Vladimir Putin: The new stage of bilateral relations we are entering should be matched by a higher level, above all, of economic ties. Increasing the volume of trade, developing cooperation in various fields of the economy are among our priorities.
Russian-Azerbaijani trade amounted to only $300 million last year. That obviously does not meet our mutual interests and does not match our real potentials, even though Russia is the biggest trading partner of Azerbaijan.
The situation must be rectified. I think it would call for your support and the support of your Russian colleagues. By adopting new legislation we could link the tariff and tax regulations in our foreign trade, eliminate unreasonable customs barriers and extra levies, and in general create favourable conditions for business.
Russia is ready to cooperate closer with Azerbaijan on the whole fuel and energy spectrum: it is ready to develop fields, buy hydrocarbons for internal consumption, and export them by making our transport available. I believe the supply of Russian natural gas to Azerbaijan has a big future. We have already signed contracts until the end of 2001. Yesterday, we signed a very important 25-year agreement in this sphere between LUKoil and the State Oil Company of the Republic of Azerbaijan worth $250 million.
Cooperation of financial and banking structures, investment projects, the building of joint ventures and other economic entities is an important element of our interaction.
The effect will be compounded if we expand border cooperation and direct economic ties between the regions of Russia and Azerbaijan. As of the end of last year, Russian regions and their Azerbaijani partners had signed 26 agreements on cooperation in the field of economy, trade, science and culture. Enterprises in more than 70 Russian republics and regions now have partners in Azerbaijan.
We also support the long-term development of bilateral military cooperation. I would like to stress that it meets the security interests of the two countries and is not directed against third states. There have been some positive shifts recently in the development of military cooperation. I think our contacts could be still more active.
In our bilateral relations we are guided by the Treaty on Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Security between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Azerbaijan of July 3, 1997. That document laid the foundation of interaction between our two countries. At the same time we believe that the legal-treaty basis of our relations needs to be further developed.
It is our duty to expand cultural, scientific and educational exchanges. Cultural and social links, more than anything else, bring people together, strengthen their mutual confidence, and in that field we have boundless opportunities.
We pay special attention to environmental cooperation, the conservation of nature in the Caucasus and the Caspian region, and clearing the aftermath of human-induced and natural disasters. Once again, I would like to express condolences in connection with the earthquake that recently hit your republic. We are accompanied by a plane with humanitarian relief supplies, which we would like to distribute to the victims.
It is important to sign without delay the treaty on the status of the citizens of the Russian Federation permanently residing on the territory of the Republic of Azerbaijan and the citizens of your country permanently residing in Russia. We believe that they form organic parts of Russian and Azerbaijani societies, and are directly and actively involved in bringing our friendly peoples closer together. We must sign this agreement during the forthcoming visit by Heidar Aliyev.
I would like to dwell on the Caspian problem. One of the key agreements to emerge from this visit is the joint statement of Russia and Azerbaijan on cooperation in the Caspian, which partly bridges the gap between our positions on the Caspian. Russia and Azerbaijan seek to take into account each other’s legitimate interests and to promote mutually beneficial cooperation among the Caspian countries in the exploitation of the mineral and biological resources of the Caspian.
We believe that until a new legal status of the Caspian is established, the current regimes of navigation and fishing, and the ban on vessels under non-Caspian flags should remain in force. At the same time we are ready to contribute to revitalising the five-party negotiating process on the Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea. Until a multilateral agreement is reached we should continue cooperation on a bilateral basis.
Russia, as a country of the Caucasus, is convinced that the development of traditional political, economic, social and cultural links throughout the Caucasus region is in the interests of both our countries. The priorities here are peace, ethnic harmony and friendship.
We believe that the states in the region itself are to play the key role in determining the approach to the issues of security and cooperation in the Caucasus. In particular we attach importance to contacts at the summit level within the “Caucasus Four” of Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia and the Russian Federation.
The main condition of security and multilateral cooperation in the region is a peaceful and just settlement of local conflicts, adherence to the norms and principles of international law, in the first place territorial integrity and inviolability of internationally recognised borders. This is a principled stand Russia takes.
We pin great hopes on the direct dialogue at the summit level between Baku and Yerevan on Nagorno-Karabakh. State leaders and they alone can find a balanced solution to the problem that would adequately reflect the interests of all the parties involved, including on the issue of the return of refugees. I am aware that the Presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia are committed to looking for a compromise solution to the Karabakh problem, and this is a realistic and sound approach.
As for the Russian position, we will accept a settlement scheme that will suit both sides in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Moscow could be a broker and guarantor of the agreement. In any case – both independently and as co-chair of the Minsk OSCE Group – Russia will continue to do all it can to move the negotiating process forward until an agreement is concluded. We are ready to accept a settlement.
The spread of terrorism and extremism in the Caucasus threatens the peaceful future of the region and that is a serious concern for Russia. The cooperation between Russian and Azerbaijani foreign policy, defence and law enforcement agencies should be aimed at administering a tough rebuff to organised crime and exterminating terrorists.
I cannot but touch upon the issue that is of concern to the public in Azerbaijan, namely, the visa regime. Russia has introduced such a regime for Georgia in order to protect national security as part of the fight against terror and organised crime. The status of Russian-Azerbaijani cooperation in this field, especially recently, shows that there is no need for Russia to take any additional unilateral measures and accordingly we are not contemplating introducing any visa regimes.
Active involvement in international affairs is not only an area of cooperation between our countries, but an important condition of integration into the world community and the world economy. So, we do not just welcome Azerbaijan’s accession to the Council of Europe, but are actively supporting your republic in this matter and look forward to close cooperation within that and other European and international organisations, above all the UN.
We have repeatedly declared our firm position regarding the leading role of the UN in ensuring international peace and security. I repeat, Russia is resolutely opposed to any attempts to interfere in the internal affairs of sovereign states under human rights and pseudo-humanitarian pretexts without the sanction of the UN Security Council.
Russia will support the evolution of the CIS into an effective community in the interests of our countries and more profound cooperation in the format of the Commonwealth of Independent States.
We attach key importance to multilateral economic cooperation, the creation of a free trade zone as a prerequisite for a truly market infrastructure of the Commonwealth, the formation of a common economic space to facilitate free movement of goods, services, labour and capital.
The dynamic cooperation between our countries, the spirit of mutual trust in bilateral relations and constructive interaction in the world meet the interests both of Russia and Azerbaijan. And the same end is served by the activities of the Milli Mejlis of the Republic of Azerbaijan and the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation. We expect these ties to become more active.
In conclusion I would like to wish all the deputies and all those present success and prosperity in the new year and peace and prosperity to the people of Azerbaijan in the new millennium.