Ladies and gentlemen,
I am truly pleased to welcome Azerbaijani President Ilkham Heidarovich Aliyev to Moscow. This is one of his first visits abroad in his new position as President, and we see this as a sign of attention to Russian-Azerbaijani relations.
We have done a great deal in recent years to develop relations between our two countries. A special role in this was played by Heidar Aliyevich Aliyev, and we have good memories of this outstanding state leader and person, and true friend of Russia. Today I gave Ilkham Aliyev the order of the Apostle St Andrew the First-called. This award is an acknowledgement of the unique contribution of Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev to strengthening friendship and trust between our peoples.
Today, the Azerbaijani President and I held substantial talks. As you saw, the Moscow Declaration was signed as a result. This not only confirms our common aspiration to develop strategic partnership, but also determines the bases of cooperation for the long-term perspective.
During our meeting we confirmed once again that our two countries have identical or similar approaches to solving important contemporary problems. We have the same views on the necessity to join efforts in the war on terrorism. We also see other opportunities to increase cooperation in regional and international affairs, and in opposing other global threats.
Discussing the situation in the Southern Caucasus, we once again stressed the significance of cooperation within the framework of the ”Caucasian group of four“. We are certain that direct dialogue between the Presidents of Russia, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia will make it possible to strengthen stability in the region and solve an entire range of long-standing problems.
We also discussed the legal status of the Caspian Sea. Serious attention was given to the problem of Nagorny Karabakh. Russia is pleased with the resumption of Azerbaijani-Armenian dialogue. And today I have once again confirmed our readiness to provide the necessary support in searching for a way of settling the situation that is mutually acceptable for both sides.
And, of course, we discussed the development of bilateral business cooperation in detail. In our common opinion, it is now growing, and this trend needs to be supported and maintained in every way possible. In the first 11 months of last year, mutual trade turnover increased almost by 40%, and we could continue to use the existing considerable reserve in future.
A new mutually beneficial schedule could also be accepted for delivering energy resources to Azerbaijan (I mean gas). We began these deliveries two years ago. The President posed several questions in this sphere. We will regulate them all on a working level.
The results of joint work in the military-technical sphere could also be very promising. Of course, this should not be to the detriment of security interests of the two countries and the region as a whole.
Today, a programme of cooperation in the humanitarian sphere for 2004–2006 was also signed. I am sure that for our nations, which have a rich cultural potential and are traditionally closely linked in science, art and education, this direction is of great significance. I particularly stress that we in Russia highly regard Ilkham Heidarovich’s policy on the Russian language in Azerbaijan.
The 5th International Congress of the Russian Press that was held in September of last year in Baku was positively received in Russia.
I am certain that direct contact and exchange of experiences and ideas between scientists, journalists and teachers have already helped to increase the interest in the Russian language and Russian culture not just in Azerbaijan, but in other CIS countries and in the world as a whole.
In conclusion, I would like to stress once more: I consider these talks to be very constructive and useful. And Ilkham Heidarovich's first official visit to Russia is a very important milestone in our bilateral relations, in strengthening strategic partnership and friendship between the peoples of Azerbaijan and the Russian Federation.
Thank you very much for your attention.
Question: Mr President, the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict in Nagorny Karabakh is one of the oldest in the post-Soviet space. Russia is one of the co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk group for settling the conflict. Does Russia have specific proposals to solve the problem?
One more question. Do you think that this visit by the President of Azerbaijan will give a new stimulus to the development of bilateral relations between our countries? Thank you.
Vladimir Putin: The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is indeed one of the long-standing conflicts, but it is not the only one. As you know, in the Caucasus there are problems that are just as old, and in the Transdnestr region far from everything has been regulated. We have been left with a lot of problems from the Soviet period that worsened after the collapse of the Soviet Union. I have already talked about this, but I can repeat what I have said. We are ready to look for decisions, even to increase our efforts in this direction, but we will never impose ourselves, and do not consider that we have the right to impose ourselves, upon the people of Azerbaijan or Armenia. The peoples of these two countries should find a solution themselves. We are ready to participate in looking for a solution, and are prepared to act as guarantors for any agreements which may be reached.
Quite recently, I discussed this topic with French President Jacques Chirac, who essentially phoned me specifically about this issue, knowing that I was supposed to meet with the Azerbaijan President.
Together with the international community, we will truly strive towards achieving a settlement. The only thing that I can say quite precisely and certainly is that Russia is interested for all conflicts, including the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, to be resolved. This will free our hands for full cooperation with both Azerbaijan and Armenia, and this is something we truly want. The continuation of the current abnormal situation is the only restriction on the development of bilateral ties in both directions. We are extremely interested for this situation to be changed, and we will do everything we can for this to take place as quickly as possible. We will support the efforts of the two Presidents in this area.
As for the development of bilateral ties in the context of today's visit, I do not doubt that this will be a good stimulus, and I would note that the current President of Azerbaijan is deeply involved in our bilateral relations. He is clearly not a novice in these matters, and is well versed in many things. We talked face to face for almost an hour, or maybe even more. And we talked about details, and discussed quite specific economic and political issues. They were issues of international affairs and economic cooperation. I am certain that adjustments in accordance with the wishes that the President expressed will also be made in the activity of certain Russian ministries and departments. This will be useful for bilateral relations. There is no doubt about this.
Question: Today is a hard day, and President Aliyev has already talked about the terrorist attack in Moscow. Mr Putin, you have always said that it is impossible to fight this terrible evil alone, that it can only be done together. Everyone is interested in how these efforts in fighting terrorism can be realised in practice. What have you decided, how can this be done with Azerbaijan?
Vladimir Putin (adding to Mr Aliyev's comments): I believe that what the Azerbaijani President has just said is very important. Particularly his final comments about consolidating the efforts of the entire international community. But before I answer this question, I would also like to express my condolences to all those who were injured, and the families of those killed. It is a serious crime and a serious ordeal for the people who have suffered, and for our entire country.
Why did I draw attention to the Azerbaijani President's words about consolidating the efforts of the entire international community? Once more, we hear calls from abroad to hold talks with Maskhadov. This is not the first time we have encountered crimes committed on Russian territory coinciding with calls to hold talks with terrorists. The fact that we are called upon to hold talks with Maskhadov after crimes of this kind are committed shows that those who call on us to hold these talks indirectly confirm Maskhadov's link with terrorists.
As a matter of fact, we do not need any indirect or additional confirmation – we know for certain that Maskhadov and his militants are linked with this terror. There are examples of such crimes coinciding with certain elements in the Russian Federation itself. I do not exclude the possibility that this will be used in the course of internal political debates in the Russian presidential elections, and will be used as a means to put pressure on the current head of state. But the commonly accepted international principle of fighting terror is an unconditional refusal to hold any dialogue with terrorists, as any contacts with terrorists encourage them to commit new, even bloodier crimes. Russia has not done this, and will not do this in future.
Russia does not hold talks with terrorists. It destroys them.