Exclusive interview of the Director of the Information and Press Service department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russian Federation Maria Zakharova to Moscow reporter of ONA News Agency.
–Maria Vladimirovna, This year is the 27th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Azerbaijan. During these years we have observed different periods in relations between the two countries. How would you describe the current state of Russian-Azerbaijani relations?
–It is true. In April, we traditionally celebrate the anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Azerbaijan. The Protocol on the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations was signed on April 4, 1992. 27 years are not a long term if we measure it historically. But our countries have been able to work together to strengthen the foundations of cooperation and expand bilateral relations with mutual advantageous practical content over the years. Today, Russia and Azerbaijan are strategic partners in the political, trade-economical, humanitarian and other areas. The relations between Moscow and Baku are based on the principles of sovereign equality, non-interference in each other's internal affairs, respect for mutual interests, preservation and development of friendly and good neighborhood traditions. The open and confident dialogue between the Russian President Vladimir Putin and President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev gives a powerful impetus to the strengthening of bilateral cooperation. Our heads of state met six times in 2018. Russia is one of the biggest trade partners of Azerbaijan. Our trade-economical relations are developing dynamically. The trade turnover between the two countries was equal to $2.2 billion in January-November of 2018. This indicator is 14 percent more than the corresponding period of 2017. In the official meeting of leaders of two countries' in September 2018, agreements on the delivery of a new strategic alliance between Russia and Azerbaijan gave a good impetus to the implementation of 5 road maps. At present, over 700 joint enterprises operate in Azerbaijan. We hope this number will increase further in the future. The construction of the automobile plant of GAZ Group (Gorki Automobile Plant) in Azerbaijan was started in February 2018. The Baku office of "Russian Export Center" and "Gazprom" started its activities some time ago.
The Russian Federation and Azerbaijan also closely cooperate in cultural, humanitarian and educational fields. There are about 11,000 Azerbaijani students studying in Russia. About 1,000 of them study at the expense of the state budget. Every year, more than 200 Azerbaijani citizens are granted a scholarship. The branch of Moscow State University has been successfully operating for more than 10 years in Baku. First Moscow State Medical University named after I.M.Sechenov has been operating in Azerbaijan since 2015.
The work is underway on opening the branches of the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO) and the Moscow State University of Humanities and Economics. This year, Azerbaijan will host the Russian Culture Days.
Our bilateral agenda, of course, includes separate problematic issues, and, as is known, even relations of the closest states are not guaranteed against such issues. One of those issues is the incidents related to the entry denials for Russian citizens of Armenian origin to come into Azerbaijan. We believe this problem will be solved based on mutual understanding. However, I repeat that the general development of Russia-Azerbaijan relations is very good.
I would like to note the successful cooperation with Baku not only in bilateral issues but also in international and regional ones. As a good example of this, we can cite the Convention on the Caspian Sea’s status, signed in August 2018. The work on the Convention continued for over 20 years. The document, adopted by heads of five Caspian states, opens up wide opportunities for cooperation between littoral states in various areas. I have no doubt that Russia and Azerbaijan will be able to use these new opportunities.
We intend to further develop strategic cooperation between our countries in the context of the tasks set by the presidents of Russia and Azerbaijan, Vladimir Putin and Ilham Aliyev.
–There is a provision in Russia’s foreign policy concept regarding the relations with the South Caucasus countries, as well as with Azerbaijan. Considering that the foreign policy concept is the main state document regulating the foreign policy of Russia, we can see the importance of relations with South Caucasus for Russia. Could you please explain the essence of this importance?
–You are right. The Russian Foreign Policy Concept, approved by the President of the Russian Federation, accurately sets the goals, tasks, and priorities for our work, as well as our activity regarding South Caucasus. This region is, of course, in the sphere of special importance for Russia. This is primarily conditioned by geographical proximity.
The importance of South Caucasus in the wide geopolitical context is well-known. Today, the attempts by outside forces to adopt the CIS to their own interests are clearly observable in this region. We see the military activity of the US and NATO in South Caucasus as a serious military and political challenge for Russia.
Here, of course, we cannot leave untouched the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, which, sadly, involves Azerbaijan and Armenia – our two closest friends and partners.
Protecting stability in South Caucasus and ensuring the region’s progressive development, while preserving the friendly attitude of regional countries towards Russia, will remain as important goals of the Russian foreign policy.
–Russia is an important partner country for Azerbaijan. One of the important points is that Russia is a mediator in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict which is very crucial for Azerbaijan. In various sensitive and complicated periods, Russia has taken the initiative in the settlement of the conflict. Does Moscow intend to take the initiative again on negotiations related to Nagorno-Karabakh? In general, what does Russia consider the new situation in the negotiations? I mean the change of leadership in Armenia and the meeting of the leadership of Azerbaijan and Armenia in Vienna a while ago.
–We understand how painful the Nagorno-Karabakh issue is for Azerbaijan. We are interested in peace and stability of our neighborhood region. Thus, Russia has always played an active role in the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and will continue to do so. 25 years ago- in May 1994, a ceasefire agreement signed to stop mass bloodshed with Russia’s direct intervention. One of the crucial stages of the settlement of Nagorno-Karabakh conflict was the adoption of the Moscow declaration in 2008. The Declaration is still the first and only document signed by the heads of Armenia and Azerbaijan on the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The document explicitly expresses the intention of the parties to settle the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict politically on the basis of principles and norms of international law and to ensure stability and security in the region. Large-scale armed battles in April 2016 were stopped with the agreement reached by Russian, Azerbaijani and Armenian Chiefs of Staff in Moscow. Since then relative peace is created on the contact line.
Then in June, during the meeting between the presidents of Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia in St. Petersburg the sides underlined the importance of regular contacts in trilateral format and agreed to continue the contacts as an addition to the work of the OSCE Minsk Group. In total, more than 20 meetings of presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia were organized with the direct participation of the Russian leadership.
They also exchanged views on the issues of reducing tensions between the sides, exchanging the captives and bodies of the killed soldiers and organizing humanitarian contacts and agreed.
One of the important foreign policy priorities of the Russian foreign policy concept is to assist the sides in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict settlement. It gives particular importance to the mediation activities and determines to increase focus on its results. We work closely with other OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs
As for the question regarding changing the political leadership of Armenia, it is internal matter of Armenia. The negotiations process related to the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is underway. The sides demonstrate their intention to continue the work aimed at achieving a peaceful settlement.
This sentiment is reflected in the statement in accordance with the final results of the meeting held in Vienna between President Ilham Aliyev and Nikol Pashinyan. We welcome the constructive approach reached in the negotiations. We will provide the necessary assistance to the parties in implementing the ideas reached in the capital of Austria.
Besides that as repeatedly emphasized by the presidents of the co-chairing countries, the conflicting sides are responsible to resolve the conflict. There is a basis for that. The main point is to demonstrate political will.