Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to media questions at a joint news conference with Foreign Minister of Azerbaijan Elmar Mammadyarov, Baku, December 3, 2019
First of all, I would like to thank our Azerbaijani friends for the traditional warm and hospitable reception. It is not yet like the Zhara (Heat) International Music Festival, but our diplomatic ties are indeed approaching the standards of that fantastic event, which attracts an incredible number of Russians who enjoy it live or via television.
Yesterday we had a very intensive and detailed conversation with President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev. It has shown that our relations are not simply those of strategic partnership but that they are becoming increasingly confidential. We greatly appreciate it that our presidents set this tone to all the contacts between our governments, ministries and parliaments. We are aware of this resolve in our work, and we try and maintain the standards set by our presidents.
First Vice-President of Azerbaijan Mehriban Aliyeva concluded her visit to Russia barely a week ago. She met with President of Russia Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and Federation Council Speaker Valentina Matviyenko and held meetings within the framework of the Azerbaijan-Russia Interregional Forum. That visit led to vital agreements when it comes to opening a new channel of our interaction. The five working groups under the Intergovernmental Commission on Economic Cooperation, which will hold a regular meeting soon, will be complemented with a group on innovation and high technology. It is a highly important decision and fresh evidence of our strategic partnership.
During this visit, we have agreed to hold regular youth forums, which will complement the interregional forums involving over 70 Russian regions. The youth forums, which have been held only recently on a one-time basis, will become a regular event. I believe that this is very important for ensuring continuity in our relations. We see that young people in Azerbaijan and Russia are interested in such events. We will do our best to further encourage this interest.
I would like to point out that Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Kirill visited Azerbaijan only a few weeks ago. He attended the Second Baku Summit of World Religious Leaders. It is a relevant and timely initiative of our Azerbaijani friends. I would like to note that Russia and Azerbaijan are a positive example of coexistence and cooperation between different religions, primarily Christians and Muslims. We hope that this example will be followed more broadly, including within the framework of the preparations for the OSCE Ministerial Council, which will be held in Bratislava at the end of this week. It is an extremely important issue.
Regarding the economy, we are set to achieve $3 billion in trade volume in 2019, an almost 15 percent increment on 2018. Our trade and economic exchanges continue to expand, and this trend will continue. We are implementing an Action Plan until 2024. This is a serious and to-the-point framework of our relations in the material sphere, and we will promote it in every way we can.
Regarding cultural and humanitarian cooperation, we maintained almost exemplary collaboration in this area last year. This year, Azerbaijan hosted the Days of Russian Culture, and there are plans to hold the Days of Azerbaijani Culture in Russia in the first half of 2020. We are very grateful to our friends for their considerate treatment of the Russian language and Russian culture. We note that Russian language education remains traditionally popular in Azerbaijan. Many schools, and universities also, run Russian language courses. A Lomonosov Moscow State University branch has been functioning successfully in Baku for over ten years, and the Baku branch of Sechenov Moscow First State Medical University has been open since 2015. Yesterday and today, we discussed ways to expand stable ties between our diplomatic academies and how to involve our colleagues from the Foreign Ministry’s Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO). Each year, we provide Azerbaijani students with 200 scholarships for studying in the Russian Federation. Today, over 11,000 students from Azerbaijan study here, including over 1,000 through Russian federal grants.
We talked a lot about regional affairs, the international agenda, our close cooperation, the coordination of actions at the UN, the CIS, within the framework of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organisation, the OSCE, the OPCW and inside the Non-Aligned Movement where Azerbaijan has assumed presidency for the next three years. Today, we noted that this was a very convenient and politically correct time for using Azerbaijan’s presidency of the Non-Aligned Movement for establishing closer ties with Russia.
We discussed cooperation in the Caspian region. We share a common opinion of the first Caspian summit, held in August 2018, whose participants approved the Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea, as well as other documents. Today, we discussed how to coordinate bilateral relations and how to jointly implement these agreements with the other Caspian littoral countries.
We discussed the Nagorno-Karabakh matter in great detail. We agree that there are opportunities for a compromise solution. This is a complicated topic, and this conflict is among the longest-lasting conflicts in the former Soviet region. But we are grateful to our Azerbaijani friends for reacting with understanding to ideas being promoted by Russia both bilaterally and as co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group. Our meetings yesterday and today helped us better understand how to try to move ahead. I hope this will produce results.
I would like to thank you once again for the warm reception. I have invited my colleague and friend to visit the Russian Federation again. We will cooperate at upcoming forums, including the OSCE Ministerial Council Meeting in Bratislava this week.
Question (for Sergey Lavrov): You said that trade between our countries was growing. Both Azerbaijan and Russia show an interest in expanding their trade and economic ties. What are, in your view, the prospects for cooperation in this area? What are the main risks?
Sergey Lavrov: The prospects are most favourable. This can be explained by the fact that both the business communities and the political leaders of our countries intend to promote close cooperation and strengthen our strategic partnership, including in the economy. We have cited figures that speak for themselves like the rapid growth of trade and a surge in private Azerbaijani investment in Russia and Russian investment in Azerbaijan. There is also tourist volumes. In fact, Russia leads in the number of tourists visiting Azerbaijan; soon they will number a million. This is an indicator of your country’s appeal from the point of view of culture, investment, contacts, and mutual benefit.
In our opening remarks earlier, we did not mentioned infrastructure cooperation. We have been cooperating closely and have even more ambitious plans on road connections and on using our geographical advantages to enhance the role of Azerbaijan and Russia in the context of international projects related to the North-South and East-West transport corridors. This is a unique point where both vertical and horizontal routes intersect. We could say a lot more about other forms of interaction, including between companies engaged in the production of hydrocarbons. A new area for cooperation – innovation and high technology – is emerging after First Vice-President Mehriban Aliyeva of Azerbaijan visited Russia. Russia and Azerbaijan have much to share in this regard; we can pool our potentials and achieve synergy which, I am confident, will produce a significant effect.
Question (for both ministers): While attending high-level CSTO events a few days ago, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan urged the member-countries of the bloc to refrain from selling arms to Azerbaijan. Obviously, this refers mainly to Russia. But Russia maintains very close ties in the military-technical sphere with Azerbaijan. How can you comment on this appeal? Will the parties comply?
Sergey Lavrov: I can only say that military-technical cooperation is one of the most important aspects of our strategic partnership with Azerbaijan. We promote this with absolute transparency, in full conformity with international law and within Russian and Azerbaijani law. We are also fully aware of the balance [of forces] in this region, which is important for maintaining stability there.
Question (addressed to both ministers): I am part of the recent cross visits by Azerbaijani and Armenian journalists. Two weeks ago I went to Yerevan and the occupied territories of Azerbaijan. What do you think about this initiative on exchanging journalists? Do you think a meeting between the Nagorno-Karabakh Azerbaijani and Armenian communities can be useful for settling this conflict?
Sergey Lavrov: Russia was one of the initiators of these reciprocal visits by journalists. A meeting of the foreign ministers of Azerbaijan, Armenia and Russia took place in Moscow early this year with the participation of co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group. The participants approved an unofficial but specific paper on their support for promoting humanitarian contact. This paper covered the problems of the dead and the detainees. It mentioned contacts between journalists, in principle, any personal contact.
I think this is very important because any decision must be accepted by the people who live on this land, in Azerbaijan, Armenia or Karabakh. Close personal contact will encourage journalists to cover the developments on both sides of the contact line without bias and will make more sustainable the agreements we hope to reach. I wholeheartedly support the resumption of contact between the Karabakh communities. They took place at one time but were suspended later. This is a very promising issue because in the final analysis it is the population of Nagorno-Karabakh that will have to decide how to live from now on.
Question (addressed to Elmar Mammadyarov): You plan to meet your Armenian counterpart on the sidelines of the upcoming OSCE Ministerial Council meeting in Bratislava. What do you expect from this meeting? Will you release a common statement on the meeting?
Sergey Lavrov (speaking after Elmar Mammadyarov): Apart from this meeting, the Azerbaijani and Armenian foreign ministers are expected to meet with the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group. As for the adoption of a document, at the OSCE Ministerial Council meeting every year we try to put on paper our commitment to the fundamental principles that were approved by the signatories years ago but still remain current. If possible, we would welcome a five-lateral statement (the foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia, and the three co-chair ministers). If this proves to be impossible for some reason, the three co-chairpersons will at least confirm their position on paper. But I hope this statement will be five-lateral.
Question: Do you think there is potential for increasing the number of cooperative ventures in Russia and Azerbaijan?
Sergey Lavrov: Of course. There are 956 companies with Russian capital here. They are either 100 percent Russian or joint ventures; but they are joint ventures for the most part. Since business in both countries has serious plans that enjoy the support of their governments (we are planning new innovation and high-tech projects), I think the number of joint ventures will certainly increase.