Vladimir Putin: Mr Aliyev, ladies and gentlemen,
I would like to extend warm thanks to the President of Azerbaijan, the Azerbaijani leadership and all the people of Azerbaijan for the invitation to visit your country, and for the warm reception and excellent organisation of our work. There are no families in Azerbaijan that do not have links with Russia, there is not a single family that does not have friends and relatives in the Russian Federation. Hundreds of thousands of Russians live in Azerbaijan. Hundreds of thousands of Azerbaijani citizens permanently live in Russia. We must take advantage of this potential to develop bilateral relations.
Today we discussed with the Azerbaijani leaders the problems of cooperation in the region, the coordination of our international efforts, as well as bilateral ties in the field of security, conflict resolution and the economy. Although our economic ties and trade have increased by 25% in the past year, the total volume of economic exchanges is generally considered to be insufficient, and there are good opportunities for further cooperation. This lends particular importance to the documents signed today, including the document on the coordination of our efforts in trade. In my opinion, harmonisation of legislation is a very important and promising sphere. We have spoken about the development of relations in various spheres of industry, science and culture. I would like to thank the President of Azerbaijan for his consistent policy in maintaining cultural ties and supporting the Russian language in Azerbaijan.
I think we have every reason to be optimistic about the future in spite of all the problems that still remain in the region. We can be optimistic not only about the Russian-Azerbaijani relations, but about the development of regional ties on the understanding that all the outstanding problems can, must and will be solved. I am referring, of course, to the Karabakh problem. We devoted a lot of time to the issue today, mainly during our one-to-one meeting. I would like to reiterate the Russian position on the issue: a final settlement can only be achieved if the two interested states prepare and coordinate their positions. Russia for its part will step up its efforts as a broker and is ready to be a guarantor of agreements in this sphere. And agreements are possible. The efforts the Presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia are exerting to achieve agreements give grounds for the hope that the conflict, however complex it may be, can be resolved.
Finally I would like to extend cordial thanks to all our colleagues. Thank you.
Question: Russia is a member of the OSCE Minsk Group on the peaceful settlement of the Karabakh conflict. What steps will Russia take to settle the conflict in the near term?
Vladimir Putin: It is true that we are members of the Minsk Group and we continue our efforts within that group. We have discussed with Mr Aliyev some options of achieving a compromise. It is a complicated process. So I don’t want to discuss any details. The details are there. Reaching an agreement in such complicated spheres is always a compromise, which means mutual concessions. Obviously, the current situation cannot be tolerated either by Armenia or by Azerbaijan. Russia does not want this situation to persist. We should seek stability in Transcaucasia together. Only such a situation will enable us to develop good relations with everyone. As of today, the very existence of the conflict and of the situation impedes the development of our normal relations with Azerbaijan and with Armenia. Russia cannot be happy with this state of affairs and we will persistently work toward a compromise.
Vladimir Putin (follow-up to HEYDAR ALIYEV’s answer): During the talks today Mr Aliyev pointed out that, unfortunately, the North Caucasus is a place of ethnic conflicts, and this is cause for concern. We all understand that we were not the “authors” of these conflicts, we have inherited them from the empire. In fact these are diseases which were suppressed by the huge weight of the empire. The pressure is no longer there and these diseases and sore spots have come to the surface.
Of course, we have to think about ways to solve these problems. And that is not just the problem of Karabakh, but also the problem of Abkhazia, South Ossetia and some smaller issues. We need to put in place relations in the economic sphere, in the field of transport, communications, health care and culture. Unfortunately, these problems cannot be solved by telephone, the Internet or by fax. As a minimum, the heads of states must meet personally if such issues are to be solved. So we believe that it would not be practicable to abandon consultations within the “four.” On the contrary, personal meetings between leaders would be useful, would contribute to the search for ways to solve disputed issues and to establishing bilateral and multilateral relations in all the areas I have mentioned.
Question: The friendship, good relations and cooperation between Russia and Azerbaijan have deep historical roots. How will this visit impact these relations and in what areas?
Vladimir Putin (follow-up to HEYDAR ALIYEV’s answer): We would like to see the improvement in all areas. The very fact that no Russian head of state had visited Azerbaijan in the past ten years is perceived as a huge minus in the development of bilateral relations and in the development of regional cooperation. The very fact of this meeting being held today is a positive signal for the region and for our two countries at all levels. It is not accidental that today businessmen are signing a major investment project which will last 25 years. It is not by accident that today we are discussing the development of transport, the communications infrastructure and cooperation in various fields.
I would like to stress that Russia’s policy in the world, and especially in the former Soviet Union and in the Caucasus, will be balanced.
Question: Several years ago the media reported illegal supplies of Russian arms to Armenia to the tune of 18 billion dollars. Do you think it can damage Russia as a member of the Minsk Group?
Vladimir Putin: I will answer your question and I thank you for asking it. The Russian position on the issue needs some explaining.
As regards arms supplies, the official Russian position is that it is connected with the distribution of materiel and weapons of the former Soviet Union. One may or may not agree with this. You know that a criminal case has been opened, the circumstances have been looked into and the issue is held under review by the Russian leadership. As for the current movement of some military hardware to the Russian bases in Armenia, that calls for a separate explanation.
First, these vehicles are not moving simply to Armenia and they are not being turned over to Armenia. They remain under Russian control and are being moved to Russian military bases. Now, about why it is happening. Under the adapted treaty On Conventional Forces in Europe, Russia has the right to deploy certain quantities of military hardware, including armour, in that part of the world. Because our Georgian partners want us to withdraw some Russian weapons from Georgian territory – and we believe that, given the present situation in the world, military presence in the Caucasus is still necessary – we have no option but to deploy this hardware on our base in Armenia.
It has nothing to do with the relations between Armenia and Georgia. We understand that nobody is happy about it, believe me, the Russian Federation itself is not happy. I repeat, it is a forced move prompted by the position of our partners in the negotiations on the future of Russian bases in Georgia. Let me stress again: this military hardware is under tight control of the Russian Armed Forces.
Question: The agreement on the Caspian signed today means that Russia and Azerbaijan have come closer together on this issue. Could you be more specific on the parameters of that rapprochement?
Vladimir Putin: As the President of Azerbaijan has stressed, negotiations on various principles of dividing the Caspian – on the seabed, on the surface – have long been in progress… Unfortunately these problems have not yet been solved on the multilateral basis. So, if there is a chance of reaching agreement on a bilateral basis, it should be taken. We have reached such an agreement with Kazakhstan.
To be sure, our Azerbaijani colleagues were pursuing their national interests but we had much in common on that issue. We believe that the problems of navigation should be treated in the same way as before, no changes are required there. We have agreed on the delimitation of the seabed, while retaining free navigation all over the surface of the Caspian. I repeat, the agreements take into account the interests both of Russia and Azerbaijan in practical terms, in terms of the use of oilfields.