Do you expect any changes in the foreign political policy of Azerbaijan, particularly, in the country’s relations with the EU and the US following the parliamentary elections in Azerbaijan?
Azerbaijan is a presidential republic and according to the Constitution, the foreign policy is determined by the President, not the Parliament, like in all states with presidential regime. Therefore, one should not connect any foreign political changes with the parliamentary elections. As regards the response of the European Union or the United States to the results of the parliamentary elections in Azerbaijan, Brussels and Washington have expressed willingness to continue the cooperation with Baku in the priority areas. So, no revision of relations is expected.
How would you explain Azerbaijan’s obvious inclination towards Russia, along with the current deterioration of relations with the West?
Baku has maintained its multi-vector foreign policy for many years, though it is getting more and more difficult to do that with every passing year. In the meantime, the deterioration of the West-Russia relations mostly due to the Ukrainian crisis has really had a negative effect on the foreign political agenda of all the post-Soviet countries, especially those participating in the Eastern Partnership program. Facing the “either…or” situation, most of these countries had to quit the balanced foreign political course and to give the preference to developing relations with one of the parties to the conflict, which is taking more and more global shape. The choice proved painful for some of the process participants. Others took a decision to retain their balanced foreign policy. Meanwhile, Azerbaijan supported the territorial integrity of Ukraine and this decision met the West’s interests. At the same time, however, Azerbaijan refused to take part in the anti-Russian plans of Western countries. Neither did it participate in any actions that could have a negative effect on the Azerbaijani-Russian relations. Moscow understood Baku’s behavior but the response of a number of leading Western capitals was rather negative. After that, Baku underwent tough political pressure. One of the vivid examples is that the OSCE/ODIHR has ignored the parliamentary elections in Azerbaijan. This is an unprecedented case in the Azerbaijani-OSCE relations. Moscow, in turn, qualified this step as political pressure and supported Azerbaijan. This is also an unprecedented step. Quite many cases of such unprecedented pressure by the West and unprecedented support by Russia have been registered recently. This creates an impression that Azerbaijan starts giving its preference to Russia.
The Azerbaijani foreign minister does not rule out accession of the country to the Eurasian Economic Union. How do you assess such prospects?
To be precise, when speaking of the prospects of Azerbaijan’s accession to the EEU, the Azerbaijani foreign minister said: “Never say never”. No clear explanations were made. Mammadyarov only added that Azerbaijan focuses its efforts “on establishing bilateral relations” with the EEU countries. I think it is early to say something specific about Azerbaijan’s possible accession to the EEU. The EEU membership implies removal of all customs and other barriers among the member states. Given the unresolved Karabakh conflict, which fails to contribute to removal of the barriers between Armenia and Azerbaijan and creates serious obstacles to economic integration, Baku’s alignment with the EEU is not in the offing. Nevertheless, one should understand that the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan is not eternal. Hopefully, the settlement of the conflict will mark the beginning of new times in the region and it will be quite realistic to speak of implementation of joint projects. The EEU may become one of such projects.
What would you say about the chief of the Turkish Armed Forces General Staff Hulusi Akar’s statement on Turkey’s willingness to liberate Azerbaijan’s territories from occupation?
I think it’s no secret that the Azerbaijani-Turkish military and technical cooperation has both military and political aspects. Since the first days of establishment of the Azerbaijani armed forces, Turkey has supported Azerbaijan in both staff training and implementation of military-technical programs. The key task of the Azerbaijani army has always been to liberate the territories, which are currently under control of the Armenian armed forces or, rather, under occupation. Thus, the Turkish armed forces are making their own contribution to the Azerbaijani army’s preparations for liberation of their territories. This was the core of the statement on willingness to contribute to liberation of Azerbaijani territories.
Can the parliamentary election results in Turkey influence the relations with Azerbaijan?
Even if they can, the impact will be positive. The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has won the parliamentary elections. That party has always been committed to comprehensive rapprochement with Azerbaijan. Now that it is getting an opportunity to form a one-party government, there are no serious reasons to change the course. The Baku-Ankara dialogue is developing in many directions, with most of them initiated during the AKP’s rule. Under the current conditions, both countries seek to intensify that dialogue and make it more dynamic with due regard for the reality in the global and regional politics.
The agreements on the Iranian nuclear deal open up new geopolitical opportunities for Tehran. What do you think about the prospects of Baku-Tehran relations amid the strengthening role of the southern neighbor?
The relations with Iran are one of the foreign political priorities of Azerbaijan. Amid the current significant conditions for diversification of the trade and economic cooperation between the countries, the 1 billion USD commodity turnover does not comply with the real potential. There used to be many Azerbaijani-Iranian joint ventures, investment cooperation and banking cooperation, however, the sanctions slackened that cooperation. For instance, the construction of the Azerbaijani-Iranian railway section within the North-South program turned into a real long-delayed project not least because of the financial difficulties suffered by Iran. Hopefully, under the new circumstances the project implementation will be accelerated. There may be initiatives of joint investment projects. Such initiatives are already being voiced in the energy sector and they may be followed by initiatives in other fields, for instance, in borderline cooperation. In addition, Iran is holding active consultations with Azerbaijan over the possibility of use of its transport and pipeline infrastructure to supply the Iranian goods and, first of all, energy resources to European markets. On the whole, the end to Iran’s isolation is a positive phenomenon in the regional policy and Azerbaijan has optimistic expectations from it.