Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to media questions during a joint news conference following talks with Foreign Minister of Azerbaijan Elmar Mammadyarov, Moscow, March 6, 2017
Ladies and gentlemen,
The talks with my colleague and friend, Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov, were quite constructive, informative and beneficial.
Azerbaijan is an important strategic partner of Russia’s. Our cooperation is based on long-standing traditions of friendship and mutual respect, shared or similar views on the majority of the most pressing issues of today’s world. As we have already stressed today, the defining role in certain areas of our cooperation belongs to the regular contacts between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev.
This year we mark 25 years since the establishment of diplomatic relations between our countries. Today we opened an exhibition of archival documents and photographs related to this memorable date. We also plan a number of other anniversary events including a release of a commemorative pre-stamped envelope.
We discussed the schedule of upcoming bilateral contacts, including meetings at the high and top level. We noted the gradual development of inter-parliamentary and inter-agency links.
We discussed current issues related to trade, the economy and investment. Trade between Russia and Azerbaijan over the previous year amounted to $2 billion. Further increasing trade and economic cooperation was a topic of discussion during last December’s regular meeting of the Inter-Governmental Commission on Economic Cooperation, in Baku. Today we agreed to provide all necessary foreign policy assistance in fulfilling the agreements reached at the meeting.
Exchanges between regions and along the border make a significant contribution to the development of our relations. We confirmed our mutual interest in achieving the best possible outcome of the 8th Russia-Azerbaijan Inter-Regional Forum to be held in Stavropol this autumn.
An essential factor in building up mutual understanding, trust and friendship between our peoples is cultural and humanitarian cooperation. The Baku International Humanitarian Forum under the auspices of the Russian and Azerbaijani presidents is particularly important to the promotion of our humanitarian projects.
Today we approved a schedule of foreign ministerial consultations for 2017-2018 that formalises the close coordination between the foreign ministries of the two countries. We made arrangements for the signing of a partnership agreement between the diplomatic academies of our ministries next April.
We spoke about the Caspian agenda at length. We expect that the next meeting of foreign ministers of the Caspian littoral states will finish drafting a convention on the legal status of the Caspian Sea and prepare a number of other documents for the heads of state attending the next Caspian Summit in Kazakhstan.
Needless to say, we also talked about the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement. Russia will continue to help search for a solution that would be acceptable to all parties, both within the framework of our bilateral relations with Baku and Yerevan, within the trilateral framework including Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia and as the co-chair in the OSCE Minsk Group. Our actions are in compliance with the principled approaches developed by co-chairing states, that is the United States and France.
Russia is pleased with the outcome of the talks and I hope it is mutual. We will continue working on the instructions from our presidents.
Question (addressed to both ministers): What are the prospects of the Russia-Azerbaijan-Iran and Russia-Azerbaijan-Turkey cooperation formats for geopolitical stability in the region?
Sergey Lavrov (speaking after Elmar Mammadyarov): Azerbaijan, Iran and Turkey are Russia’s partners. As Mr Mammadyarov said, we have held trilateral meetings at the level of presidents of Azerbaijan, Russia and Iran. We believe this format to be promising for strengthening economic cooperation and transport and logistics infrastructure. We are certainly interested in promoting this format. Turkey is a close partner of Azerbaijan and Russia. We will hold a Russia-Turkey summit at the level of presidents soon. We will discuss various spheres of cooperation such as trade, the economy, investment, joint infrastructure projects and much more, including foreign policy interaction. We will focus on assistance in settling the Syrian crisis by implementing our joint initiative, which Iran has joined, for a ceasefire and for furthering the political dialogue ongoing in Astana between the Syrian government and the armed groups [of opposition]. In other words, the Russia-Turkey-Iran group of intermediaries holds promise, too.
There can be different combinations depending on what we need at any given moment. We are interested in promoting cooperation at the bilateral and multilateral level, provided these efforts produce a positive result and take regional realities into account.
Question (addressed to both ministers): Can a solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict be found under the so-called Kazan formula?
Sergey Lavrov: We hope to be able to settle the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Our hope is based on the results of many years of contacts following which we have developed a shared view on the key issues that are to be coordinated. These include security and humanitarian issues, the return of the territories surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijani control, an interim status for Nagorno-Karabakh with due regard for the opinion of its residents, and the coordination of parameters for an international peacekeeping force there. We have come to an agreement on the majority of these issues, but we are still discussing two or three issues that are of key importance for the package of solutions. To be honest, we are still far away from the conflicting parties coordinating their approaches to these outstanding issues. As I said, we believe that the majority of other issues can be settled relatively quickly, but there are two or three issues of key importance we discussed in detail today which will need additional efforts on our part.
I would like to draw your attention to one of the issues we discussed today. Before resuming practical talks on the settlement of outstanding issues, we need to defuse tensions, which have increased on the ground, at the contact line and in the public space. I am convinced that confidence-building measures could be useful, including in light of the results reached at summits in Vienna and St Petersburg in May and June 2016, respectively, as well as the OSCE initiatives. We need to lower the current level of mistrust. We hope that Azerbaijan and Armenia will be moving towards this goal. For our part, we will do our best to encourage this movement.
Question (addressed to both ministers): You mentioned the status of the Caspian Sea. Have you made any headway on this issue? As we know, the positions of Russia, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan are almost identical but Iran’s position is slightly different. Can the upcoming visits by President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev to Iran and by Iranian leaders to Russia help settle this issue?
Sergey Lavrov (speaking after Elmar Mammadyarov): I agree with Mr Mammadyarov. We discussed the situation in great detail today. Most elements of the draft convention on the legal status of the Caspian Sea have been coordinated. Our experts continue working on the few outstanding issues. One of the biggest outstanding issues concerns a way to define the water areas under the sovereignty of littoral countries. There are several methods we can apply. We agree that the methods we finally choose must maximally satisfy the principle of fairness, so that none of the five littoral states feel disadvantaged. I believe we can reach a positive result on this path.