Azeri president praises current level of relations with Russia

Azeri president praises current level of relations with Russia

Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Moscow
14 Feb 05

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has described the current level
of relations between Azerbaijan and Russia as one of “strategic
partnership”. “A high level of mutual understanding exists between
our countries and an active political dialogue is being conducted,”
President Aliyev said in his interview with the Russian newspaper
Nezavisimaya Gazeta on the eve of his visit to Moscow. He noted
Russia’s interest in the settlement of the Karabakh problem, stressing
that the conflict should be resolved on the basis of Azerbaijan’s
territorial integrity. Touching on the country’s relations with
Tehran in the light of a possible US attack on Iran, Ilham Aliyev
pointed out that Azerbaijan and Iran are implementing a number of
joint economic projects. As for foreign bases on the territory of
Azerbaijan, we want to live in peace with all our neighbours and do
not consider it expedient to have any forces – whose ever they may
be – stationed in our country, he said. The following is the text
of Viktoriya Panfilova’s report by Russian newspaper Nezavisimaya
Gazeta on 14 February headlined “We will not hold talks for the sake
of holding talks” and subheaded “Ilham Aliyev hopes to stimulate
Vladimir Putin’s interest in the Karabakh problem”. Subheadings have
been inserted editorially:

On the eve of his visit to Moscow, Ilham Aliyev gave an interview to
the Nezavisimaya Gazeta correspondent.

Azerbaijan is conducting an independent policy

[Correspondent Viktoriya Panfilova] Ilham Heydarovich, parliamentary
elections will take place in Azerbaijan this autumn. A number of
experts think that Moscow will try to influence the election battle as
it did in other CIS countries, so that as many pro-Russian politicians
as possible get into the Milli Maclis. Are you taking such a “Russian
factor” into account?

[Aliyev] If you look at the history of any elections held in
Azerbaijan since it acquired independence, it is clear that the
external factor has not played any role in them. And as its economic
potential is reinforced and Azerbaijan’s role in the region and
in the world increases, external influence is being reduced to a
minimum. We are not experiencing any external influence or pressure:
Azerbaijan is able to conduct independent policies, including in
the fields of economic development and energy security in order to
conduct independent policies. Virtually, no-one has any levers of
influence on Azerbaijan. And this is good because normal, trusting
and friendly relations can only be built with a strong state and
independent partner. We do not welcome situations where the country
may become dependent. And there are such dependent countries, I do
not want to name them. A dependent country is primordially weak and
anything at all can be expected of it. It is dependent on one person
today and on another tomorrow. The value of today’s development in
Azerbaijan is that we are conducting independent policies, which
reflect our national interests.

Azerbaijan and Russia are strategic partners

[Correspondent] How would you describe the current level of relations
between Azerbaijan and Russia: a strategic union, partnership or
good neighbours?

[Aliyev] We would describe our relationship as one of strategic
partnership. A high level of mutual understanding exists between our
countries and an active political dialogue is being conducted. It
would seem that there are no longer any unresolved issues between
us. Economic links are developing well and turnover of goods, which
we are planning to double, is actively increasing. In short, we are
satisfied with the existing relationship and think that the level it
is at is to our mutual advantage. This year has also been declared
the year of Azerbaijan in Russia. And 2006 will be the year of Russia
in Azerbaijan.

Moreover, security and stability in the region as a whole depends on
our cooperation. Russia, as you know, is the co-chair of the Minsk
OSCE [Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe] Group,
which has a mandate to settle the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict.

Karabakh problem

[Correspondent] It is well-known that Moscow will support any decision,
which the parties to the conflict take. Is Russia’s role confined
to the framework of the Minsk OSCE Group or does it have additional
resources of influence?

[Aliyev] We see the Minsk Group as a single organism and would not
want to make any distinctions between its chairs. But Russia is the
only co-chair country, which has a border with Azerbaijan and which is
a power in our region. Of course, this increases its responsibility
for settling the conflict. We do not think that the Minsk Group’s
activities should proceed from “you agree, we will approve”. If
we could agree we would have already agreed. The Minsk Group was
itself created because the sides could not reach agreement. That is
why we think that its activities should in the first instance be
directed towards defending principles and norms of international
law in line with which the territorial integrity of any state
is inviolable. Azerbaijan has not violated anyone’s territorial
integrity, while our territorial integrity has been violated.
More than one million Azerbaijani citizens have become refugees and
forced migrants as a result of aggression on the part of Armenia,
ethnic purges and acts of separatism. This is reflected in documents
by leading international organizations, including in a resolution
by the Council of Europe. We see the settlement of the conflict
as follows: Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity must be restored,
the Armenian occupying forces must be withdrawn from Azerbaijani
territories and refugees must return to their homes. And then peace
will be established. I think that the international community is coming
closer and closer to this approach. And it seems to me that the latest
increase in active efforts by the Minsk Group may produce results.

[Correspondent] The recent resolution by the PACE [Parliamentary
Assembly of the Council of Europe] was, in the experts’ opinion, more
favourable to Azerbaijan than Armenia. Does this not mean that in
developing its diplomatic success, Baku will try to move the process
of settling the conflict beyond the framework of the Minsk OSCE Group
and shift the emphasis to Council of Europe structures and the UN?

[Aliyev] We think that the Minsk Group should carry out its functions,
which were defined for it by the UN, via the mediation of the
OSCE. And, of course, we do not want a change of mediators to occur
now. But we state directly that we are unhappy with the activities
of the Minsk Group because there are no results.

Incidentally, the Armenians periodically state that they are
satisfied with the activities of the Minsk Group. Probably because
there are no results. On the whole, we are not inclined to change the
settlement format, but we think that the involvement and activeness of
international organizations will facilitate a more active peace-making
process. That is why we raised the issue within the framework of the
OSCE and the Council of Europe, although Armenia always hindered this.

We also welcome the fact that the European Union is now dealing more
and more actively with the Karabakh problem – as if via the prism of
regional economic cooperation. I think that extensive discussion of
the issues in various international structures will be useful.

[Correspondent] During your visit to Moscow you intend discussing the
problem of Karabakh with President Putin, who, it would seem, will
also talk about Karabakh at a meeting with President Bush in Slovakia?

[Aliyev] I think that will be the case. In any case, such a discussion
took place during all our previous meetings and the forthcoming summit
will be no exception. Moreover, the Russian president also joined in
our talks within the framework of the Armenia-Azerbaijani meeting,
which took place during the CIS summit and which testifies to Russia’s
interest in a settlement.

Azerbaijan not to join the Collective Security Treaty Organization

[Correspondent] Russian Federation Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov
recently visited Baku. It was reported that issues of reforming
the CIS and the problems of Nagornyy Karabakh were the main themes
of the talks. However, there was a report that Lavrov tried to get
your agreement on Azerbaijan joining the Collective Security Treaty
Organization [ODKB]. How true is that report?

[Aliyev] No, that report is not true. We are not considering the
possibility of joining the ODKB.

[Correspondent] A number of major Azerbaijani entrepreneurs are
operating in Russia. The opinion exists that their relationship with
the official authorities in Azerbaijan was not good. What, in your
opinion, prevents Azerbaijani businessmen operating in Russia from
developing links with the republic? Surely they could play quite a
big role in Azerbaijan’s economic development?

[Aliyev] I think the relationship is, on the contrary, very good. And,
incidentally, the presidential elections, which took place in 2003,
were also conducted among the Azerbaijanis living in Russia, moreover,
the overwhelming majority of them supported me. Azerbaijani leaders
are very attentive towards their fellow countrymen who live beyond
the country’s boundaries, including in Russia. So our relationship is
constructive. I welcome the investments, which Azerbaijanis living
abroad make in our economy. On a countrywide scale this is not, of
course, such a large percentage but, in itself, it testifies to a
confidence in our country and the stability of the domestic political
situation. So in this sense, we do not have any problems and we, for
our part, are giving moral support to the foreign Azerbaijani diaspora.

Azerbaijan is favour of friendly relations with all neighbours

[Correspondent] After Azerbaijan acquired independence we got the
impression that Baku would become dependent on Turkey. But despite
its ethnic proximity, Ankara has not actually become the “political
locomotive” for Baku. Why?

[Aliyev] We are in favour of developing good relations with all our
neighbours. And our foreign political doctrine is based on this. We
have traditionally had a close relationship with Turkey. It was the
first country in the world to recognize Azerbaijan as an independent
state and the level of political, economic, cultural and human
contracts is very high. We are very pleased about this. But we are
building our relationship purely at the level of equal rights, mutual
respect, support and liking. And I want to stress again that we do
not feel any influence on Azerbaijan.

During the first period of independence – 1991-1992 and to a certain
extent 1993 – Azerbaijan was an arena where various interests
intersected. But this was also probably objective. Of course,
the weakness of the authorities at the time played its role, their
incompetence and lack of professionalism. But when the people demanded
their leader and Heydar Aliyev came to power in 1993, we started to
actively strengthen our independent foreign policy.

We need good, neighbourly relations with all countries. And we will
not allow Azerbaijan to be turned into an arena for rivalry.

No problems in relations with Georgia

[Correspondent] And how is your relationship with the new Georgian
leaders taking shape? From time to time, customs and border problems
arise and the question of the Azerbaijani diaspora in the country
becomes strained. What are the reasons for this?

[Aliyev] There are no problems between our countries. I think it is
very important that the new leaders in both Georgia and Azerbaijan
should build relations on the basis of good traditions of old. I have
a very good personal relationship with the Georgian leaders. We are
actively cooperating on a regional level, particularly in the spheres
of power engineering and communications.

As for issues arising at the border, they are of an objective
nature. When the Georgian authorities are waging a battle against
smuggling, we welcome this. It was the same when contraband cargoes
arrived in transit from Asia via Azerbaijan, apparently destined
for Europe, and ended up in Armenia, we also took measures and it is
said that the price of petrol today is almost double on the Armenian
market. Because we have barred this contraband. Of course, a lot of
carriages have accumulated on the border with various cargoes, but this
is inevitable. If we want to impose order in this sphere and put an end
to cheating and smuggling, such measures are justified. Joint services
and posts have now been set up by our countries, which clearly track
the movement of cargoes via Azerbaijan and Georgia, in order to avoid
such unpleasant incidents. This is all of a technical nature and does
not separate us but, on the contrary, unites us.

No foreign bases to be deployed in Azerbaijan

[Correspondent] You recently visited Tehran. It was reported in the
press that you gave guarantees that you would not take part in the
operation in Iran being prepared by the Pentagon, in exchange for
Iranian promises of preferential economic terms. What, specifically,
were you promised in Tehran?

[Aliyev] Our foreign policy is so transparent and the level of openness
in the activities of the president and the government is so high that
it should not leave any room for any vague suppositions. What you are
talking about is fantasy. There was no talk of any such thing at all
in Tehran. But this visit was very important for the development of
bilateral relations. As was the Iranian president’s visit to Azerbaijan
last year. We have a lot of economic projects and we signed documents,
which have been static for many years, including on mutual energy and
gas supplies and supplying Iranian gas to [the Azerbaijani exclave of]
Naxcivan, which, as you know, is blockaded. A decision was taken to
open an Azerbaijani consulate in Tabriz where Azerbaijanis live. Our
bilateral relations are developing very dynamically.

As for foreign bases on the territory of Azerbaijan, our position has
been stated clearly and repeatedly, including by me: Azerbaijan does
not consider it expedient to have any forces – whose ever they may
be – stationed on its territory. There are no foreign military bases
in Azerbaijan as distinct from Georgia or Armenia. But the Georgian
government is trying to get rid of these bases while the Armenian, on
the contrary, is prepared to increase the military foreign presence
in its country. But that is their affair. Our position is that we
do not consider it expedient and we do not see any sense in having
foreign military contingents stationed in our country. Azerbaijan is
an independent state, we want to live in peace with our neighbours and
we want there to be peace in the region. A foreign military presence
in Azerbaijan will not serve our interests and aims but the interests
of the country whose troops are stationed on our territory. If it
were a matter of the expediency of such a presence in the light of
a settlement of the Karabakh conflict, then we could think again,
but as it is… [ellipsis as given]

[Correspondent] But surely both Azerbaijan and Armenia have spoken
about the possibility of using force to resolve the Karabakh
conflict. Both Armenian Defence Minister Serzh Sarkisyan and
former Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Vilayat Quliyev stated this,
in particular… [ellipsis as given]

[Aliyev] The fact that Azerbaijan has been holding talks for more
than 10 years (although they have not produced any result due to
the Armenian side) testifies to the fact that we are adhering to the
policy of peaceful settlement and are striving to solve the problem
by peaceful means. I do not think that the peace-making process has
been fully exhausted. We still hope that the talks will be successful.

But we will not hold talks for the sake of talks or take part in
imitation ta lks. If we see that the talks are useless and a different
situation arises, the dialogue will be suspended and a new situation
will arise, which we will co nsider. The Azerbaijani people’s patience
is not boundless. We cannot take part in the talks process for another
10 years. We are strengthening our armed forces. Military spending
increased by almost 40 per cent in 2004. And in absolute figures,
defence spending in Azerbaijan is twice the expenditure on defence in
Armenia. And we will increase this potential. The economic potential of
Azerbaijan and Armenia today is not comparable. And what will happen
when all our important economic projects come on stream. We plan
to increase GDP by 15 per cent next year. So, using the old terms,
Armenia will not be able to sustain an arms race with us.

No revolutions foreseen in Azerbaijan

[Correspondent] One of the recent topics discussed at various levels
and in all the CIS countries was the possibility of a repeat of the
“velvet” revolutions like the ones in Georgia and Ukraine. In your
view, is a revolutionary change of power possible in Azerbaijan?

[Aliyev] I do not think so, no revolutions are foreseen in
Azerbaijan. I can tell you: the outcome of the 2003 elections clearly
showed that their results were in line with the mood prevailing
in society. Both the pre-election opinion polls and the exit polls
testified to this. It is another matter that the losing side does not
want to accept defeat: this would mean them leaving the political
scene. Especially since these people have lost all the elections
since 1993 – both the presidential and the parliamentary elections. A
tragic-comic attempt at a revolution was made on the day of the
elections, before the official outcome was announced. And it was
a pitiful sight! Although quite aggressive! But the people did not
support it. A revolution is impossible in a place where the people
support the government. Because no resource – neither administrative
nor financial – can help the authorities to hold their ground without
the people’s support. And while the authorities in Azerbaijan enjoy
the people’s trust, there cannot be any revolutions. And I will do all
I can to ensure this trust is not lost. That is why we have created
170,000 jobs in the regions [of the country]. We have doubled the
minimum wage and social payments. The social direction of our policies
is important, so no field for manoeuvre exists for the opposition.

[Correspondent] There have been articles in Nezavisimaya Gazeta about
the split in the republic’s government becoming deeper and the struggle
between the two clans – the Naxcivan and the so-called Armenian clan
– becoming more acute. Have these assertions any foundation and what
do you intend to do to stop such strife?

[Aliyev] I sometimes see such articles but they are far from the
reality. We do not have anything of the sort, no clans or differences
exist. The authorities in Azerbaijan are united. Probably also because
they won so easily at the presidential elections. We did not have
any disorder. All the power structures united around me and such a
situation exists to this day. I stated when I was appointed prime
minister that I would work with this team. And after the elections
only four new ministers were appointed. We have a solid situation,
which is completely under control. I am against any divisions on
a national basis. I do not accept this and you will not find any
distortions in favour of any clan in our authorities at the level
of ministers or in the president’s apparatus. This is alien to the
Azerbaijani authorities.