Stoltenberg's Special Representative: NATO and Azerbaijan are maintaining a close partnership to address security challenges-EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW

NATO Secretary General

© APA | NATO Secretary General's Special Representative for the Caucasus and Central Asia Javier Colomina

# 19 December 2022 15:00 (UTC +04:00)

NATO Secretary General's Special Representative for the Caucasus and Central Asia Javier Colomina was interviewed by APA Agency

"We have broadly returned to the levels of cooperation we had pre-Covid"

– I would like to ask about the relations between NATO and Azerbaijan. What is the current state of relations and cooperation between Azerbaijan and NATO?

For many years, NATO and Azerbaijan are maintaining a close partnership focused on exchanges of view on security issues of mutual concern and practical cooperation to enhance the interoperability of our forces, but also to address emerging security challenges.

We have broadly returned to the levels of cooperation we had pre-Covid and are working with our counterparts in the Mission of Azerbaijan to develop a new partnership framework document, called Individually Tailored Partnership Programme (or ITPP), which should set us on an ambitious course for the years to come.

I also would like to reiterate our appreciation for Azerbaijan’s support to NATO in Afghanistan, specifically for their troop contributions to our past ISAF and Resolute Support Mission and for the role Azerbaijani units played in supporting the evacuation efforts of Allied and partner personnel and Afghans at risk, from Kabul airport, in August 2021.

"The strategic significance of energy diversification and oil and gas deliveries from Azerbaijan has also further increased"

– How would you assess the security situation in the South Caucasus region in the context of Russia's war against Ukraine?

Russia’s illegal and unprovoked war against Ukraine has undermined peace and stability in Europe and has triggered a food and energy crisis, which affects many around the world. It is a blatant breach of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, and its right to choose its own path. Russia’s repeated violations of international humanitarian law have caused death, suffering, and destruction.

NATO is not a party to this war. We support Ukraine’s legitimate right to self-defense, which is enshrined in the UN Charter.

President Putin has made big strategic mistakes. He totally underestimated the determination of the Ukrainians to defend their country, their homes, and their families. He has also totally underestimated the unity of NATO allies and our partners in imposing unprecedented costs on the Kremlin. Because of its illegal invasion of Ukraine, Russia is now poorer and more isolated in the world.

Many other countries are affected by Russia’s reckless actions, including our partners in the South Caucasus. Over one million Russians who seek to avoid being mobilized have gone abroad. All countries neighboring Russia are forced to adjust to, and anticipate, the actions of an unpredictable neighbor. The strategic significance of energy diversification and oil and gas deliveries from Azerbaijan has also further increased.

– There was/is a widespread view that Russia poses a threat to the neighboring countries, in particular, those who are not under the umbrella of NATO. After the war in Ukraine, where Russia is facing real challenges, do you think that there is still a risk of interference by Russia?

For many years, Russia has tried to recreate a sphere of influence and direct control through coercion, subversion, aggression, and illegal annexation. This is contrary to fundamental principles of European security, which Russia itself has signed up to - such as the right of each country to choose its own path. More specifically for the three countries of the South Caucasus, the risk of interference from an unpredictable and aggressive neighbor is real. I hope this will encourage these countries to redouble their efforts to build more resilient societies and economies, and determine their own future path, in harmony with their neighbors, free from unwanted forms of meddling and pressure. This is key both for their own sovereignty and security and for regional stability.

– After the second Karabakh war there are new dynamics in the region. The process of normalization between Armenia and Azerbaijan has been launched. There are ups and downs in the process, but it is still continuing. And NATO has already expressed its support for this process. How can NATO contribute to this process? Is there any mechanism that might be offered for that?

Indeed, I welcome all constructive efforts that help the normalization process along. I also welcome the central role played by the EU in this regard. I believe that NATO can play a supporting role through its political dialogue with the capitals concerned and in fostering trust. However, we do not have a specific mechanism or formal role in direct discussions. Having said that, we will continue to support all diplomatic efforts aimed at moving the normalization process forward.

– Following the situation in the region, I would like to ask about Iran. These days, Iran is criticized because of the kamikaze drones and missiles it has provided to Russia. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg also said it is unacceptable, but on the other hand, the Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Amir-Abdollahian, denied this. Does NATO have facts that these UAVs and missiles have been sent to Russia during the war?

We know that Russia is running low on ammunition. That is also the reason why they have reached out to, for instance, Iran, to try to get more. Russia is thus using Iranian-made drones to bring more death to Ukraine. This is unacceptable. No country should help Russia to continue its brutal and illegal war of aggression. We call on Iran to immediately stop all support for Russia’s war.

– It is always highlighted that NATO supports an open-door policy. As we know since 2008 Ukraine and Georgia have expressed their willingness to join NATO. Along with the conditions, which should be fulfilled in order to become a member of the Alliance, there is one line of thinking that because of the "Russian factor" NATO did not demonstrate enthusiasm on this matter.

As NATO’s strategic concept, adopted in June at the NATO Summit in Madrid, makes clear, NATO’s enlargement has been a historic success. Montenegro and North Macedonia have joined NATO in the past five years, and Finland and Sweden are in the process of joining. Enlargement has ensured the security of millions of Europeans and contributed to peace, stability, and prosperity. Our door remains open to all European democracies that share the values of our alliance, which are willing and able to assume the responsibilities and obligations of membership, and whose membership contributes to our common security. Decisions on membership are taken by NATO allies and no third party has a say in this process.

– In September, the President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky announced a surprise bid for fast-track membership of the NATO military alliance. Is there any development on this issue?

NATO allies remain committed to the Open Door Policy. Ukraine’s aspirations for NATO membership are not new. As stated in NATO’s strategic concept, allies remain committed to the Bucharest Summit decision, which gave a membership perspective to both Georgia and Ukraine. The most immediate and urgent task is to sustain our support to Ukraine so that it prevails as a sovereign, independent and democratic nation in Europe. Allies are providing unprecedented support to Ukraine, and we have decided to step this up. Not just with immediate assistance, but also by helping Ukraine transition from Soviet-era to NATO standards of equipment, training, and doctrine.

– And my last question about military assistance for Ukraine. Considering the significant successes of the Armed Forces of Ukraine on the battlefield, can we expect that assistance for Ukraine to be increased in order to liberate the territories?

The successes of the Armed Forces of Ukraine on the battlefield have indeed been remarkable. They belong to the bravery and courage of the Ukrainian soldiers. They also show that the support NATO Allies have provided to Ukraine for many years has had an impact. We have to remember that the war did not start on February 24. It started in 2014, with Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea. Since then, NATO and its allies have trained hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian forces. So that when Russia launched its full-fledged invasion this year, the Ukrainian armed forces were much bigger, much better led, much better trained, and much better equipped.

NATO ministers recently met both with Ukrainian Defence Minister Reznikov and Foreign Minister Kuleba to discuss Ukraine’s immediate and longer-term needs. We are committed sustain and stepping up their support to Ukraine as it continues to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity against Russian aggression, and will maintain their support for as long as necessary. This will help Ukraine ultimately achieve a just and lasting peace, which ensures that it prevails as a sovereign and independent nation.

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