with Mr. President, I said that as a full member of the European Union, we are part of Schengen and the euro. We are a small country, so they don't always take our opinion into account. Unfortunately, the European Union is divided into large and small countries. This should be acknowledged objectively. I must say that when issues related to your country are being discussed in the European Union, we express our position objectively. I said this to Mr. President quite openly that we ourselves experienced great injustices – just like Azerbaijan. I have experienced such feelings many times. We want to continue cooperation.

AzTV: I am sorry, I have another question. Mr. Prime Minister, when talking about European values, do you know what the French President said about this issue? He said that we would defend Armenia under any circumstances. Therefore, we want to know what the phrase “under any circumstances” might mean if a country has occupied our territories for 30 years. This is our response to French President Mr. Macron. Two or three days ago, the Minister of the Interior of France, Mr. Gerard Darmanin, accused Azerbaijan. He said that we were supposedly supporting separatism in France. But what did we say? We said that we supported human rights, the fundamental rights of people in New Caledonia or Corsica, which France should recognize. In other words, those people demand that. They are ordinary people. For example, you can see that there are protest movements and rallies in Corsica. The Minister of the Interior of France accused Azerbaijan and said that we had allegedly committed genocide against Armenians. Mr. Prime Minister, this is an unfair position, it is artificial in nature, it is an excuse put forward by leaders of the European Union. Of course, this affects our people spiritually. In your answers, you talked about some internal issues within the European Union, so I wanted to ask you this question.

Prime Minister Robert Fico: Mr. Journalist, you probably understand that it is difficult for me to talk about bilateral relations. But don't worry, I won't shy away from answering the question. There is a phrase that can apply to the situation you have described: great and powerful countries are often unjust. But even when you want to be fair, you don't become big and strong. This is often the case in international politics. I see this tension in your relations with France. Just as I do not interfere in the internal affairs of your country Azerbaijan, I do not interfere in the internal affairs of France either. That is, it is an internal affair of countries. But if they interfere in the internal affairs of Slovakia, then I can speak. For example, Mr. Macron is not considered a popular politician in our country, so why I should talk about him? But the French President has openly expressed his opinion about the participation of European soldiers in the war, and I immediately and completely rejected it. Because that would be the start of the third world war. Perhaps a little patience is needed in the matter you have raised. Many countries of the European Union need an objective approach to what is happening to Azerbaijan. I also said about Ukraine and that territorial integrity must be protected. You also need to protect your territorial integrity. This is your land. If three or four countries of the European Union took the same position, perhaps the tension would not be at this level. They don't like a small country acting on its own. You should be proud to be such a country.

AzTV: Mr. Prime Minister, thank you for your sincere remarks.

AZERTAC: Thank you from me too. Energy cooperation holds significant potential for Slovakia and Azerbaijan, especially given Azerbaijan's key role in Europe's energy security. Slovakia's involvement in the Solidarity Ring (STRING) project is notable. Could you elaborate on the progress made in this area and any initiatives toward transitioning to green energy?

Prime Minister Robert Fico: As for the Solidarity Ring project, a large amount of investment is required. This is a medium-term solution, not a short-term one. In other words, I am talking about the “Solidarity Ring” for my country, Slovakia. These projects should be financed by the European Union and the European Commission. Hungary and Bulgaria have complex relations, with low volumes of interaction. We are still waiting for a response from the European Commission. I think that this project should be considered for the medium term. Therefore, the idea of using the infrastructure of Ukraine and Slovakia in the direction of Europe has appeared. This is where it came from. We are talking about pipes with a capacity of billions of cubic meters. Slovakia needs 4 or 5 billion cubic meters of gas. The rest of the volume can transit through Slovakia and go to other countries. As for Russian gas, the contract between Gazprom and the Ukrainian company expires in 2024. In other words, as you know, the contract cannot be extended for political and military reasons. Therefore, we have decided to buy gas from Azerbaijan. Azerbaijani gas can be transported from the Ukrainian-Russian border. Thus, the transit volume will be 20 billion cubic meters. Thanks to Ukraine-Azerbaijan-Russia cooperation, this gas can go to Central Europe through that pipeline. Mr. President was interested in this project because it is a great opportunity for your gas transit. Your President is a true manager. Of course, he is interested in benefiting from this project. But, of course, there is a need for negotiations and funding in this area as well. I am sure that this unique project is a very good route for transporting Azerbaijani gas to Europe using the infrastructure of Russia, Ukraine and Slovakia. This project can yield wonderful results. Oil is also important for Slovakia. Because we are completely dependent on Russian oil. As you know, there is a large oil refinery in Bratislava. The quality of your oil is currently being examined in our country. I am not an oil expert but your oil is and can be one of the options. Therefore, it is necessary to move forward with this project.

It is possible to cooperate in the energy sector and in the military field. Slovakia is a developing country. Maybe we can do something in the field of wind and solar energy. In other words, our country is developing. We are fully ready for cooperation in this area. As you may know, we have a lot of experience in this field. So we are always ready for the development of relations, and we can share our experience with you – like I said, whether it is wind power, solar power or photovoltaics. So we are open to all that.

AzTV: Mr. Prime Minister, we talked about cooperation in the energy sector, defense industry and other interesting areas. But I would like to ask you a question about the humanitarian sector, about cooperation in the cultural sector. You know that there are historical bonds between our countries and peoples, and we have very good relations. We would like to know your opinion about these areas.

Prime Minister Robert Fico: You know that when the guns are heard, art remains silent, because then there is no opportunity for art to develop. I will criticize the European Union again. An atmosphere of artificial hatred against Russia has been created in the European Union. I have said it many, many times. There will be an ice hockey championship soon, and there are rumors that the Slovak team will not participate in it, i.e. our players will not be able to represent our country there. You know that Bratislava was liberated by the Red Army in 1944. I invited the ambassadors of Belarus and Russia to this event because it was the soldiers of these two countries that formed the Red Army at that time. Representatives of your country were part of this Red Army too. But what happened? The ambassadors of the European Union refused to come. They don't even want to talk about the Russian language and culture. It is about cultural relations. We talked about the use of the Russian language in Azerbaijan with your government. The delegation tells me that there is war with Ukraine, but Russian is not the language of war. That is, this language was not created during the Ukrainian war. This beautiful language was polished and created by people like Pushkin and Tolstoy. Since you were also part of the USSR, Russian is well known and spoken in your country. This enables close cultural cooperation. People can communicate in this language. Languages should not separate us. On the contrary, they should unite and bring people closer together. I am sure that if your President visits Slovakia or if someone from our country comes to your country, or if there are meetings either in Slovakia or in our embassies in Baku, these delegations should always include people representing the fields of education and culture. This is how we will develop cultural relations. But the priority of the current visit is the economic agenda. Because the volume of our trade is around 75 million euros, and of course this is too low.

AzTV: Mr. Prime Minister, we have a tradition for the end of interviews. We give the floor to our interlocutor to address the people of Azerbaijan directly. Please, Mr. Prime Minister, you have the floor.

Prime Minister Robert Fico: It's not an easy task because journalists always leave it to politicians to have the last word at the end of an interview. This is my first visit to Azerbaijan. I never had the opportunity to come here before. My visit lasted one day. Most of this visit was dedicated to negotiations. I saw Baku from the sky when the plane was landing but it was rather cloudy. We visited the Alley of Martyrs where people killed while fighting for the Motherland were laid to rest. Of course, we paid a tribute of respect to them in the Alley of Martyrs.

Regarding the talks with Mr. President and your delegation, I can say that I saw very nice people. They are wise people. I am sure the people of your country are like that too. Therefore, I want to congratulate your country. I read a lot about it before I came to your country. Your achievements are fascinating and you have regained your sovereignty, you have chosen your own path. You know what is best for you. You have a sovereign and proud nation. I would like to thank you again on behalf of the Slovak delegation for your hospitality. I received a very friendly welcome. I felt it from the moment I stepped off the plane. Thank you very much for all this. I also thank you for the opportunity you gave me.

AzTV: Thank you, Mr. Prime Minister, for a very interesting and productive interview. This was a very important interview for our television and, at the same time, for AZERTAC. It is both a pleasure and a great honor to interview you, Mr. Prime Minister, thank you.

Prime Minister Robert Fico: I thank you too.

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