Geopolitica.info had the opportunity to meet HE Vaqif Sadiqov, Ambassador of Azerbaijan in Italy, Malta, San Marino and some of the most important international institutions hosted in Rome.
Ambassador Mr. Sadiqov, we attended the meeting “In the heart of Eurasia”, in which Azerbaijan with Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan took part. These three countries are very rich in natural resources and are characterized by a strategic geographical position. When they belonged to the Soviet Union, units of strategic importance – such as military bases and Space facilities – and oil and gas plants were placed on their very territories. Which are now the most important infrastructures and facilities that guarantee stability and security of the Region?
After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, Azerbaijan had to face a very difficult period in its history. We had an unbelievable inflation rate of 18 hundred per cent. Only after the year 1993 the Azerbaijan economy started slowly to grow. Signing the agreement on opening up of the oil and gas recourses of the Caspian Sea was a very important milestone in this process.That is why the most important infrastructure today is the oil and gas industry, in which we have recently invested 40 bln.dollars. 85% of the Azerbaijan oil and gas is produced in the Caspian Sea, the rest is on shore facilities. But we do not want to be dependant only on one sector, that is why the industrial and agricultural development is of a paramount importance to Azerbaijan nowadays. 2014 is announced the year of industry in our country. We use the revenues from the oil and gas industry and invest it in other economical sectors, like agriculture and infrastructure. Last year we invested 28 bln dollars in the development of the country, only 9 bln of this sum were the foreign investments. As for the military facilities, I would like to remind that Azerbaijan has no foreign military bases on its territory and we are convinced that the stability in the region is achieved primary by economic, scientific and technological development. In our case, we still have one unsolved question, namely Nagorny Karabakh issue, that is why we still have to take care about our military forces.
Recently one can often see statements in mass-media about Azerbaijan using its revenue form the oil and gas industry for strengthening its army. This fact is not to be taken out of the contest. 20 % of the Azerbaijan territory is under occupation by Armenia at the moment. We sincerely hope to be able to settle this conflict in a peaceful way, as we have been trying to do it in the last 22 years but we have never taken a commitment not to use military force. I do not see why we should be ashamed to spend petrodollars to buy tanks? It is our own revenue and it is up to us to decide how to use it. Besides we are not in peaceful circumstances, but in a situation when 20 % of our territory is under occupation, that is why we wish to increase our defence capacity, like other countries do. Besides, we use 13% of our budget on arms, while Armenia uses 20 %, taking in consideration that Armenia as a member of Collective Security Treaty gets arms on discounted prices and we pay a full price, buying it on the international market.
Yesterday the Chief Executive Officer of ENI Paolo Scaroni announced that the South Stream Project might end up in a stalemate. How would you comment it?
The gas from Azerbaijan to Italy arrives by means of two pipelines: Trans-Anatolian pipeline and Trans-Adriatic pipeline. The Trans-Anatolian pipeline is due to completion by 2018, initially Azerbaijan’s share in it was 80%, now it is a little less since we sold some of our share to other countries. As far as the Trans-Adriatic pipeline is concerned which is due to completion in 2019, we have some ecological issues, but they are not only our concern but of the entire consortium. We will fulfil our commitments providing the gas on time in accordance with the contract signed.
Can we state that the Ukrainian crisis will contribute to the development of Trans-Adriatic pipeline development?
Yes, it is obvious, the main part of the gas which arrives to Europe is transported through Ukraine. Of course we do not consider the Trans- Adriatic pipeline as a solution for the entire Europe, it cannot compete with the huge volumes of gas that Europe receives from the Russian Federation, but it is an additional option, an alternative, so to say, and by no means a substitution of the deliveries from Russia.
Azerbaijan is one of the three pieces of the Southern Caucasus, historically and geopolitically it has always been a “sensitive” region. The territories governed by Baku, in particular in the Caspian Sea, through the Georgian connection with the Black Sea, create a truly interconnected system of “inner seas”. We cannot also forget that the Country is a real logistical base in the “hot” macro-region of the “Greater” Middle East, the “Iraq+Iran” area and the “Afpaq” region (Afghanistan+Pakistan). This importance has been recognized by USA which have progressively intensified their relations with Azerbaijan. Which role for security does Azerbaijan want to play in this context, even if involved in a “still-open” conflict with Armenia in Karabakh? Can the Azerbaijan government tolerate the occupation of more than 20% of its territory?
I repeat that our priority is to settle the conflict in the peaceful way. We propose several stages of the conflict settlement:
- withdrawal of the Armenian armed forces from the occupied territories of Azerbaijan;
- demilitarization of the territories under occupation;
- return of the Azerbaijani displaced persons to their homes (750.000 people in Azerbaijan);
- Azerbaijan alone will financially support the clean up of these territories;
- Restoration of the communications with Armenia;
- Referendum on the future status of Nagorny Kharabakh within the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, not before the Azerbaijan population of these territories is back to their homes.
As an independent State, characterized by constant and rapid growth and development, opened to a global dimension, Azerbaijan seeks not only for foreign investments, but also for high technologies and know-how. That is why you are particularly interested in bringing the best of “made in Italy”, not only as a ready-made product, but also as a production process and technology. Which tools does the Baku government want to employ, improving the level of the country’s competition in Eurasia and in the world?
In the 90s we collaborated with our foreign partners mostly in commercial sphere. Now we are interested in long-turn foreign investments and production development. The foreign investors have privileged condition and low tax rates in Azerbaijan. The procedure to open a new joint venture has been simplified and will take no more than a couple of days. Now we also invest abroad, for instance in Georgia, Turkey, Kazakhstan, Romania, Bulgaria, Switzerland etc. We are also ready to invest to the third countries together with Italy, for example. These might be Latin American, Asian, African countries.
Energy issue is mentioned in all the contexts as a priority for the stability of the Region: the cooperation in oil and gas field is still of high importance for your Country, but recently, there has been a decisive strategic shift to the innovation, the high technologies sectors and the cultural action. The links with Italy are strong: cultural activities in Italy. There are cultural activities in Rome and in the most important Italian Cities (we mention that Baku and Naples are sister cities). Which results are you expecting from this active “cultural diplomacy”?
We are happy that our relations with Italy go back with its roots to the Middle Ages, when we had our envoys in Venice and Genoa. Since 1919 for two years there was an Italian Embassy in Azerbaijan Republic. We have a long history of mutual recognition. For us establishing relations with Italy, especially with its regions is of high importance. It gives an additional support to the efforts done on the federal level. We will continue moving in this direction of artistic and cultural cooperation both here in Italy and in Azerbaijan for the good of our societies and peoples.