President Ilham Aliyev interviewed by local TV channels of Azerbaijan

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President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev has been interviewed by local TV channels.

Tofig Abbasov from Azerbaijan Television: Dear President, first of all, on behalf of my colleagues and myself, I would like to express our deep gratitude to you for taking time for us today. This is a very important meeting for us. Because in all your interviews, you usually touch upon such issues and motives that clarify the processes going on in the country. On the other hand, we share the information we receive with the public. You create opportunities for us to correctly perceive all the reasons and perceptions surrounding the processes, positive and negative effects in the world. So thank you very much again.

Mr. President, of course, we are primarily interested in the results of 2022 in your analysis. Because the year was not an easy one. First of all, post-war and post-pandemic situations were on the agenda. On the other hand, we are witnessing very positive trends regarding the reforms under your leadership. Because there is a global recession in the world, but despite this, Azerbaijan has minimized these impacts thanks to preventive measures, neutralized some of them, and even achieved growth. It is not only us who say this, Azerbaijani sources do not say it. Foreign sources confirm it. Therefore, of course, all these processes are expected to continue. There is a great need to talk about new priorities. Because 2023 will not be easy either, we feel that. We would like you to comment on this issue and tell us your thoughts on economic growth and new expectations.

President Ilham Aliyev: Of course, we must all work hard to make 2023 a successful year. At the beginning of last year, I expressed my opinion during a meeting with Azerbaijani media representatives that I was hoping that the tasks ahead would be fulfilled in 2022, and we have achieved this as a whole. Today, at the beginning of 2023, during this meeting, we will certainly talk about these issues. I am still hopeful, and I have reasons for hope. Because the position shown by Azerbaijan in the post-war period and the successes achieved on the international scale give reason to say this.

After the second Karabakh war, our main task was to substantiate our glorious military Victory on the political level as well. We started work immediately. Because we understood perfectly well that if we do not confirm this Victory in the political sphere, if we do not urge the world community to accept this Victory, we may face certain problems. We immediately began working hard, and I think that today, two years after the war, we can say with complete certainty that the results of the war have been accepted by the world. Azerbaijan’s right cause has been confirmed again, and we must strengthen the situation created at the end of the war, i.e. we must strengthen our positions. During the last two years, we have been able to achieve what we wanted both at the level of international relations and within the country.

Today, it is no secret that Azerbaijan is recognized as a very reliable and serious partner in the world. Azerbaijan is one of the countries that speak its word openly and conduct an independent policy. Of course, this is based on both our military power and our glorious Victory. Because I am a living witness that after the war, the positive attitude towards Azerbaijan’s policies has increased even more. In other words, the sympathy towards us has increased even more. Because the political elite of the world understands well at what cost we achieved this Victory, what risks we took, what forces we were and are still fighting against. So even though the war is over, the struggle is still going on, and I am sure that we will win. Because we are on the right path and our military and political power, including our economic independence, certainly increase our power.

If I talk extensively about the results of 2022, then there will be no time left for the rest of the questions. I think that, first of all, it is necessary to say a few words about our economic achievements. Because this is not an ordinary issue. The world is still just adjusting to the post-pandemic era. A sharp price increase is observed in many countries, including Azerbaijan. As our economy is a part of the global economy, it is a pity that we have been affected by these negative impacts. However, we are trying to alleviate this global crisis with social projects and social programs for our people. The very extensive social package I recently signed shows this again. In other words, if a country that has just come out of the war, with 20 percent of its territory completely destroyed, allocates so much funds to the social sector, it means that our social policy remains unchanged and, of course, it shows our economic power. Because we do all the work at our own expense. I have already said it. We have not received help from anyone after the war. Only the presidents of two countries – Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan – initiated the construction of two schools in Fuzuli. Apart from that, we have not received a single manat of aid from anywhere. Therefore, economic independence must be strengthened, and last year our gross domestic product reached a record high. According to the latest information, it reached 134 billion manats. This is a figure equal to about 80 billion dollars. Of course, foreign trade also increased and exceeded 50 billion dollars. The positive balance of foreign trade is 25 billion dollars. So those dealing with the economy know what this means. At the same time, our foreign debt has decreased. Both in absolute numbers – it is lower than 7 billion dollars – and in relation to the gross domestic product. Of course, it has decreased sharply. Whereas at the beginning of last year our foreign debt accounted for 17 percent of the gross domestic product, according to the results of last year, it dropped to 9.5 percent. For comparison, I can say that in many developed countries it accounts for 100 or even 130-150 percent. What does this mean? In means that we are economically independent. If we want, we can start work to attract loans from international financial institutions. In fact, we have already started that. Because the ongoing projects with both the World Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development are almost finished. High-ranking representatives of both of the world’s leading financial institutions visited Baku last year, and new directions were determined during the discussions. So I can say with full confidence that we will not encounter any problem in attracting unlimited foreign loans. But there is no great need for that yet. Therefore, the economic and social spheres should always go in parallel. In countries where the focus is only on the economy sphere and the social sphere is left aside, people there suffer greatly from economic reforms. Our goal is to strengthen the country and make the life of every citizen even better.

NarminSalmanova from Public Television: Mr. President, the year 2022 was marked by steps towards strengthening the financial well-being of the population of Azerbaijan, and, as you mentioned, by the introduction of large-scale social packages. However, there is a high price increase and inflation in the world, which, of course, affects Azerbaijan as well. What steps can be taken in the direction of reducing these impacts, especially in the direction of strengthening the social well-being and supporting the low-income population?

President IlhamAliyev: Yes, as I mentioned, inflation has become a serious problem all over the world. Even in developed Western countries, where inflation usually did not exceed one percent – one or a maximum of 1.5 percent – inflation exceeds 10 percent now. Inflation in Azerbaijan is an imported inflation. Because we, of course, are a part of the world economy, we import many goods, and we work in this direction so that local production replacing imports becomes more extensive. But, of course, we are still dependent on imports. Therefore, if it is possible to say so, inflation was imported to Azerbaijan. According to the results of last year, it was 13.9 percent. In other words, our ability to fight this imported inflation is quite limited. However, as a result of the reforms carried out last year, including improvement of the business environment, promotion of sound competition, fight against monopolistic trends, as well as elimination of violations in the customs system, personnel reforms will certainly play a positive role here as well. But in parallel with that, first of all, as you mentioned, we had to not only think about social well-being, but also take tangible steps. Therefore, the 15-percent increase in the minimum wage was intended to mitigate the consequences of inflation. The minimum wage has already reached 345 manats. Are we satisfied with this? Of course not! But we are taking our own steps as much as we can. Because I want to say again that the main direction of our expenses is to restore Karabakh and Eastern Zangazur and strengthen our army potential. These two top priorities will remain as such for many years to come.

At the same time, in order to improve the social security of pensioners, the minimum pension was increased by 16.7 percent to reach 280 manats, and this process will be continued. So the experience of recent years shows that this is not a one-off step, it is a part of regular steps, and as our economic opportunities increase, similar steps will certainly be taken in the future.

A great deal of transparency has been achieved regarding the provision of targeted social assistance. In the past, huge violations were committed in this area. Social assistance was given to people who did not need it, and of course it was done for a payment. People who actually needed help could not get it. Therefore, a very extensive inspection work was carried out in this area. Today, about 60,000 families receive targeted social assistance from the state, and the amount of this assistance is increasing every year. So this year, the allowance per family is approximately at 460 manats and, of course, it will be increased further during the year, including the average monthly salary. We expect the average monthly salary in Azerbaijan to be more than 900 manats this year. Thus, by taking these steps in the social field, we support people in need and, at the same time, we are showing our commitment to our policy.

Another direction is related to support for the families of martyrs and those disabled in the war. Last year, important steps were taken in this direction, as 1,500 families from this category were provided with apartments by the state. In 2021, a total of 3,000 apartments were handed out. At least 1,500 apartments will be provided this year. So all the people from this category who are still in line will be given apartments by the state.

For information, I can say that 13,000 families have benefited from these opportunities so far. This is our innovation among countries that have experienced war, if it is possible to say so. Because in many countries there is no such practice. Why are we doing this? Because this is our moral duty to those families, and we are trying to fulfill this duty to the best of our abilities.

A total of 379 servicemen disabled in the second Karabakh war have been provided with the most advanced prostheses. Although only two years have passed, this program related to the second Karabakh war has been fully implemented. The implementation of this program was also covered in the media. Everyone can see that our disabled war veterans can even play football. Hand prostheses have more sophisticated technology. According to my information, state-of-the-art hand prostheses have a grip function of about 40. So we try to provide maximum help to our countrymen who have lost their health. Of course, since these are high-tech prostheses, they need to be replaced from time to time. All these programs are also on the agenda.

In other words, the social sphere is a diverse field. For example, we can add the self-employment program here. It is both a social and an economic area. Because this is an area that promotes small business. But I see it more as a social field. Such an initiative has been put forward for several years. It aroused great interest, and 60,000 families have been involved in the self-employment program to date. We have even involved international financial institutions in this program. It is an area that covers both social and economic aspects, as well as jobs – i.e. all these areas. Therefore, this year will be no exception. Because I want to say again that Azerbaijan is a social state, and we confirm it not by words, but by our actions. These programs will be implemented as far as possible this year as well.

IlgarMikayiloglu from Real Television: Mr. President, 2022 has increased Azerbaijan’s transport, transit and logistical potential. Additionally, given the Russia-Ukraine war, there is already a great need for a new transport direction. I would like to ask you about the Middle Corridor passing through Azerbaijan and the Zangezur corridor, which has a very important place in the development of the Middle Corridor project. How would you assess the prospects for the realization of these issues and the importance of this corridor for the region?

President IlhamAliyev: We have been implementing projects in the field of transport for many years. The Russia-Ukraine war has enhanced the importance of our work. However, I want to say again that we have been investing in this area for many years. Thus, all of the main activities related to the Middle Corridor and the North-South transport corridor in the territory of Azerbaijan have been completed. We are only modernizing a part of the railway, especially the Baku-Yalama line, and after that we will also modernize the Alat-Astara line. Because the volume of expected cargo is limited by the current state of the railway. We believe that 15 million to 30 million tons of cargo can be transported from the territory of Azerbaijan through the North-South transport corridor alone. This is a very high figure. Currently, all of Azerbaijan’s transit opportunities make up a small percentage of that. Therefore, the North-South transport corridor is a project that can compete with the Middle Corridor. Considering that, this has become one of the top priorities for Russia after the start of the Russia-Ukraine war, as you mentioned.

As for the Middle Corridor, we have a consistent policy in this direction as well. As you know, we inaugurated the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway five years ago. I should also note that this project was initiated by us, and it took a long time to implement it. Because there were political difficulties involved, some major Western countries opposed this project and created very serious obstacles. The reason was that this is a project that practically excludes Armenia. In other words, pro-Armenian trends manifested themselves in the implementation of this project. In other words, we lost a few years. Another problem was a lack of funding. Because there wasn’t anyone interested in investing in this project. Our appeals to international financial institutions remained unanswered. After we got the initial revenues from oil, we allocated a lot of funds to this project ourselves. As you know, Georgia was given a loan of 775 million dollars and this project was implemented. Currently, we are seriously engaged in expanding this project. An order was issued last year and more than 100 million dollars will be allocated from the budget, a part of which has already been allocated. We will increase the capacity of this railway from the present 1 million to 5 million tons. But even that will not be enough. True, there are other opportunities in the Western direction, including Georgian ports. Of course, we are using them as well, and one of the ports belongs to Azerbaijan. And yet, if we look at the volume of the expected cargo, we will see that it will not be enough. Last year I had numerous meetings with the leaders of Central Asian countries, and I can say that this topic was discussed in every meeting.

There should also be new routes for cargo from Central Asia. The route across the Caspian Sea is very attractive in terms of time. At the same time, we should make this route economically more viable by implementing a common tariff policy. I believe that negotiations are going in a positive direction here as well. So if we consider only the shipping potential of the Central Asian countries and the cargo going there from the direction of Europe, we will see that even if we implement and expand all these projects, it will still not be enough. Therefore, the economic viability of the Zangezur corridor should not be in any doubt. Of course, for us this is not only an economic and transport project, it is also a strategic project for us. We are sure that the realization of this project is our natural right. In addition, the realization of this project was also reflected in the trilateral statement of November 10, 2020. True, there is no word “Zangezur corridor” in it because I included the term “Zangezur corridor” in the geopolitical lexicon afterwards. However, it is explicitly stated there that there should be a transport connection between the western regions of Azerbaijan and the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic, and Armenia should provide it. Now Armenia wants to shy away from that. In fact, it has not fulfilled his obligations for more than two years now. But that won’t stop us. So for us this is a strategic project, and not only for us, but also for several neighboring countries and for a broad geography.

That is why the work done in the field of transport has created a very strong foundation. What has already been done and what will be done in the future will certainly strengthen our positions. Because countries that do not have access to the world ocean usually can’t take advantage of transit facilities. Azerbaijan is one of a handful of countries that does not have access to the world ocean, but has already become an international logistical and transport center. Our infrastructure includes railways, airports, the Alat International Seaport and other transport infrastructure, the largest fleet in the Caspian. At the same time, our fleet also operates in the Black Sea. By my order, the number of our ships in the Black Sea fleet will be increased. In other words, Azerbaijan has become a serious actor in a very large transport market. Of course, the realization of the Zangezur corridor is a historical necessity. This is why I said that whether Armenia wants it or not, it will happen. In other words, they perceive this as another threat in Armenia, although I did not have such an idea. It is simply inevitable. It will happen sooner or later. Of course, we want it to take place soon.

IlgarMikayiloglu: I would like to touch upon another issue regarding Zangezur. In the interview you gave us at the beginning of last year, in response to a question about visiting the graves of your ancestors in Nakhchivan, you said that this was a fact. After the liberation of Shusha, we think it is right to consider that it was a continuation of the visit to the Great Leader’s grave. I would like to quote you. You said, “Yes, it is, and I appreciate that you took it that way. Yes, these were the thoughts in my heart, but I will not say at this point what more is in my heart.” Now, let me ask, was what you said at the meeting about the Western Azerbaijan Community exactly what you had in your heart or is there something you haven’t said yet?

President IlhamAliyev: No, in principle, I think that we should gradually share our views on this topic. During the meeting with the Western Azerbaijan Community, I think we went a little deeper as a continuation of my words you quoted from earlier that year. Today, it is no secret that the Western Azerbaijan Community was denied its rights as a community that was deported for many years. Of course, talking about the rights of Western Azerbaijanis in a place where there was a problem of Karabakh might have looked like a premature fire. But today, I think that we have quite rightly brought this topic to the international arena. My recommendations, i.e. the recommendations I gave on December 24, are being implemented. A special working group has been set up based on all the tasks I set and, at the same time, based on the suggestions from the ground. We have started working on a single concept. Of course, Western Azerbaijanis should return to their ancestral lands, this is their right, all international conventions recognize this right of theirs. As the state of Azerbaijan, we must do our best to secure this right. Again, I said during the meeting with representatives of the community there that we wanted to do it peacefully, and I am sure that we will achieve that. Because there are no mono-ethnic states in our area, in Eurasia in general, and it would be good for Armenia, as they say, to get rid of this mono-ethnic state stigma. The best and fairest way for this is for Western Azerbaijanis to return to their native lands.

I also said during the meeting with the representatives of the Community that there was almost no life in the villages they had vacated after the deportation. Now there are videos, there are other documents, there are people who went to those villages. They saw that everything there is destroyed and there is no life there at all. Therefore, their return there will not create a problem for the Armenians who occupied their houses, just as they did elsewhere, in Karabakh for example. Because their return there does not mean the removal of the Armenians living there. Because those villages are empty and we will, of course, use all the opportunities available to us. Just as the Karabakh issue once united the entire Azerbaijani people and we achieved our desires, we should apply the same approach here. Of course, there is a great need for the activities of the media, both inside the country and abroad. I have also expressed my opinion about this. So a very broad program is being prepared.

I want to say one more thing – all our programs are implemented in all areas. We never come up with initiatives that cannot be realized. Therefore, work is already underway on a program in this area. I am sure that we will achieve this and restore historical justice.

SananRzayev from CBC TV channel: Mr. President, last year Azerbaijan took several more steps to help ensure the energy security of Europe and the European Union. On July 18, the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, visited Baku. A Memorandum on Strategic Partnership in the field of energy was signed between Azerbaijan and the European Union. Mr. President, I would like to know how you would evaluate the pace of realization of that idea as a whole. And what does this Memorandum and this cooperation promise to both Azerbaijan and the European Union, both in the current year and in the next year?

President IlhamAliyev: This is a significant event in the development of Azerbaijan’s oil and gas sector. Of course, the visit of the President of the European Commission testifies to the attention being paid to this issue by the European Commission and by Mrs. Ursula von der Leyen personally. In recent years, energy security issues have been the center stage of the global agenda. This means that this issue has always been on the agenda of international organizations and the most influential international forums, and the way Azerbaijan has been implementing its oil and gas industry projects has always earned us great respect of our partners. But after the start of the Russia-Ukraine war, of course, other issues may have overshadowed energy security issues and become top priority on Europe’s agenda. This is understandable. Of course, interest in Azerbaijan’s energy resources has increased significantly. However, even before that, there was an established opinion that Azerbaijan is a reliable partner for many countries, including countries that are members of the European Union. Azerbaijan’s opportunities have increased, and we, as they say, were successfully doing our work at home and were moving towards more profitable markets. Of course, after the Southern Gas Corridor was put into use, we started exporting gas to European Union countries as well. We took into account the fact that we expect additional production both from the “Shah Deniz” field and from other fields. For example, if everything goes according to plan, the so-called “deep gas” will be produced from the Absheron field this year and, if there are no force majeure obstacles, from the Azeri-Chirag-Guneshli field next year, in 2024. We plan to start producing “deep gas”.

In other words, there is potential, Azerbaijan’s confirmed reserves are well known. I have stated the figure many times – 2.6 trillion cubic meters, but I am sure that it will be much more than that. Because our experience of working in oil fields suggests that as drilling continues, the volume of reserves proves greater than the initial estimates. Azerbaijan’s fields will supply gas to international markets for at least another 100 years, i.e. as technologies develop, production opportunities will increase. Therefore, 2.6 trillion cubic meters is the confirmed minimum volume of our potential. Considering the construction of all the gas pipelines, of course, together with the European Union we aim to increase the supply. But to do this, of course, it is necessary to invest in production, and we are doing that, because it is necessary to expand the existing gas pipelines. Because both TANAP and TAP pipelines are designed for the volumes we contracted. We did not take into account the need to double the supply to Europe in such a short period of time. In other words, the document signed with Mrs. Ursula von der Leyen refers to this very matter.

Of course, the implementation of this Memorandum continues quite successfully. Whereas in 2021 we supplied a little more than 8 billion cubic meters of gas to Europe, this year it will be close to 12 billion cubic meters. As a whole, about 24 billion cubic meters of exports is expected this year. Therefore, we are already becoming a serious actor in the gas market, including the European market. We are already thinking about doubling the throughput capacity of TANAP and TAP. Of course, we are consulting with our partners about this. As for the TANAP project, things are easy here, because we are the main participant and shareholder of this project, and the main financial burden falls upon us. Our share in the TAP project is 20 percent, so, of course, we will have to work more on reaching consensus there. We have always approached oil and gas projects from a strategic point of view because we understood that if gas pipelines and oil pipelines are not implemented, we will remain in a somewhat locked-up space with our resources.

International energy companies first look at the economic side of the issue – when to invest and when to expand. So it would be wrong to expect international energy companies to invest billions in the project that will be needed in five years. Therefore, we are trying to reconcile our strategic outlook– we have never been wrong in this matter yet – with the economic opportunities and economic policy of our partners, and we are working in this direction now.

After the commissioning of the Greece-Bulgaria interconnector, new promising directions will open up and have already opened. Azerbaijani gas has already entered the Bulgarian market, and from this year it will also enter the Romanian market. So, in essence, we are approaching a certain version of the Nabucco project. If you remember, there were active discussions about this project for years, but later it was deemed unnecessary. In fact, work on the creation of a network of interconnectors, for example, the Greece-Bulgaria interconnector, is going on very actively. I also know that work is underway on an interconnector that will connect Serbia to the common system, including negotiations on gas supplies with Serbia. The creation of this network will allow us the opportunity to send our gas resources to that market. If the Ionian-Adriatic Sea project is implemented, this project will cover three more Balkan countries that currently do not receive Azerbaijani gas.

We have started active negotiations on the gas supply of Albania. In this case, Albania is only a transit country, there is no gas network in this country, and this work requires considerable costs. We have offered our services as close friends and partners, and currently work is being done on the issue of selecting gasification sites, first of all, agreeing which cities to gasify.

So if we take a broad look at the energy map of Europe, the Balkans, Western Europe, this map is clearly crisscrossed by various arteries, and this gives both us and them the opportunity to plan a long-term strategy. Of course, we should not forget the so-called “green transition” program of most European countries. Under such circumstances, after a certain period of time, it is assumed that fossil fuels will be abandoned altogether. However, according to my observations, trends in the European gas market – this program is in force, of course – the current situation regarding energy security will encourage European institutions to approach energy security from a more realistic perspective. Therefore, I am sure that oil and gas are unlikely to be abandoned in the foreseeable future.

NigarMahmudova from Khazar Television: I also wanted to continue the topic of energy. You have already mentioned the increase in demand for Azerbaijan’s energy potential and that all this opens up new opportunities for us. What are the new opportunities opening up? We are probably talking not only about economic, but also political strengthening of Azerbaijan. It would be interesting to listen to your thoughts on this, Mr. President.

President IlhamAliyev: Regarding new opportunities, in principle, I answered this in the previous question. What else can be done? Of course, we have now started energy negotiations with several countries, countries that were not our partners before. All the projects planned until the Russia-Ukraine war were almost going according to plan. At the Advisory Council meeting for the Southern Gas Corridor held in Baku every year, there was already an exchange of views on the successful completion of the TAP project, which is the last segment of the Southern Gas Corridor. However, new topics will be discussed at the next Southern Gas Corridor Advisory Council meeting, which will be held next month, and the number of participating countries will increase. For example, we believed that the completion of the TANAP project would actually mean the completion of our main work in this area. After that, we thought that we simply needed to export our own gas resources using the existing infrastructure. But as you can see, based on the request of the Romanian side, we have already been transferring gas to Romania since January. Because during the year, the energy minister of Romania came to Azerbaijan twice, and at the end of the year, I visited Romania. In the meantime, our respective agencies were in talks, and the interconnector was already operational, making it technically feasible. Of course, without the technical capacity, we cannot expand the geography of our gas exports, and technical capacity in the European space are not within our competence. In other words, European countries do it themselves, and the more connections there are, the more potential customers we will have.

I don’t want to announce anything ahead of time, but since the beginning of the Russia-Ukraine war, we have received requests from more than 10 countries – from countries that are buying our gas now and are interested in additional volumes of gas, and also from countries that have never bought gas from us but want to join this program too. Of course, the role of Azerbaijan is increasing here, and we must take advantage of that. We have never made our oil and gas policy a key factor in the overall political context. Because we believe that these should be separate. But now, since the energy policy in the world is fully aligned with the overall geopolitical situation, this factor cannot be denied. Of course, our economic and political importance is growing, and if we look at the gas pipelines that feed Europe, we will see that there are not so many of them. In other words, existing suppliers are simply increasing gas production because there is a huge demand in Europe. Azerbaijan is the only one among the new suppliers. Considering that we have a very large resource base, we already have infrastructure and we have very active cooperation with the European Union not only in the field of energy but also in all other fields, attention is focused on Azerbaijan, of course. Of course, we understand our responsibility and try to be a reliable partner for new partners.

IlgarMikayiloglu: Mr. President, theories, opinions and statements were regularly voiced regarding the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline in 2022. But in reality, what is the basis of this information and what is our position on that?

President IlhamAliyev: Discussions about the Trans-Caspian pipeline have been going on for many years, but there is no result yet. The total throughput capacity of the Trans-Caspian pipeline is estimated at 30 billion cubic meters of gas. There are several key issues for the implementation of this project, one of which is who will finance this project. Because when it comes to our projects, whether it is Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan or the Southern Gas Corridor, everything was clear. Azerbaijan took the leadership upon itself, created a team of countries and companies, and attracted international financial institutions. Notice which institutions participated in the financing of the Southern Gas Corridor – the World Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the Asian Bank, the European Investment Bank and the European Infrastructure and Investment Bank – the world’s leading financial institutions. These institutions, companies and Azerbaijan as a country invested their own funds and implemented this project. There is still no clarity regarding the Trans-Caspian pipeline project. In other words, who will take this project forward and what will be its financial capacity? To calculate this, a feasibility study should be prepared. Companies should be involved in preparing it. That is, these are not issues that are resolved in one day or one year. If this project is started today, it will take a few years just to carry out all the studies – geological surveys, environmental surveys, technical capacities, financial capacity. All these are open questions. I think it would be wrong to talk about the Trans-Caspian pipeline project without answering these questions first. We, as a country, have always supported this project, and I have openly stated it several times that yes, if we are approached, we are ready to present our capabilities, make our infrastructure available and address other necessary issues. But we cannot initiate this project because it is not our gas.

In parallel with this, even if all the issues I have listed are resolved, another issue will emerge at the second stage. Let’s say that the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline has been built and brought to the shores of Azerbaijan. What will happen after that? What route will it follow to be sent to Europe? TANAP? TANAP has a total throughput capacity of 16 billion cubic meters today. Almost all of it has now been supplied by us, by Azerbaijani gas. The expansion of TANAP’s capacity up to two times is also associated with Azerbaijani gas. Because we can produce at least 10 billion cubic meters of additional gas in the next five to six years, if everything goes according to plan. Of course, the only way to do this is through TANAP and, as I said, interconnectors. In other words, what will happen beyond the borders of Azerbaijan? That is, will a new pipeline be built on the territory of Azerbaijan? Possibly. Who will build it? Therefore, these are all open questions. The topic of the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline has been politicized for many years. I am against it. Because I have always been in favor of working on real projects. After answering all these questions, of course, this project can be implemented. Because in principle, I think that this project can be economically viable, but a feasibility study is required, of course. This must be confirmed. Contracts must be signed with the owners of gas and its price stipulated. Because the longer the distance, the higher the cost. But we have always given political support to this project. If we are approached about this project, we will do our best to help.

SananRzayev: Mr. President, if you would allow me, I would like to continue the question about the gas price and the energy sector. When you answered the previous questions, you touched in detail upon the issue of the volume of our gas reserves, especially our plans in the Balkans and Europe. This is one side of the matter. On the other hand, strange opinions have been circulating in the foreign media recently that Azerbaijan is buying Russian gas for subsequent exports to Europe, world markets, etc. In this regard, I would like to know, first of all, what you think about this information and what your take on those who think like that is?

President IlhamAliyev: In my opinion, this is information manipulation, and I have every reason to think so. I must say that this was first announced by Mr. Schröder, former chancellor of Germany and former head of one of the Russian energy companies. Then this theory was circulated in the media and, of course, our opponents welcomed it with joy, trying to accuse us of playing some kind of an unfair game. This completely defies all logic. Even if we look at the volume of our exports in straightforward terms, it is clear that this is out of the question. Yes, we used to buy gas from Russia, it was a long time ago when I was still working in an industrial company. It was profitable. At that time, our own gas was not sufficient, and we bought gas in order not to use fuel oil in the production of electricity, i.e. to get more benefits. Of course, fuel-fired power plants pollute the environment. Today, all of our power plants run on gas, water and other partially renewable sources. Also, if I am not mistaken, in 2006 or 2007, gas purchases from Russia were stopped due to a sharp increase in prices – they practically doubled. At that time, we were told that the price would be twice as high. The price was already quite high compared to the price in Western European countries, and the volumes being sold were supposed to reduce four times. We used to buy 4 billion cubic meters of gas, but they told us on behalf of “Gazprom” that they could supply us only 1 billion cubic meters of gas. This conversation took place at the end of the year, in November, after the country’s energy balance had already been approved. Under such circumstances, we had only one month left to make a decision. Instead of the expected 4 billion cubic meters, we could get only 1 billion cubic meters. But we got out of the situation. As they say, every cloud has a silver lining. This situation compelled us to pay more attention to production in our own country, and we stopped buying gas from Russia. About 15 years have passed since then.

Now we are talking about buying 1 billion cubic meters of gas from Russia. The contract was signed at the end of last year, but we have not received even half of that volume. Why are we doing this? Yes, our consumption is increasing, the population is increasing. Enterprises that did not work at full capacity when there were insufficient reserves – methanol plant, urea plant, petrochemical plants – are now working at full capacity. If we look at the volume of production and exports in Azerbaijan last year alone, we will see that we exported 22 billion cubic meters of gas and I think we imported only 200 and 300 million cubic meters, i.e. one percent. This year we will export 24 billion cubic meters of gas and import the remainder of that 1 billion cubic meters. So either laymen or provocateurs can talk about the fact that we will buy gas from Russia and then sell it. I think in this case we are facing both. However, attempts to constantly slander Azerbaijan and reduce our role and importance are not new. I remember that at one time they used to say that Azerbaijan does not have oil and the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline will not be built, then they said that Azerbaijan does not have gas, and now they are saying this. Let them say whatever they want. We have done our job and we are doing it successfully.

TofigAbbasov: Mr. President, one of the strategic events of last year was that a four-sided agreement was signed with your participation in Bucharest on December 17. We are talking about the Strategic Partnership Agreement, in which Azerbaijan, Georgia, Romania and Hungary envisage the production, then increase and also transmission of green energy in our territory. I would say that there is a tremendous knock-on effect behind this event. First of all, we have almost launched a new index of diversification of our energy policy. Then we created a new cooperation format. Because according to the information I have, that Agreement was reached in Baku, and our partners, i.e. Georgia, Hungary and Romania, welcomed that document with great approval. First of all, I would like you to comment on the implementation prospects of this agreement. On the other hand, if we have to call everything by its name, you have just talked about the place of the pro-Armenian factor in politics. It is no secret that France was trying very hard to involve Romania in its anti-Azerbaijani front, so to speak, and they even took into account what the Western media had written about it – that they would send arms and ammunition to Armenia through the Black Sea and on the condition of using the territory of Romania. Is it possible to say that it was the success of our diplomacy in the second moment that prevented and thwarted that destructive plan?

President IlhamAliyev: As far as this project is concerned, of course, its essence has not been fully analyzed yet. Because it was a novelty and came as a surprise to many. Of course, when we started working on this project, we clearly saw what steps should be taken to implement it. Therefore, after we joined this project, it actually started to be implemented. Because this project as an idea, a general concept that had preexisted for many years. Even the feasibility study is being prepared, and in the initial transmission capacity of the project was calculated at one thousand megawatts of electricity. After we joined the project and did all the analysis, we suggested that once we have joined it, let’s do it on a larger scale. We proposed that it should be at the level of 4,000 megawatts instead of 1,000 megawatts. Because the costs will be high anyway and the cable will be laid anyway. Therefore, by laying the cable with more possibilities, we can achieve more. The implementation of this project also raises investment interest in Azerbaijan. Because we currently do not have the ability to export so much electricity. We export, our average export capacity is around 1,000 megawatts. However, the investment projects currently being implemented in Azerbaijan – two projects are already being implemented, one is a solar power plant, one is a wind power plant, and the third project is to be implemented in the coming months – will provide us with more than 700 megawatts of clean green energy.

In parallel with this, according to the memorandums of intent signed with two of the world’s leading companies, the construction of solar and wind power plants with a capacity of up to 22,000 megawatts is planned in Azerbaijan. It is a matter of the future to decide whether all of these 22,000 megawatts will be fully implemented, or whether only a half or 30 percent of this volume will be implemented. However, I think that at least half of this volume is completely feasible, very feasible. The main issue is its future fate – how will it be transmitted? Because we need to expand our existing transmission lines. I am going back to the Zangezur corridor. In our opinion, electricity should be transmitted through that corridor as well. It is for this purpose that we are building a large receiving and converting station in Jabrayil district. If this project is realized, then a station should be built on the border between Nakhchivan and Turkiye. At the same time, transmission opportunities in Turkiye should also be expanded. Because it is not designed to take in that much energy. So this is a very global project, and it can be fully realized. Because the companies investing billions of dollars in Azerbaijan today have certainly calculated everything. They are sure that this energy will be consumed both in Azerbaijan – the current economic situation in Azerbaijan is such that they are satisfied – and there will also be opportunities for export.

Another issue – it is also very important, it has been somewhat left out of the general context – is that if we implement these projects together with our partners, I can say that Azerbaijan will not invest a single manat. All of it will be realized on the basis of foreign investments projects. Then the natural gas we are using for the production of electricity today will not be used and will therefore be exported. So our natural gas exports will increase because we will also export the gas saved in the new fields of Absheron, Umid-Babek, then ACG and Shah Deniz. So, as they say, a second winning opportunity will present itself both for us and for Europe. The probability of this project being implemented, if it is possible to say so, is very high. Why am I saying this? Because, first of all, the President of the European Commission, Mrs. Ursula von der Leyen, participated in the signing of this agreement. Her participation suggests that this is a priority project for Europe and that there will be no financial constraints related to the implementation of this project. So far, we haven’t come to a decision about which countries will invest and in what volumes, what country will receive the funds allocated by financial institutions, i.e. who will return the debt later. There have been no talks on this yet. But everything will depend on the feasibility study. Thus, Azerbaijan will become a country of even greater importance for Europe.

I can also say that we have already started the energy dialogue with the European Union. As part of this energy dialogue, not only natural gas but also green energy and green hydrogen are on the agenda. Therefore, this is a field with great prospects and a project that can bring great benefits to the economy of Azerbaijan.

TofigAbbasov: Mr. President, I would like you to express your opinion on another issue. We will export, as they say, heat, electricity and light to the West through the Black Sea. However, some forces want to transfer weapons and ammunition to our infamous neighbors. In other words, we have almost automatically crossed out that plan. Is that so?

President IlhamAliyev: In any case, we will do our best, we are doing everything in our power. I must also note that no matter what weapons are given to Armenia, it will not help them, and I have said this to the Armenian side several times. I told them not to waste money on that. Because, first of all, it will not help you, and secondly, it may create an illusion in the revanchist forces in your country. It can create the illusion that you can retaliate. You will not be able to! If we see that there is a serious threat to us, we will crush this threat immediately – no matter where this threat comes from, from our territory or beyond our borders. This is our legitimate right. This is why there are such attempts. We see and know which countries are preparing to give arms to Armenia. Unfortunately, India is now playing a role among them. We consider this as an unfriendly step. Because these weapons, especially offensive weapons, have a target, and it is Azerbaijan. Therefore, of course, we are taking the necessary measures and cannot allow Armenia to create a danger for us, we can never allow that to happen.

NarminSalmanova: Mr. President, in 2022, we witnessed some armed incidents on the convention border between Azerbaijan and Armenia, and also in the territories of Azerbaijan where Russian peacekeeping forces were temporarily stationed. We saw the Farrukh, Revenge operations, as well as the battles in mid-September. In general, can we expect the factors that led to these incidents to be eliminated in 2023? What are your predictions in this respect?

President IlhamAliyev: I do hope that Armenia clearly understands that these provocations will have no result. After the second Karabakh war, the signals we sent to the Armenian side were that you should come to terms with this situation, and the signing of the act of capitulation should actually put an end to this conflict between us. Unfortunately, we did not see this. On the contrary, Armenia did not abandon its plans both in Karabakh and in the direction of the border, and we were forced to take measures. We had warned them. At the same time, we told our European partners that if we see a threat, we will act immediately. I believe that this was also why the reaction of the leading international forces to these events was reasonable. In other words, no-one condemned us, no-one blamed us. Because everyone could see that we were not the ones who instigated the clashes.

The main reason for the Farrukh operation was not only to take control of those strategic heights. At the same time, a large area of our territory was under fire from those heights, and illegal Armenian armed groups that still exist there occasionally fired in our direction. It was even impossible to repair the Khachinchay reservoir. This is why the Farrukh operation removed this threat, and it was unexpected for many, including Armenia and the separatists who had made a nest in Karabakh. They believed that the Armed Forces of Azerbaijan would never conduct any operations in those areas. We have shattered this mythology. This is our territory, and the reason we are not conducting a serious operation there is not because we are afraid of anyone, but because we believe that we must get what we want through political means. Unfortunately, it was not a lesson and a very large-scale mining process was underway in Saribaba, Girkhgiz and other directions. All those mines were discovered. How did Armenian-made mines of 2021 even get there? The Russian peacekeeping forces can’t answer this question to this day. What can they answer after all? We even invited them there. We invited representatives of the Turkiye-Russia Monitoring Center and showed them – come and see, how did it cross into our territory, who carried it, and who is responsible? Saribaba, Buzlukh, Girkhgiz operations, including the Revenge operation, were because the Armenians had killed our serviceman. We had a martyr, and we had to show our strength once again. We thought that this would eventually be a lesson for them, but it was not, and the September clashes were inevitable.

I now hope that there will be no such situations in the future. Because last year, since March, we have shown three times that no-one can stand in front of us and we will achieve what we want, and no Armenian patron can come to their rescue. This is first. Secondly, the heights controlled both in the direction of the Azerbaijan-Armenia border and in the direction of Karabakh provide us with a great strategic advantage. Because as I said, visual observation already allows the opportunity us to see any danger from the very beginning and prevent it. I do hope that Armenia, which has already suffered such military and political failures three times, will understand that a peace agreement is inevitable. The sooner they understand this and the sooner they find the strength to agree to it, the better it will be for the region.

I want to say that again we have no intention of starting a third war. Those accusing us of this are simply either victims of Armenian propaganda or are pursing a fabrication and slander campaign against us yet again. I must also note that a new wave of a disgusting campaign of slander is spreading against us in some Western media. We are seeing its first manifestations, but it is likely that even more unsightly steps will be taken. But that won’t stop us. This is why I think and hope that 2023 brings a real end to the second Karabakh war and that such events do not happen this year. Let me say again – if we see that there is a threat against us and Armenia and its patrons are planning some kind of provocation against us, we will immediately eliminate this threat with all the means at our disposal. We are warning them and those behind them.

IlgarMikayiloglu: Mr. President, after the 2020 Patriotic War and its victorious end, certain work have been done in the army in terms of weapons and equipment in order to create military units of various purposes, especially commando, and quickly replenish our ammunition arsenal. Moreover, the integration of technology into the Armed Forces has completely changed the strength of our military. True, we are ranked 57th on the Global Firepower index, but let me admit that I am somewhat skeptical of this number.

President IlhamAliyev: So am I.

IlgarMikayiloglu: Because if we look at the countries ahead of us, they are countries with technology of the 1960s. How did they get ahead of us? They have no experience. But okay, it’s their figures, but I have the impression that in the last two years, we seem to be building a completely new army, taking into account combat experience and technology.

President IlhamAliyev: Yes, you are absolutely right. During the war, our Army showed its strength, showed its resolve, and our people as a whole showed their indomitable spirit. Our soldiers made great sacrifices, they literally faced death, and nearly 3,000 of our children were martyred. Our army was strong enough. The fact of the strengthening of our army was not a secret to anyone. I remember a time when we started allocating major funds for military expenses. I was even accused by some international organizations that Azerbaijan should solve this issue peacefully and that there was no military solution to this issue. Why is so much being allocated? Even within the country, some criticized us for allocating so much money to the army. There were those who weren’t very impressed by our parades. We were simply showing our capabilities, we were showing that we would not come to terms with this occupation. We didn’t want war to be necessary. All my efforts as President were focused on that. I tried to convince the co-chair countries of the former Minsk Group, as well as our partners in Europe, that we would not put up with this situation. I told the previous and current leadership of Armenia – if you think that the situation would continue like this, it will not. They simply thought that those were words spoken for the sake of propaganda. We were forced to show our strength because the messages we were sending did not reach the address. I even demanded that sanctions be applied against Armenia. I thought that if sanctions were applied, then they would be forced to vacate our land of their own free will. However, this did not happen and we showed the strength of our Army in the war. At the same time, we saw that there was a need for the further development of the army. everyone knows this now. During the 44 days, we did not take a single step back, not a single person ran away, there was not a single deserter. This is perhaps an unprecedented indicator in the world’s military history. I am leaving aside the fact that there were 10,000 deserters in the Armenian army. In general, the soldiers and officers who attacked, going up from the bottom, facing death, breaking through six to seven defense lines are real heroes, and this is the strength of our Army.

At the same time, however, we started work immediately after the war, as they say, without even a day’s rest. We began to analyze all stages of the war. I ordered that yes, this is a historic Victory and we have already accomplished our historic mission. Now, instead of rejoicing, it is necessary to work and find out the drawbacks. Of course, there were and still are drawbacks. We are working hard to eliminate them and apply our war experience already based on the new army concept. Many things have been done in two years. But this work is not finished yet. As they say, it is probably inappropriate to talk about this openly. But I can say that our commando forces have already been fully formed, have become a major unit, and this process is being continued. New commando forces will be created. Their number will be increased. We have already at least doubled the size of our Special Forces, which bore the brunt of the war, and we will increase it further more. All supplies have been provided at the highest level.

I should also note that we have increased the number of special forces of the Border Service, special forces of the Internal Troops, special forces of the State Security Service, Foreign Intelligence Service, detachments and groups have been created. We have increased the number of marines several times. We have increased the number of special forces of the Nakhchivan Standalone Army. I can’t cite the numbers now, because I think it would be wrong. At the same time, their number is still increasing. We have not yet reached our goal. We have already created and will create a force it would be suicidal not to reckon with.

We have resolved the issue with Armenia. I am sure there will be no third war. But the threats have not disappeared, we have faced some new threats after the war. Resisting these threats is not an easy task – it requires both resolve and self-confidence. We have never gone on an adventure, and we never will. If we have, as they say, given a very crushing slap to these provocations, it means that this is not just propaganda, we feel strength in ourselves. Everyone should know this so that no-one fools with us. We started it immediately after the war. Because we knew that it would determine the future of the world. But look at the Russia-Ukraine war. Everyone is doing it, everyone. The largest countries of Europe, which did not pay attention to army building at all, are now building their armies. They have now started talking about a single European army. They have now started manufacturing military products or expanding its production. When did we start this? It’s been 15 years. I should also say that we have signed new contracts with major Turkish and Israeli companies, with companies from other countries. At the same time, we are in the final stages of negotiations with several leading companies to expand local production.

A new era is beginning for Azerbaijan’s military industry. At the same time, it will be an export-oriented industry. Because, first of all, we must meet our own needs to the maximum. I am sure that several of the planned enterprises will already start production this year. On the other hand, we currently sell military products to more than 30 countries. There is a shortage in the world’s arms market. Because Russia has practically left the world arms market. Now Russia’s military industry works for its own domestic needs. America has actually directed its military products to Ukraine, and so has European countries. Other well-known players have virtually left this market, which means it remains vacant. But there is a great need for it. This is why we have to fill this market. I believe that we can be an exporter of military products worth hundreds of millions of dollars. In other words, we aim for this and will move towards this goal.

Of course, this will further expand the geopolitical opportunities of our country. Look – natural resources, a strong army, a strong economy, a united nation, civil solidarity, and the military-industrial complex. Who can stand before us?

NigarMahmudova: Mr. President, we missed your tweets after the Patriotic War. You made us happy again with a tweet about the control over the center of Lachin, the villages of Zabukh and Sus in 2022. This was possible thanks to the construction of a new Lachin road in a very short period of time. We would like to hear from you about the importance of these issues and whether the people of Azerbaijan should expect such innovations and such news in this year, in 2023?

President IlhamAliyev: Yes, I know that my information was eagerly anticipated and watched by the people during the war, and the lexicon I used during the war was very close and familiar to many. But, as they say, every era has its own rule, its own function and its own specifics. If I use the words I used two years ago, it probably won’t be right. However, some of those words have now been memorized not only in Azerbaijan, but even in neighboring Turkiye. I want to repeat those words from time to time myself, but I make effort not to. Unfortunately, there is still a need to say some of those words. The addresses may change, but the essence and transcription of the words remain unchanged.

I believe that the liberation of Lachin is a historic event for many reasons. First, it is our historical land and was the first district outside the borders of the former Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous District to be occupied. In fact, after the occupation of Lachin district, a geographical connection was established between Armenia and former Nagorno-Karabakh, and this paved the way for our future defeat. On the other hand, we knew that the road from Lachin to Khankendi passes through the center of Lachin. During the last conversation with the President of Russia on November 9, I specifically insisted that a clause determining the fate of the city of Lachin should be included in that Statement. Of course, the Armenian side was opposed to that. But the Armenian side was not in a position to dictate anything at the time. This is why, on my insistence, a clause was inserted that the process of approval of the new road would take place within three years but it wasn’t elaborated what will happen after that. We agreed on this route with the Russian side, with the Russian Ministry of Defense, and implemented it within a year and a half. Immediately after the end of the war, we started negotiations with the Russian Ministry of Defense. I sent a special team and several options were discussed. Some options were unfavorable and the most acceptable option was chosen. We started work immediately. When the work was completed, I declared that the road was ready. However, we had to face Armenia’s frivolous approach yet again. Because Armenia had to build a part of the road in its territory as well. They simply believed that this would never happen, that Lachin would remain in their hands, and the peacekeepers were almost stationed there. Because, unlike the other cities, there were some surviving buildings in Lachin. But I declared, I said that we had completed the road on the 2nd day of the month, and if our word was not taken into account on the 5th of the month, we would enter the Lachin corridor without asking anyone and without looking at anything. After that, the frenzy began – calls, orders, requests and so on. At that time, some of the Karabakh Armenians asked us to give them time until August 25. They promised that no-one would burn houses. They promised that we would get out of Lachin, Zabukh, and Sus. I said, well, I believe you, and people believe my word. But if, as they say, they go against their word, we are ready to come and stand there at any time. And so it happened. On August 25, Lachin and two villages were vacated. On August 26, we entered Lachin, and I experienced those unforgettable moments and feelings again. It was both a very emotional and proud day. In other words, we must finish the unfinished work. Who will do it for us? We have to do it ourselves. There is still unfinished work, and we are gradually putting things back on track.

But I should also note that the people of Lachin, especially the people living in the city of Lachin, were probably somewhat desperate. Because during the negotiations, in general, the Armenian side did not even want to talk about returning Lachin to Azerbaijan. Unfortunately, the co-chairs of the former Minsk Group also believed that Lachin district should be given to Armenia. This is why the people of Lachin were more desperate. I should also state that the negotiations continued for a long time even during the occupation period, i.e. they ended in failure precisely, among other things, because of Lachin and Kalbajar. Because they were ready to vacate five districts. But on the condition that Lachin and Kalbajar remain in their hands forever. In other words, we endured so much because of the people of Lachin, the people of Kalbajar, because of our historical lands, because of our territorial integrity. But I think that the people of Lachin will be the first to return to their native places. Because an instruction was given immediately, extensive construction and restoration work is underway in the city of Lachin, and now we will decide when we can return the first residents of Lachin to the city of Lachin this year. This year, we will also return former IDPs to the villages of Zabukh and Sus. Houses were built by some rich Armenian in the village of Zabukh. I temporarily gave those houses to the soldiers. I said that our citizens would not live in those houses. We use them as barracks. But a new settlement is being built for the people of Zabukh in the village of Zabukh, and this year we will send them there.

TofigAbbasov: Mr. President, a while ago you said that we have resolved the issue with Armenia. One gets the impression that Armenia has really come to terms with its fate, but there are those who misguide it. We are aware of that, and if we call it by its name, it is France. In this process, in this notorious case, in this unpleasant process, France is trying to use all its possibilities to convince Armenia: the matter is not over, you must stand up and face the enemy, meaning us. We see that they have failed at the level of the UN, at the level of the UN Security Council. Because they tried to pass an anti-Azerbaijani resolution, but nothing worked. On the other hand, they tried to set the Francophonie club against Azerbaijan, although it is a humanitarian organization. They wanted to politicize it, and Macron failed once again. Finally, their reaction to us both in the media and in their political circles, their attacks are obvious.

Mr. President, there is a question here. They say that the French Senate and National Assembly will not shy away from their anti-Azerbaijani position, but the French government values its relations with us in this process and does not show too much activity. Do you agree with this idea? Finally, what is behind France’s actions on this path?

President IlhamAliyev: There may be several reasons. First, the fact that we were victorious, that we won the war probably annoys a lot of people there. Now, when we look back, we see and are further convinced that – although we have seen this for many years during the negotiations – the Minsk Group, especially France, is trying hard not to resolve this issue, i.e. neither peace nor war, the issue should remain frozen and Armenians should de facto live there. Time will pass, generations will change, Azerbaijanis will forget, and among other things, the theses of contacts between these people and the strengthening of cooperation with Armenia were thrown around, suggesting that, yes, we should reconcile, we should be friends. We did not come to terms with that, and I think the main reason for such an anti-Azerbaijani position is that we have overturned their plans and they could not save Armenia, which they took under their protection.

The second reason – I do not rule out that it is related to representatives of the French government. Because, first of all, we must remember how France became the co-chair of the Minsk Group. I know this very well because my father told me. At that time, French President Jacques Chirac insisted on this. Heydar Aliyev objected to this, repeatedly objected. Later, even Jacques Chirac told me this story many times. He treated my father with great respect and told me that Heydar Aliyev had told him that he was not against him personally, but against France’s co-chairmanship, because Armenians have a great influence on him and would influence your policy. Chiraq told me: I convinced him that we would always be neutral, and after that Heydar Aliyev agreed. This was indeed the case. It was really natural for them to be neutral. Or they may have been neutral because the issue was not resolved. I cannot say for sure.

But I must say that France always tried to maintain the balance until the current government. I would also like to remind you of one episode – perhaps many have missed it. On April 24, 2015, President Francois Hollande visited Armenia. Only four leaders went to Armenia on that day. It was yet another fiasco of Armenia and the fiasco of its historical forgery. But he went there, and I went to Çanakkale. President Hollande came to Baku from Armenia in the evening, even earlier than me. Our event took a little too long. I arrived, President Hollande was already in Baku, and we met the next morning – on April 25. So what does this mean? This shows the action of a politician. It shows that France is the co-chair, respects this position and us, and has come to maintain this balance. I appreciate, very highly. But then this balance was disturbed. Even before the war, this balance was disrupted. In other words, the balance may be disrupted, but then you should give up leave co-chairmanship. I am talking of that period. Drop out, be together, call each other relatives. I don’t mind, but get out of here, you can’t be a mediator. But they wanted to be mediators – maybe they still do – and, as they say, strengthen their warm relations.

Therefore, I believe that the current situation is the result of the current French government. I hope that a government will be formed in France in the future that will value the relations with Azerbaijan. Because we have always cooperated with them in our policies only with the intention of friendship. In the previous period, I can say that more than 10 of our cities were twinned, there were exchanges, many representatives came here, President Sarkozy, President Hollande visited Azerbaijan. Now the situation is completely different. I recently said in a closed-door meeting that France can live without us, we can live without France, neither they nor we will feel it. But this is the path, it is their choice and we still haven’t done anything against them. We simply responded during the war. Now I don’t want to say anything about the high-level contacts during the war. They took place during closed conversations. But during the war, as they say, we had very tense relations. During the war, France openly accused us, slandered us. I now demand an apology from them. They slandered us and said that we had brought jihadists. There is not a single piece of evidence. Have they apologized to us? No!

During the war, they started an initiative against us in the UN. It did not work at the time, countries that are members of the Non-Aligned Movement prevented it. As you mentioned, the Francophonie, followed by the Prague meeting. The Prague meeting was actually a continuation of the Brussels format. Because this format was introduced by Charles Michel, the President of the Council of the European Union. And it was a continuation of the Brussels format, only the President of France was also there. But what did he say about Azerbaijan a week later? I had to answer him. So we were just responding. Their Senate and National Assembly adopted anti-Azerbaijani resolutions, and our MilliMajlis adopted a statement in response. In Francophonie – you are absolutely right – they failed, they achieved nothing by keeping a few countries under pressure. They couldn’t achieve anything in the UN. Four countries actually disrupted their game. The question arises: why? I can’t understand that. In other words, what is the source of such an irrelevant attitude towards us, I can’t understand. I don’t even want to think about it. Let me say again: they live without us, we live without them, we have lived like that and we don’t need them. This is simply an abnormal situation and it was not us who brought this abnormal situation to this level. Therefore, if there is an idea to normalize this situation, of course we will not be the ones initiating it.

NarminSalmanova: Mr. President, Azerbaijani eco-activists have been protesting on the Lachin-Khankendi road for a month now, in the face of cold weather and snow. The heart of all Azerbaijan, so to speak, is currently beating on the road to Lachin. Most of the participants of this action are young people. What would you like to tell them? In addition, Armenia and its patrons are trying to create an illusion in the world that they have allegedly been under blockade for one month. Do you think it could have any real consequences?

President IlhamAliyev: First of all, “Kudos!” to those young people. They are a source of our pride. As you mentioned, they were there day and night in frosty and snowy weather, demanding their rights and once again showing the whole world how high the qualities of Azerbaijani youth are. Just one step away from this, as they say, separatists are busy transmitting completely false information to the world. First, everyone has already seen that there is no talk of a blockade at all. About four hundred trucks of peacekeepers have passed through there – in less than a month. Of course, all the vehicles that passed there, even prior to this action, were checked. How did we learn that Iranian vehicles were taking fuel there? We saw it there. However, the Iranian side tried to deny it. They even wanted to deceive us at such a primitive level by attaching fake Armenian license plates on Iranian vehicles. Where did we learn that about 20 Iranian citizens have entered there illegally? They passports are evidence of that. We have not been provided with any explanation of this. So we saw everything and we know everything. We know the number of trucks of the Russian peacekeeping contingent – how many enter and exit each month and how many enter and exit now. Of course, they also take food and other necessary goods to the Armenians living there. We do not object to that. Our goal is not a blockade. As many times as the Red Cross has applied, permission has been granted. This is why it is just another anti-Azerbaijani show, I can’t give it another name. Armenians and their patrons think that they will gain something by using this against us. They will get nothing. We have legitimate demands and everyone knows the history of this action. They did not provide us with access to the mines that were exploited illegally. They made a show there too, as if there were some protesters. This action will probably continue until we have access. Our demands are also completely legitimate. Monitoring, inspection and an end to illegal exploitation are necessary, and we will achieve that. Therefore, it is simply unfair to call the events happening on the Lachin-Khankendi road a blockade.

I have said this before and I want to say again that conditions will be created for those who want to live there under the flag of Azerbaijan. Just like all the other citizens of Azerbaijan, their rights and security will be provided. The incident that happened these days when a person was returned there, he was returned with his hands full, he was given two cartons of cigarettes, because he came to ask for cigarettes – shows that we will not only ensure their rights and safety, but they will live better.

Of course, what is this in our able hands? Nothing. If the separatist movement had not been started against us, they could live as people do in all the other parts of Azerbaijan now. The conditions they live in now are obvious. There are those who have gone and seen the conditions they live in. Therefore, whoever does not want to become our citizen, the road is not closed, it is open. They can leave, they can go by themselves, no-one will hinder them. They can go under the awning of peacekeepers’ trucks or they can go by bus. The road is open.

SananRzayev: Mr. President, when you answered the previous questions, talking about the prospects for peace between Azerbaijan and Armenia, you said that if Armenia finds strength in itself. I would like to clarify a few points. First of all, do you believe that this force is formed in Armenia itself or, in the current circumstances, it doesn’t depend on Armenia. For example, how does the Armenian diaspora influence this process? Mr. President, right after the war, there have been several places associated with peace negotiations between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The last time, an attempt was made to organize a meeting at the level of foreign ministers in Moscow, but the Armenian side disrupted that meeting. The meeting did not take place. At the present moment, we do are not seeing a process of negotiations from a purely technical point of view. What do you think about these places for negotiations and about the very prospect for continuing the negotiations? Do you have the impression that the Armenian side is simply flagrantly disrupting the process of negotiations?

President IlhamAliyev: Yes, I fully agree with the last thesis that the Armenian side is disrupting this process, and I think I know the reasons for that. As for the first thesis about whether or not Armenia has strength and whether the diaspora has an influence on this, I think that there is such an influence, and claiming that someone is preventing that is a very convenient way of shifting responsibility. Because if the government is responsible, it must answer for its actions. Every country and every leader faces its own challenges, but this cannot be speculated on. This is, as they say, the internal work of the house, everyone should do this work not only by articulating the issue of peace in the daily agenda, but also by convincing the public and working on an actual peace agenda. But where is this agenda? What did we see in the two years after the war? Armenia has not done any of the things it should have done. If we leave aside the rhetoric and this intonation of complaints, it has done nothing but complain in every meeting with the heads of foreign states. I can’t find another name for it. This is just petty gossip and slander. I would call it anonymous, but it is not anonymous, everything is said on behalf of specific people. Therefore, I think that in this context, the Armenian authorities should take full responsibility and be ready to sign a peace agreement. I said when we put forward these five principles that it should not be some kind of a multivolume document. It should be a very simple paper, a simple document outlining the fundamental principles. Of course, there cannot be a conversation about our internal problems and all issues related to Karabakh. In my opinion, this is one of the reasons why the Armenian leadership is prolonging the issue. Because they have to make decisions and essentially state the issues that were recorded in Prague and then confirmed in Sochi in October. After all, the reference to territorial integrity and sovereignty, the Almaty declaration, clearly shows that they recognize Karabakh as an integral part of Azerbaijan. Immediately after that meeting, I declared that yes, this is our success, because Armenia has officially recognized the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Azerbaijan at last. Anyone with a basic understanding of terms would know what sovereignty over the whole country and over the whole territory means. But they don’t want to say “B” after saying “A”. They are bending over backwards to include the Karabakh issue in a possible peace agreement, and actually block it. It is completely unacceptable for them to ignore the meeting of ministers in Moscow, referring to the happening of some events. But why did they ignore the meeting held in Prague on October 6? After all, an incident had happened at the border less than a month prior to that too. Quite serious events had happened there. I don’t want to go back to the details of how this ended for Armenia. For some reason, the Armenian side went to Prague to meet with Macron, but did not go to Moscow. Then the comments of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs about the purely protocol behavior of the Armenian side are further evidence of that. In other words, it is both convenient and suitable to take the position of an offended party, but this position is very harmful to both the person and the country. As they say, pity is not the best tool in a politician’s arsenal, especially when, if we speak in the accepted parlance, it is all fake.

In my opinion, this year will bring clarity to many issues. By the way, I sincerely believed that we will be able to sign the agreement before the end of the year. But it didn’t happen. What is Armenia waiting for? Perhaps they are waiting for some geopolitical changes, perhaps for something someone promised to them. Because it does look like that someone has promised them something. Because an objective analysis of the situation in the region, the balance of forces and the world’s reaction to the events that happened two years ago, as well as the events that happened in September of last year and are currently happening on the Lachin-Khankendi road, shows that rescuing the drowning people is their own responsibility. We can help. Only we can help them not to drown completely in this quagmire of Azerbaijanophobia and hysteria. How can we help? By saying yes, let’s make peace. Believe me, it is very difficult for me to say this, both as President and as an ordinary person. When I go to territories liberated from occupation, I go through the same as you and every Azerbaijani does. There is no need to talk about the feelings that inspire us all. Nevertheless, despite the suffering, the pain, the destruction of everything dear to us, we are speaking of peace. Do you understand that it is not easy both from a political point of view and from a humanitarian point of view. However, since we understand that it is in the long-term interests of Azerbaijan, we propose it. But it will be on the table for a while. Then, as they say, we will not be particularly active. If they are not interested, we don’t need it either. If they are not interested in delimitation, we don’t need it either. This means that the border will pass where we believe it should. I am already compelled to use such terms. If the border has not been delimited, then who can say that the border passes here, and not there? I think it should be here. I have reasons to say this – historical, cartographic reasons. Therefore, this issue should concern them more than us. We can live like this for a long time, there is no need for a peace treaty. But what will happen then? Time will tell. This is why I think they will hear my messages and draw the right conclusions. Again, I don’t want to be seen as someone putting pressure in this case. Under no circumstances have I shown any disrespect, not even in relation to someone not deserving any respect. I just have to point it out again. Because I think this year will be the last chance for them. Because then 2024 comes, and then in 2025, Russia’s peacekeeping mission ends. They need to see slightly farther than their noses.

NigarMahmudova: Mr. President, the bias of French President Macron has been discussed here. The Prague meeting has also been touched upon. Despite the fact that Macron was there, we can say that Prague was one of our achievements last year. Armenia recognized our sovereignty and accepted that Karabakh is an integral part of Azerbaijan. At the moment of that meeting, when the first photos were released, we, as journalists, looked at the photos and tried to read from the body language what was happening there. We guessed that there was an intense going on struggle at the table. If it is possible, could you disclose the details, discussions and struggles there? It would be very interesting for us to hear about that. I will ask you to touch on the importance of the Prague meeting.

President IlhamAliyev: Regarding the details, I can say that it was an unusual meeting. Because it took too long and consisted of two rounds. The first meeting lasted about an hour, and we saw that we could not come to an agreement. This was why we said that we would gather again after the dinner. We got together again, and that meeting lasted about four hours. When the meeting ended, it was 5 o’clock in the morning in Baku. This is a detail that may be interesting.

The second interesting detail was that for a moment I said to myself that it looked as though the Armenian-French team was on one side and we were on the other side, while Charles Michel is the referee. Because in difficult moments for the Armenian side, members of the Armenian delegation stepped aside with members of the French delegation, whispered, talked and discussed something. I mean it was obvious. Because being in a small room for a few hours is certainly an opportunity to see these details. That is, sometimes it is difficult to hide emotions.

As you mentioned, the essence of the meeting was very favorable for us. Because for the first time, the Armenian side recognized the sovereignty of Azerbaijan, and this should have been the end of negotiations regarding the future of the entire Karabakh. We take it as such. Of course, after that, these theses were confirmed again at the Sochi meeting. There was also a moment at the Prague meeting. It remained somewhat outside the general context, which was the sending of a European observer mission to the territory of Armenia, to our border regions. This issue was also discussed extensively. One of the proposals was to send this mission to the Azerbaijani side as well. We objected to it. However, we agreed to this mission being sent to Armenia. It was also discussed and agreed at the time that this mission would be short-term, consist of 40 people and last only two months. I agreed to with that. But then, for some reason, this conversation, that is, this agreement, was disrupted. This, of course, was a very disappointing moment. Because we are serious people. There are serious conversations going on here. If we agree to something, even verbally, we must follow through on it. How can it be the case? After a while, a high-ranking official of the European Union said that the mission would be extended. After that, the French foreign minister said that we would extend the mission. Of course, we immediately took action and demanded an explanation. What is this? How will you extend it? After all, you agreed to send this mission with us. Why? Because it will be near our border. How can this fail to be agreed with us?

On December 19, this mission should have ended and members should have gone to their places. In other words, it means that we were deceived. How can we work with you? How can we discuss anything if you deceive us in such a small matter – in fact, it is not a very serious matter – less than two months later? What did they do after that? After that, they officially stopped the operation of the mission on December 19. But on December 20, they sent a new mission. This is just manipulation. Representatives of the new mission are in Armenia now, where they are holding meetings with high-ranking officials. According to the information we have, they will be sent there again in February with a large delegation. Again, without our agreement.

I want to mention one other thing. At the same time, Armenia’s closest ally wanted to send an OSCE mission, but we objected to that. Because such issues are approved and resolved on the basis of consensus in the OSCE. Of course, we said that we would not give a consensus. Then, finding a loophole in the rules, they sent a delegation of the OSCE there without consensus. Again manipulation, again fraud. After this fraud was revealed and we expressed our protest, the most beloved ally of Armenia tried to blame it on the co-chair of the OSCE, Poland, claiming that they did not know and that Poland did it. So these details can be opened up a little. I just want to bring to your and the public’s attention the degree of hypocrisy, to show who and what we have to face in defending our own rights. Therefore, the sending of this mission is of course very unpleasant. This will not increase security, but rather, this format of negotiations with us will undergo a major shake-up. A question was asked about those negotiation formats. After the “passing away” of the Minsk Group, the European Union started to play its role, and we supported it. I personally made a statement about it several times. I said that we appreciated it. However, if such games will go behind our backs, then the future of this format will be in doubt. France has virtually isolated itself from this process. America and Russia remain. In other words, this is how we see the negotiation at the moment. Of course, Europe can be there, but if, I say again, it treats us fairly.

TofigAbbasov: Mr. President, I apologize to you. My colleague asked you a very interesting question. In this context, how was Charles Michel’s behavior in Prague and afterwards?

President IlhamAliyev: When?

TofigAbbasov: After the Prague meeting, when Macron’s games, so to speak, became apparent. In Prague itself, and did Charles Michel had some kind of reaction or not?

President IlhamAliyev: No, we had no contact after that. Before that, of course, we had close relations. We even had regular phone calls. I have always appreciated his work. He is a person who is very familiar with the essence of the issue, i.e. to the very depth of it. I saw that he really knows this issue very deeply and wants to help. However, there was no reaction after the Prague meeting. As you know, the next meeting was scheduled for December 7. It was declared to us. But we objected to it. Because we do not see them in this format after the steps of the French side. Therefore, we did not support the December 7 format. After that there was no contact. Since the beginning of this year, neither I nor anyone else from the Azerbaijani side have had contacts with representatives of the European Union. Perhaps they are now having internal discussions about the next steps.

NarminSalmanova: Mr. President, after the Patriotic War, restoration and construction work was started in the liberated territories of Azerbaijan under your leadership. I remember your interview with Turkiye’sAnadolu Agency on Remembrance Day in 2021. When speaking about the former internally displaced people who lived with the dream of seeing their homeland for 30 years and did not break down after a thousand sufferings, you got emotional. Now the Great Return has started and, at the beginning of the interview, you said that IDPs would return to Lachin this year. Approximately how many people of Lachin will experience this joy and what feelings do you have when you see those former IDPs returning to their native land?

President IlhamAliyev: A feelings of happiness. I am as happy as they are, i.e. I am not any different from them. Because to see them there, to see their eyes, to see their joy is true happiness, great happiness. Of course, I want all former IDPs to return to their ancestral lands soon, and we will do our best to speed that t up. Currently, hundreds of houses are being rebuilt and repaired in Lachin, including public buildings. As I said before the end of the year, we will resettle the first group of the natives of Lachin. I think more than 200 families will be settled in Zabukh and Sus villages.

In parallel, we have already started construction in many villages. Up to 100 settlements are to be reconstructed at the first stage. We have now started the construction of multi-storey houses in Shusha, Aghdam, Fuzuli, Zangilan. The foundation of several villages has been laid. In other words, 2023 will see one of the first steps of the Great Return. Of course, Aghali village was the first step. Inshallah, we will see this year in a more collective manner. In parallel with this, schools and hospitals will be ready in Shusha, Aghdam and Fuzuli.

Of course, safety issues must also be taken seriously. Unfortunately, 279 Azerbaijanis have either died or lost their health in mine explosions. Therefore, our compatriots who will return there should be very careful and enter only safe places. We are already entering the rapid development phase of the Great Return this year.

Of course, it would have been impossible to move people without the infrastructure. All issues related to electricity have been resolved. The whole of Karabakh and Eastern Zangezur have been connected to a single energy network. We have built 11 hydropower plants on liberated lands and their generating capacity is about 55 megawatts. This is a large number and is fully sufficient to provide the region in the current conditions. Since this is part of the overall system, it certainly increases the share of renewable energy in our energy mix. Currently, seven stations are under construction, and about 50 hydropower stations will be established there in total.

This year, we should start the construction of the Solar Power Station in Jabrayil. Planting is going on, because immediately after the war there was an order to start work to ensure food security, to get closer to it without wasting any time. About 60,000 hectares of grain have been sown.

Horticulture is developing, industrial parks are developing. For example, investment projects worth 40 million manats have already been approved in the Aghdam Industrial Park and 10 million manats worth in the Jabrayil Industrial Park. So these are quite large amounts for those regions. The number of applicants is quite large. More than a thousand entrepreneurs have applied, and all applications are being considered.

More than two thousand kilometers of highways and bridges are being built. The number of bridges will be more than 100. Fifty kilometers of tunnels are being built within the approved projects. Just imagine what 50 kilometers of tunnels could mean. I am in a hurry. But, at the same time, I tell myself that there should be no haste, everything must be in order, there must be a tender, all urban planning rules must be observed. This is why it takes a little longer to approve these Master Plans and then start construction. Of course, this worries me, but on the other hand, we are starting from scratch. We need to build a space that will be a consolation for those who have been living in longing for 30 years. They deserve that. On the other hand, we want to show the world that the owners of the land have returned – the lands that have been destroyed are being turned into a flower garden.

At the same time, I said this once but I want to say it again. The approach applied there in Karabakh and Zangezur will be applied throughout the country, including the governance mechanism. Now we are working on a new governance model. Of course, personnel potential is very important. Also, at the same time, new bodies have been created in the liberated lands that are more flexible, more operative, not mired in bureaucracy and unpleasant situations. So we will gradually transfer this experience to other parts of our country.

There are major irrigation projects. The Armenians also deprived us of our water. Kalbajar, Lachin, and Zangilan are home to 25 percent of our water resources. There are plans to lay water pipes to supply that region with water, including drinking water – and, at the same time, to other regions of the country. So we have very large-scale plans and, as they say, God willing, we will implement them all.

This is a true happiness. To win the war, to fulfill the hopes of our people and, at the same time, to build and create – there can be no greater happiness than this. This once again shows the greatness of our nation. It shows that our nation did not bend or forget its identity for many years. In the village of Aghali in Zangilan, when you see the looks and laughter of the children, you feel as if you are flying. After all, they have only seen these places in books, heard about them in schools, heard from their parents, grandfathers and grandmothers, but now they have arrived there. Land is drawing, and I am sure that all our former IDPs will return.

TofigAbbasov: Mr. President, with your permission, this is our last question. We don’t want to tire you? May I?

President IlhamAliyev: Yes.

TofigAbbasov: The world order evokes extremely pessimistic impressions. We see that there is a problematic situation, and long-lasting crises and conflicts not only remain unresolved, but actually, due to some forces, become even more acute. Under such circumstances, a saying comes to mind that a place does not like emptiness. Because some forces really crave the void. However, under your leadership, Azerbaijan has really made great contributions to global integration processes, and it is impossible not to see this. For example, last year, while you were on a trip to Italy, you received an invitation from the world-famous “Ambrosetti House” think tank in Cernobbio and made a great speech there. The distinguished audience welcomed your ideas with great interest. Of course, you talked, first of all, about the duties of international institutions and, without taking that into account, they leave behind some gaps. On the other hand, they fail to fulfill their obligations. You expressed some valuable ideas there. How would you estimate the role of Azerbaijan in the newly emerging socioeconomic and global configuration, and our share in these processes will probably increase steadily? How would you evaluate these parameters?

President IlhamAliyev: The main direction and goal of our foreign policy is to create more fertile conditions for our country at the international level so that the processes inside the country continue to be on a positive course. There have been no risks or threats in Azerbaijan for many years. All possible risks and threats are formed outside our borders. To protect ourselves from those threats, of course, foreign policy, including military policy, must play a role. Therefore, our policy has always been focused on cooperation. If someone asked us for help, we tried to help and make more friends. Of course, we had to convince the world community about the need to resolve the Karabakh issue. Because the Armenian propaganda had been working against us for many years, and the distorted assumption about the conflict had already taken root. It was not easy to break and destroy it. Over the years, we found that we were gaining more respect with our policies. The fact that we are right in the Karabakh issue has already been accepted by the world’s leading forces. At the same time, in partnership with us, both bilateral and multilateral, they saw that we conduct ourselves with dignity, keep our promise, and respect and sympathy for us have increased. I see our election as chair of the Non-Aligned Movement as a result of this. Because there are countries in this institution that are not exactly friends with each other. But they unanimously supported Azerbaijan twice – both when we were elected and when our chairmanship was extended. This platform gave us additional opportunities to show our intentions and policies, especially during the COVID era. International events, including the Summit, the organization of a Special Session of the UN General Assembly, the provision of material and humanitarian aid to more than 80 countries – all this was done by Azerbaijan. I can say that there are not many countries in the world that can do as much as we do. We are doing it for free – they should get to know us better, support us, and be by our side in time of need, as we saw during these events we have already talked about.

And now, especially after the Russia-Ukraine war, the creation of a new order is inevitable, there is no other option. Because traditional institutions do not function effectively and will not do so in the future either. Azerbaijan has changed after the Karabakh war, and the world has changed after the Russia-Ukraine war. These two changes are almost parallel processes in terms of time. How we see ourselves in this new world, where we see ourselves, of course, we have to define it very precisely. Because we should always rely on reality and not set unrealistic goals. We should know and strengthen our place in the region and the world. Again, the main issue is to reduce possible outside risks to zero, which we have succeeded in doing so, and the steps we are taking today, the steps we are discussing, are calculated exactly for this.

As for the UN, our attitude towards the UN is now clear. Failure to implement four well-known resolutions of the Security Council certainly did not add value to the reputation of this organization, if it is possible to say this so mildly. But in the current conditions, not only us, but also many other countries say and insist that serious reforms are required. In particular, the composition of the Security Council should be revised. I also support this idea. I think that the format of the Security Council is already outdated and history shows it. It was created 80 years ago, after World War Two. Now, in fact, World War Three is going on, whatever people may call it. If we look at the number of countries that have joined this conflict, we will see that it is actually World War Three, but it is conducted in a new way, different from World War One and World War Two. Eighty years have passed. Therefore, of course, there should be new members in the Security Council. I believe that a permanent place must be reserved for a Muslim country, and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation must determine it. It must choose a country on the basis of a two-year or three-year rotation principle. One place should be given to the Non-Aligned Movement and the country holding its chairmanship – I am not talking about Azerbaijan, our chairmanship ends this year. The country holding the chair should be in that permanent place, if the right of veto remains, then the right of veto should be granted to those two new members. Because the number of countries in the Non-Aligned Movement is 120. The world is polarized and the conflict deepens. The abyss between the West and Russia will deepen. This is how I see it. The consequences of the war will certainly affect this, after the war is over. But this conflict and mistrust is a long process. Of course, this space cannot remain a vacuum. Who can be the center of power here? I think it could be a member of the Non-Aligned Movement and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.

We did a lot of work on the institutionalization of the Non-Aligned Movement – a parliamentary platform, a Youth Network was created. Our activity was calculated for this, because this institution has potential, it just needed leadership. I believe that all countries have seen this leadership in the example of Azerbaijan, and the policy we set should be continued even after us. In other words, we should not allow the Non-Aligned Movement to fall to the previous level. It did not enjoy any respect anywhere, let’s face it.

Of course, we should choose the right place for our country, we should not set a goal full of unrealistic dreams. Our real interests must be served. We have opportunities to secure our interests – political, economic, military and diplomatic. We use our strength with great caution. Long-distance runners usually set their pace to finish first, and we are a pacer, but we also throw in a sprint when needed.

TofigAbbasov: Mr. President, thank you very much, we were very impressed today. Why? Because we often see an abundance of information, but at the same time, hardly any truth. Today, thanks to you, we witnessed the complete opposite. Thank you very much for taking the time to talk to us. And, of course, we were all waiting for your thoughts on the predictions, because the new year has begun. Of course, I think that 2023 will not be easy, maybe even very difficult. However, the successes achieved by Azerbaijan under your leadership make us feel confident that we will be able to meet new challenges with an open mind. Because your successes are the successes of our people, our state, and those successes give us courage. Thank you very much, don’t get tired and always be successful.

President IlhamAliyev: Thank you very much, thank you. Your questions have allowed me the opportunity to talk about these important topics. It is true that I often address the Azerbaijani public. It is possible to believe that I express my opinion on all important topics, and I always have done so. But the interview also has its own format, its own characteristics. Perhaps it is impossible to cover all these issues in one speech because speeches are usually rePresident Ilham Aliyev interviewed by local TV channels of Azerbaijanlated to a topic at some event. I also want to say that I have no doubt that we will achieve what we want. Because, let me say again, our past, the speed with which we are moving towards our goals and the results we are achieving give reason to say this. I am sure that we will have very good moments in 2023. Because, as you know, nothing is impossible in the world. Let’s go back to that action on the Lachin-Khankendi road. Who would have thought that in 2022 – just two years after the war – a completely new situation would arise? Or let’s go back to September. Who would have thought that Armenia today will unjustly accuse us of occupation? Two or three years ago, if you had said this to anyone, they would have said, to put it simply, that you have lost your mind. But nothing is impossible. Everything is in our hands. But we want justice, only justice. We are restoring the broken justice, we have not yet fully restored it, but we will restore it, I have no doubt about that. And I am sure that the people of Azerbaijan share this optimism. Thank you again.

TofigAbbasov: Thank you, thank you very much.