Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to media questions at a joint news conference following talks with Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ceyhun Bayramov, Moscow, August 26, 2020
Ladies and gentlemen,
We have held talks with the new Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Ceyhun Bayramov. He has visited Moscow many times before, but this is the first time that he has come in the capacity of the head of the Foreign Ministry of Azerbaijan, which is a strategic partner of Russia.
Today we discussed all aspects of our bilateral ties from the viewpoint of strategic partnership and exchanged opinions on regional and international topics, as well as our collaboration in multilateral organisations.
We pointed out the truly all-embracing nature of our interaction, where the tune is set by President of Russia Vladimir Putin and President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev. They have invaluable importance for our regular and trust-based dialogue. This year our communications have been on a regular basis as well.
We expressed our countries’ satisfaction with the implementation of the agreements reached at the top level. They have to do with economic and humanitarian cooperation, contacts between our national Security Councils, other ministries and agencies, as well as parliaments.
Russia is a leading foreign economic partner of Azerbaijan. Last year, our trade exceeded $3 billion. The implementation of the decisions of the previous meeting of the Intergovernmental Commission on Economic Cooperation, which was held recently via videoconference, was discussed by its co-chairs, Deputy Prime Minister Alexei Overchuk and Deputy Prime Minister Shahin Mustafayev. We noted that our mutual trade has not decreased but grew steadily in the first months of 2020, even despite the coronavirus infection.
Interregional and cross-border exchanges are making a great contribution to the further development of bilateral relations. A score of Russian regions are collaborating with Azerbaijan, where they have partners and solid ties. In this context, we spoke about the Astrakhan Region, with the Governor of which I met quite recently. We will formulate practical proposals in the deepening of ties between the Astrakhan Region and its partners in the Republic of Azerbaijan.
Interregional forums have become a good tradition; the next such event will be held this year in Azerbaijan.
Cultural and humanitarian ties are another vital factor when it comes to strengthening trust and mutual understanding between our people. Last year, the Days of Russian Culture were held successfully in Azerbaijan. This year we will determine the timeframe for the days of Azerbaijani culture in Russia, but this depends on our success in the fight against the coronavirus infection. Of course, we highly appreciate the careful attitude of the Azerbaijan leadership and people to the Russian language and culture.
The education sphere has a very good potential. A subsidiary of the Lomonosov Moscow State University has been functioning successfully in Baku for the past 11 years. A subsidiary of the Sechenov First Moscow State Medical University has been operating there since 2015. Other higher education institutions, including the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO) and the Diplomatic Academy of Azerbaijan, continue expanding mutual ties. For example, MGIMO and the Diplomatic Academy of Azerbaijan graduate students with double diplomas.
Today, as I have mentioned, we also discussed the international and regional agenda. We voice coinciding or similar positions on most key matters regarding international cooperation and international activities. We discussed specific ways of further strengthening our coordination and our cooperation at multilateral venues, including the UN, the CIS, the OSCE, the Council of Europe, BSEC and the SCO where Azerbaijan has dialogue partner status, and it is interested in elevating this to observer status. We will support this commitment.
We were satisfied to note the dynamic development of cooperation in the Caspian region. We praise the constructive involvement of our Azerbaijani partners in all events, now being implemented in the execution of the 5th Caspian Summit’s decisions. We discussed preparations for the 2nd Economic Forum of Caspian States, scheduled to be held next year in the Russian Federation.
We also discussed the Nagorno-Karabakh issue in great detail. As I understand, we aim to continue the peace process. In this sense, it is important to provide the required atmosphere for launching a stable and sustainable negotiating process. Of course, this is not for the sake of the talks themselves, but this aims to resolve the Karabakh question by peaceful means. In turn, Russia as a nation and as one of the three co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group, will facilitate the creation of such conditions in every way possible.
On the whole, I am greatly satisfied with our initial talks. I thanked my Azerbaijani counterpart for accepting our invitation and paying one of his first visits, in his new position, to the Russian Federation. I hope that we will continue to communicate regularly in this manner.
Question (to both ministers): What are the prospects for a Nagorno-Karabakh settlement (NKS) after the escalation on the border between Azerbaijan and Armenia? What is the reason the settlement is nowhere near the final stretch?
During the escalation, Azerbaijan said the talks and mediation should be more effective and that it was necessary to replace the mechanisms for implementing UN Security Council resolutions. Given this, can we talk about the need to adjust the approaches to an NKS? Will the existing framework remain the same? Do Moscow and Baku agree on this? What steps, including humanitarian steps, are implied as part of a settlement?
Sergey Lavrov (speaking after Jeyhun Bayramov): I agree that we should be guided by the decisions adopted by the international community, including UN Security Council resolutions, which pursued, at that time, the immediate aim of stopping the war. The same goes for the parameters of the negotiating process that were devised at later stages to achieve a peaceful settlement. These frameworks were developed by the OSCE, where the Minsk Group was established. Its co-chairs today are Russia, the US and France. The OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs, and both sides [to the conflict] – Armenia and Azerbaijan, have produced a batch of documents that differ in how much detail they present in their approaches but are single-minded in pursuing the main goal, which is to resolve the problem based on the principles stipulated by the UN Charter and the OSCE Helsinki Final Act.
A number of documents have been signed by the presidents and foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia, along with the co-chairs – Russia, France and the United States – which consolidate, if in general outline, a comprehensive approach to a settlement, an approach that eventually should lead us to the final resolution of this problem.
As to whether there remains a framework for further efforts and how to make them more effective, let me reiterate that the existing framework is quite extensive. It would be unfortunate to lose it. Regrettably, we have seen attempts at this, including efforts to replace the negotiators, which is unacceptable for the co-chairs. We have said as much in public. But more intensive talks would not be amiss, of course.
The co-chairs were planning to visit the region, Baku and Yerevan, next month. At some point, it was planned to arrange the next round of meetings between the foreign ministers – with the co-chairs’ help. For all these plans to reach fruition (we discussed this today), the situation needs to be normalised, including putting an end to any incidents directly on the Azerbaijan-Armenia border rather than in the Karabakh area and the adjacent territories, as my colleague said today. We are quite hopeful that what happened in July will never be repeated. Along with the other stakeholders, friends of Azerbaijan and Armenia, we will be assisting with this in any way we can.
Question: How do Azerbaijan and Russia cooperate in trilateral and quadrilateral formats? How is the North-South trade and transit corridor developing?
Sergey Lavrov (replies after Jeyhun Bayramov): I can only confirm what was said before and enthusiastically support the economic and transport plans of our respective ministries. They are being actively carried out, including the construction of the North-South transport corridor, in which the Islamic Republic of Iran is also our partner, and the East-West corridor where Turkey is our partner in a trilateral format. A very important facility – the new bridge across the Samur River and its inauguration – was mentioned. This was a decision by the presidents that was effectively carried out.
Now, I mentioned the need to complete the construction of the Iranian section of the Astara-Rasht railway; this is one of the specific projects that will help us move forward with this international transport corridor. Today we also talked about our interest in building the Astara-Baku-Astrakhan route. This is also part of the North-South corridor. The Russia-Azerbaijan-Iran energy bridge is also a current issue and very much needed.
Of course, everything would be simpler, more effective and practical for multilateral cooperation if there were no illegal unilateral sanctions against Iran. But I am confident that even under the circumstances we will carry out all of our plans, which will benefit the vast region of that part of Eurasia.
Question: How are Moscow and Baku cooperating in countering the coronavirus? Have you held talks on sending the Russian Sputnik V vaccine to Azerbaijan?
Sergey Lavrov: Our presidents discussed this question. Cooperation is ongoing. At the request of our Azerbaijani friends we supplied them with 12,000 Russian test systems. Our doctors visited Azerbaijan to exchange experience with their colleagues.
Information on the vaccine was exchanged at the presidential level in a recent telephone conversation between Vladimir Putin and Ilham Aliyev. We talked with Baku about the development of our vaccine in which about 20 countries have already expressed interest. As soon as we launch industrial production, we will be willing to respond primarily to the requests of our close friends and neighbours.