In an interview with local TV channels on January 10, 2023, Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev commented on multiple issues on the internal and foreign policy agenda of Baku.
He gave detailed insights into the country's economic and political achievements in 2022, the future of the regional transport projects, the energy cooperation with Europe, the future of the Zangezur Corridor, the Azerbaijan-Armenia normalization, the peace with Armenia, the growing national military potential, the main foreign policy directions and more.
Caspian News compiled below the key takeaways from the president's interview:
- During the two years since the Second Karabakh War of 2020, Azerbaijan achieved its goals on the international relations level and within the country. The world has accepted the war’s outcome.
- Azerbaijan's GDP reached a record high of $80 billion; foreign trade exceeded $50 billion, with a $25 billion positive balance, and foreign debt decreased to below $ 7 billion and in relation to the GDP.
- Azerbaijan has been implementing projects in the field of transport with all the main activities related to the Middle Corridor and the North-South transportation corridor crossing through Azerbaijan being completed. Baku is convinced that 15 million to 30 million tons of cargo can be transported across Azerbaijan through the North-South transportation corridor alone.
- There should also be new routes for cargo from Central Asia. The economic viability of the Zangezur Corridor is beyond doubt. In the trilateral statement of November 10, 2020, it is explicitly stated that there should be a transport connection between the western regions of Azerbaijan and the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic, and Armenia should provide it. However, Armenia wants to shy away from that and has not fulfilled its obligations for more than two years. But that won't stop Azerbaijan, because this is a strategic project, not just for the country but also for several neighboring countries and the broader geography. The realization of the Zangezur Corridor is a historical necessity. It will happen whether Armenia wants it or not.
- Azerbaijanis deported from Western Azerbaijan, i.e. modern-day Armenia should return to their ancestral lands; this is their right, and all international conventions recognize this right of theirs. Azerbaijan must do its best to secure this right peacefully.
- Interest in Azerbaijan's energy resources has increased significantly. Azerbaijan is a reliable partner for many countries, including countries that are members of the European Union. With 2.6 trillion cubic meters of confirmed minimum reserves of natural gas, Azerbaijan's fields will be able to supply gas to international markets for at least another 100 years. About 24 billion cubic meters of Azerbaijani gas exports are expected in 2023. Successful implementation of certain projects will allow Azerbaijani fossil fuel to reach new markets in the Balkans and Western Europe.
- Years of discussions about the Trans-Caspian pipeline have not yielded a result. There are several critical issues regarding the implementation of this project, one of which is who will finance this project. There is still no clarity regarding the Trans-Caspian pipeline project. It should be known who will take this project forward and what will be its financial capacity.
- Azerbaijan monitors and knows which countries are preparing to supply arms to Armenia. Regrettably, India is among them, which Baku considers an unfriendly action. These weapons, especially offensive weapons, have a target, and it is Azerbaijan. Therefore, of course, Azerbaijan is taking the necessary measures and cannot allow Armenia to pose a threat.
- Azerbaijan has no intention of starting a third war with Armenia. Baku hopes that 2023 brings an actual end to the Second Karabakh War and that such Armenian provocations of 2022 do not happen this year. However, if a threat surfaces again against Azerbaijan, it will be immediately eliminated with all the means at Baku's disposal. This is a warning to Armenia and those behind it.
- Azerbaijan works hard to apply the national army's combat experience based on the new military concept. New commando forces have already been fully formed, becoming a significant component, and this process is ongoing. New commando forces will be created. Their number will be increased. The size of Special Forces, the number of special forces within the State Border Service, Internal Troops, State Security Service and Foreign Intelligence Service, and special forces of the Nakhchivan Standalone Army has been and will be increased.
- Azerbaijan has signed new contracts with major Turkish and Israeli companies and companies from elsewhere. At the same time, negotiations with several leading companies to expand local military production are at the final stage.
- A new era is beginning for Azerbaijan’s military industry. It will be an export-oriented industry. Azerbaijan currently sells military products to more than 30 countries. There is a shortage in the world’s arms market. But the significant demand is still there. That is why Azerbaijan has to fill this market and can be an exporter of military products worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Baku aims for this and will move towards this goal.
- The current situation in Azerbaijan-France relations is the outcome of the efforts of the current French government. During the Second Karabakh war, France openly accused and slandered Azerbaijan. "I now demand an apology from them. They slandered us and said that we had brought in jihadists. There is not a single piece of evidence."
- During the Second Karabakh War, France launched an initiative against Azerbaijan in the UN. It did not work at the time. Then was the Francophonie endeavor, followed by the Prague meeting. In Francophonie, they failed. The French Senate and National Assembly adopted anti-Azerbaijani resolutions. It begs the question, why? "I cannot understand that. In other words, where is this inadequate attitude towards us coming from? I do not understand and do not even want to think about it. Let me say again: we both have gone on without one another. It has been the case so far. So, we do not need them. It is just that the situation is not normal, and we don’t believe that we are to blame."
- Azerbaijan's goal on the Lachin-Khankendi road is not a blockade. Some four hundred trucks of peacekeepers have passed through there – in less than a month. Of course, they also take food and other necessary goods to the Armenians living there. Permission is granted to the Red Cross every time they apply. Azerbaijan has legitimate demands. They failed to provide Azerbaijani experts access to the mines that were exploited illegally. The rally of the Azerbaijani eco-activists on the Lachin-Khankendi road will likely continue until this access is in place. Monitoring, inspection, and an end to illegal exploitation are necessary, and Azerbaijan will achieve that. Therefore, it is unfair to call the events happening on the Lachin-Khankendi road a blockade.
- Necessary conditions will be created for Armenians in the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan 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. Whoever does not want to become our citizen, the Lachin-Khankendi road is not closed; it is open. They can leave whenever they want; no one would stop them. The road is open.
- The Armenian side is disrupting the peace process. Azerbaijan put forward the five principles, it should be a straightforward paper, a simple document outlining the fundamental principles. There cannot be a conversation about Azerbaijan's internal problems and all issues related to Karabakh.
- This year will bring clarity to many issues. Baku believed that the peace agreement's signing would be possible before the end of last year. But it did not happen. Perhaps Armenia is waiting for some geopolitical changes, perhaps for something someone promised them. "Because it sure looks like someone has indeed promised them something. 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 last September, and are currently happening on the Lachin-Khankendi road, shows that “every man is for himself.” We can help. Help them not to drown entirely in this quagmire of Azerbaijanophobia and hysteria."
- "I think they will hear my messages and draw the correct conclusions. Again, I do not want to be seen as someone putting pressure. Under no circumstances have I shown any disrespect, not even about someone not deserving respect. I have to point it out again. Because I think this year will be the last chance for them [Armenia]. Because then comes 2024, and then in 2025, Russia's peacekeeping mission ends. They need to see slightly farther than their noses."
- After the “demise” of the Minsk Group, the European Union started to play its role in Azerbaijan-Armenia normalization, and Baku supported it. France has virtually isolated itself from this process. America and Russia remain. This is how Azerbaijan sees the negotiation at the moment. Of course, Europe can be there if it treats Azerbaijan fairly.
- Azerbaijan wants all former IDPs to return to their ancestral lands soon and will do its best to speed the process up. Hundreds of houses are being rebuilt and repaired in Lachin. Construction has already been started in many villages. Up to 100 settlements are to be reconstructed in the first stage. The construction of multi-story houses in Shusha, Aghdam, Fuzuli, and Zangilan has been started. The foundation of several villages has been laid. 2023 will see one of the first steps of the Great Return of Azerbaijanis to their lands.
- Karabakh and East Zangezur have been connected to the nationwide energy grid. Eleven hydropower plants have been built on liberated lands, and their generating capacity is about 55 megawatts. Construction of the Solar Power Station will begin this year in Jabrayil. Investment projects worth $23.5 million have already been approved in the Aghdam Industrial Park and $5.9 million in the Jabrayil Industrial Park. 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 on the liberated lands. The number of bridges will be more than 100. Fifty kilometers of tunnels are being built within the approved projects.
- The primary direction and goal of Azerbaijan's foreign policy are to create a more favorable environment for the country at the international level. Azerbaijan changed after the Karabakh War, and so did the world after the Russia-Ukraine War. These two changes are almost parallel processes in terms of time. Azerbaijan should strengthen its position in the region and the world. The primary issue is to reduce external risks to zero, which Baku has succeeded in doing so, and the steps that are being taken today, which are being discussed, are calculated precisely for this.
- Azerbaijan should choose the right place for itself and should not set a goal driven by unrealistic dreams. Azerbaijan's real interests must be served. Azerbaijan has opportunities to secure its political, economic, military, and diplomatic interests, and uses its 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."