President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev has been interviewed by the Azerbaijani TV channels in Prague.
AZERTAC presents the interview.
President Ilham Aliyev: Please, I am listening to you.
– Mr. President, first of all, thank you for allocating time for this interview. You have had quite a busy day today. The first meeting was with the President of the Council of the European Union, Charles Michel. The latest meeting has been another step towards peace and it was held with his mediation. Are we getting closer and how would you assess the role of the European Union and Charles Michel personally in this process?
– I do hope that we are slowly getting closer to peace, and I highly appreciate Charles Michel’s work in this area. Because, as you know, several trilateral meetings have been held in Brussels, and we are getting closer to peace every time. This four-sided meeting was organized by Charles Michel and Emmanuel Macron, and this meeting discussed important issues. I believe that this meeting will be of tremendous importance in reaching a peace agreement.
The contacts are still ongoing. We have agreed to come together again after dinner. In any case, the peace process has already been kick-started. As you know, the foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia have held their first meeting, and in our opinion, these meetings should not be interrupted. The ministers should meet for the second time soon, and we have suggested that after that the working groups of both countries should come together to prepare the text of the peace agreement, perhaps not in one meeting, but over the course of a few days. So this is our intention. I think that the Prague meetings – we had an hour-and-a-half meeting with Charles Michel this morning, discussed a number of issues, this current meeting and the meeting that will be held in the evening – pursue the same goal of a peace treaty being signed between Armenia and Azerbaijan soon.
– Mr. President, the invitation of Azerbaijan to this event is further evidence of the growing importance of our country for Europe. What are the directions in which Azerbaijan-European Union relations can develop in the near future?
– Very active cooperation is underway in a number of directions – of course, first of all, in the field of energy. As an example, I can mention the Memorandum of Understanding signed with the President of the European Commission in Baku in July this year. Today, Azerbaijan’s energy resources are in greater demand in Europe. The importance of the projects we have implemented is even more evident today.
Other directions, of course, include political dialogue. The European Union is a very important partner for us, and work is underway on a new agreement. The greater part of the agreement has already been agreed on, and the outstanding issues are not very significant in nature. There are new opportunities for cooperation in the field of transport. Because Azerbaijan’s geographical location and advanced transport infrastructure are of tremendous importance to Europe. I mean both East-West and North-South transport corridors. European Union countries are our main trading partners. Of course, the growing role of Azerbaijan in the geopolitical space manifests itself in the economic sphere and the sphere of investments. In other words, there are many fields – education, the humanitarian field are very important. I can say that in the past several months, the number of contacts between the European Union and Azerbaijan has dramatically increased. At the same time, their substance has reached a new level and mutual trust has increased. I appreciate that very much.
As for Europe’s invitation of Azerbaijan to this event, we highly appreciate it, of course. This is a new platform and discussions have just begun. It is still impossible to say anything explicit about the future of this initiative, but the fact that Azerbaijan was invited to this European family by both the European Union and the host of the event, the Czech Republic, suggests that our relations have very good prospects.
– Mr. President, you have touched upon the issue of energy. How would you assess our country’s role in European energy security today? What does Azerbaijani gas promise to Europe in the current geopolitical circumstances and what should Europe do to increase our gas volumes?
– I can say that there is a very precise and open agenda here. Because we have been implementing our energy projects for many years now. The current geopolitical situation in the world has dramatically increased the demand for our resources. I could put it this way – it has so happened that when all our projects are ready, the demand for gas in Europe has further increased. Recently, at the opening ceremony of the Greece-Bulgaria Interconnector in Bulgaria, I mentioned that we increased our gas exports by 40 percent last year compared to the previous year. This year we will increase them by a further about 30-40 percent. Of course, this requires large investments, and we are ready to go for it and are already going for it. This is why, according to the Memorandum signed with the European Union, we are planning on at least doubling our gas exports to Europe in the coming years. In other words, whereas last year the figure was 9 billion cubic meters, in 2027 it will be at least 18 billion cubic meters, perhaps even more. Now new gas fields are being put into operation and production from existing gas fields will be increased. At the same time, the use of renewable energy in Azerbaijan will free up large volumes of natural gas. Also, as a result of increasing the efficiency of the energy industry, losses will be reduced to a certain extent and we will not have so much losses. Therefore, it is somewhat difficult to imagine our possible gas export capacity today, because it could be even more. We provide a very conservative assessment of these volumes, of course. We are only voicing the figures we are sure will come true. But I am sure there will be more. Both our gas and oil, as well as electricity, will be exported to the European continent. Specific programs are now being developed to achieve this, and perhaps it is too early to talk about it. But I do hope that there will be a very serious progress in this area in the next six to seven months. Therefore, Azerbaijan will be a very important strategic energy partner for Europe – in fact, not only for Europe, but also for the rest of the world.
– Mr. President, we would also like to learn about the details of your meeting with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, especially considering that there are still illegal Armenian armed groups on the territory of Azerbaijan and the main priority for Azerbaijan is the issue of mine clearance. Armenia continues to stage provocations. What issues were touched upon during the meeting? We would appreciate it if you could provide detailed information.
– Yes, this issue is raised in all meetings. I have a stand-up discussion with the Prime Minister of Armenia on the sidelines of the event today, and there will be more. The Azerbaijani side always says that these steps by Armenia harm the peace process. At the four-sided meeting today, I indicated that at least 1,400 landmines had been planted by Armenians since the end of the second Karabakh war, which is another crime against us, another act of terrorism. I also stated that more than 250 Azerbaijanis were either killed or seriously injured after the war. In other words, Armenian terrorism against us continues and must be stopped. Landmines are not the only crime.
You have also mentioned that Armenian armed forces have not withdrawn from our lands yet. We demand that. It is true that some of them have been removed, but they are still present in our lands, and I do hope that this will also stop. Because the entire international community clearly understands one thing now: Karabakh is Azerbaijan! We have been saying this every time – during the occupation, during the war and after the war. The world community not only understands this truth, but also explicitly states it today. The Armenians living in Karabakh – I said this in Aghdam yesterday – are our citizens, and we are not going to discuss their fate, their future life with any country, including Armenia. This is our internal matter, and Armenians will enjoy the same rights as citizens of Azerbaijan. In any case, they can rest assured that their lives integrated into Azerbaijani society will be much better than the current life.
– Mr. President, speaking about the meeting with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, it was announced that the next such meeting would be held in November. Can a peace agreement be concluded next month? In general, what stage is the agreement of this document currently at? Given that the article on the opening of transport routes is included in this document, how significant is it for the region?
– In principle, I said some time ago that if Armenia is interested, the peace agreement could be signed by the end of the year. Time passes, our initiatives do not progress easily at all. Although the first meeting of the foreign ministers did not produce specific results, I think it has been a positive step. I think that if a decision is made soon, the working groups of the two countries will start dealing with the text of the peace agreement and we can reach agreement by the end of the year. I must say that no-one – neither the Armenian side nor the European Union – has any questions about the five principles we have declared us. Today, during the meeting with the President of France, I saw that these five principles are being accepted. This is natural, because we did not invent anything new. These are principles based on relations between states interested in normalizing relations with each other.
Regarding our internal issues, of course, they cannot be discussed in the peace treaty. As for how to organize the life of the Armenian population of Karabakh, this is a separate issue. We plan to step up consultations within the framework of our foreign policy agenda and continue informal relations with representatives of the Armenian population of Karabakh. I must say that such relations have been going on for some time now. I think this will lead to full understanding with the main population still living in the area of responsibility of the Russian peacekeeping contingent. Because there is simply no other option of integrating into Azerbaijani society. If people believe that they need to live as citizens of Azerbaijan, I think they will not regret that. But if this is not suitable for someone for whatever reason, then they can choose another place of residence for themselves.
Therefore, the five principles of the peace agreement should be initialed as soon as possible and work on the text of the peace agreement should begin on the basis of these principles. I am sure that this can be achieved quickly. I don’t think it should be some multi-volume document, it should be a fairly compact document consisting of several articles defining the parameters within the framework of international law and international practice. This will close the page of war and enmity. Of course, the opening of communications is not part of a possible peace agreement, it has more to do with the essence of the issue. Because this is the commitment that Armenia took upon itself on 10 November 2020 but did not fulfill. Today, when I again asked the Prime Minister of Armenia to finally give us a route for the highway, unfortunately, I still did not get an answer. It is not even funny because there isn’t not that big of an area there. Everyone knows where the railway and the road should pass. It is not understandable that we are being voluntarily given a passage to Nakhchivan. Breaking one’s commitment is, of course, an extremely shameful fact. However, we are still patient and restrained. I am sure we will achieve this, rather sooner than later. Therefore, in my opinion, these questions will dominate the agenda of the Brussels meeting at the level of the country’s leaders in November, the meeting of foreign ministers the date of which has not been confirmed yet, and the delimitation meetings to be organized in Brussels on our proposal this month.
– Mr. President, with your permission, we would like to thank you again for two issues. You mentioned that another meeting is now planned. First of all, thank you for making time for us in your busy schedule. And secondly, a joint photo of the leaders was widely circulated today. It was extensively discussed on social networks and it was noted that our position is in the center and in the front. So thanks again for this position of Azerbaijan.
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you too. Thank you very much.