Belarus, Minsk, Nov. 11 / Trend , E. Huseynov/
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko spoke with Trend in an exclusive interview on the eve of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev's official visit to Minsk on Nov. 12.
Trend : What are key main issues to be discussed during President Ilham Aliyev's forthcoming visit to Minsk? What do you expect from this meeting?
Alexander Lukashenko: I am really looking forward to our meeting with Ilham Aliyev. We have a friendly relation, you know it very well. I have very good attitude toward Ilham Aliyev's family, especially to his father. During the Soviet period, as a lecturer on international affairs, I often turned to his family, his activity. When he was transferred to Moscow, there were a lot of rumors about Heydar Aliyev's anti-corruption activities. In this respect, he was a very principled man.
I have very closely acquainted with Ilham Aliyev, not just as a president with his counterpart. I have a good relationship with many presidents, but I have friendly relationship only with a few, including Ilham Aliyev. I am personally waiting for our meeting. We have something to discuss.
We have formed a good legal framework and we do not have any problems in co-operation of governments, agencies, enterprises, representatives of large, medium and small enterprises. Azerbaijan welcomes us and respects us every time. The word of Belarus is the best pass to anywhere in Azerbaijan - I know it, and I have been convinced of that, being in Azerbaijan.
We created a lot of enterprises there, though we started with the assembly processes. And now we are transferring production to Azerbaijan. Many Azerbaijani companies operate to produce separate components for our technology, which we collect from them and produce. And, by the way, we are ready to cooperate in this direction, as it is a very promising trend.
Q: Are you satisfied with the current level of cooperation between Azerbaijan and Belarus? What is the current potential to develop interstate relations, including in trade and economic fields?
A: Trade and economic relations are our second promising field of cooperation. We need to get from you products, which we lack. You are successfully doing this now buying our products. I was very pleased to hear, when after some personal testing of military and civilian samples of products supplied to Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev said that "we will buy only Belarusian products for the military and civilian sector". It is worth a lot, when the head of state believes that the Belarusian products are absolutely competitive not only in term of price, but also quality. No one can and will be able to compete in Azerbaijan on the types of products that we manufacture in Belarus. And it is also very important. Therefore, this economic cooperation should be expanded.
You see, we have increased trade turnover by 10 times for 5 years. But the figure a little more than $100 million does not meet our countries' potential. We need to move faster and bring trade turnover to $500 million. Even if the Azerbaijani market does not need our products in this amount, we should create the production there and together with Azerbaijan to trade with the third countries. By the way, we have already successfully launched it. This includes technology, electronics, optics, and radio-electronics, as well as high-tech production. Azerbaijan with great pleasure helps us to create joint assembly plants and joint ventures there.
You are building a lot, very much. When I was in Baku, I was very surprised at such a scale. Of course, the country is rich, even there are some problems. I really liked the concept of construction of all Baku and it is very socially correctly oriented in Azerbaijan. I liked the seafront development project and construction of several bridges. Ilham Aliyev invited us to work there, and we are very interested in this. Our builders are ready to work in Azerbaijan. We can supply construction equipment to Azerbaijan to create facilities for the production of construction materials.
In short, there are a lot of directions for cooperation. And most importantly, we are not competitors for the manufacture of this or other product. Those that we produce, you do not have, and that what you produce, we do not have. So, we can exchange. And it is very good. Therefore, during the forthcoming visit, we will discuss many issues, and even new issues that will give dynamics and impetus to our cooperation.
Q: Which strategy does Belarus have to resolve "frozen conflicts" in the CIS territory, particularly, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict?
A: To be frank, we cannot be distanced from these problems. Still Azerbaijan is a native country to us, as once we resided together within a unified country. Azerbaijanis are honest people, real Caucasians, as I frequently tell them.
We cannot be distanced on definite problems, including Trans-Dniestr, Crimea and Nagorno-Karabakh. I discussed frequently this issue in friendly conditions with the former and present presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia. I have never interfered problems and nuances, existing in these problems. We have never used this question in politics and have never become friends against anyone. So, it is not a problem for us, but a painful matter.
We well understand how painful and important it is for both Armenian and Azerbaijani peoples. This 'Gordian knot' should be cut. And the main thing that I have always said to the presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia that this problem should be solved by the two presidents. One should not rely on any intermediaries. Although there is the OSCE Minsk Group, if Minsk as the center of this group can contribute to resolution of the conflict, we will be happy to do it. But only the two presidents can solve this issue. Involvement of intermediaries may be good, but it provokes the commitments binding the opinions of the third, fourth and fifth parties. Everyone will try to build a policy for itself based in this issue. If I reason correctly and you agree with this, then you must agree upon the fact that the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan can solve this problem. How to solve? First of all, it should take place based on interests of people residing there. They cannot live in such situation and conditions. Smart people will always find a way to resolve it, or at least, they must find.
Therefore, we support the process in the direction that this issue should be resolved by the two countries, two presidents and two peoples. Sit down, be determined and resolve. And people will always thank for it.
Q: What is your assessment of the implementation of the program for long-term socio-economic cooperation between Belarus and Azerbaijan by 2015?
A: The value of this program is that this is a kind of a long-term program. For this period, we outlined a framework in which direction we will promote the economic cooperation between the two countries. After adopting this program, we have signed several agreements to develop it. It is very important that it describes the way which we should move through. The 10-time-rise of the trade turnover is the merit of this program.
I think by times we will seriously correct the program. We have not even thought we could develop our cooperation. However, it is very large, because it has intensified more and respectively, is implemented in a speedy fashion. Therefore, it is subject to adjustment. And, thank God that we will reach a greater cooperation between our countries. But as a kind of mid-term paper, the program has played its role.
Q: Azerbaijan and Belarus cooperate fruitfully in the field of agriculture and agricultural machinery. Particularly, it concerns the project of assembly and sales of Belarusian tractors and trucks in Azerbaijan and their joint sale to the third countries. How do you view the existing cooperation in the field of agricultural technology and prospects of development of these projects?
A: Prospects are very large, but the feature that I want to note is that we did not feel such a support for the establishment of similar enterprises in any other country. As I said earlier, we first created the assembly production and now we are going to localize - the Azerbaijani side is beginning to produce what it can produce, relying on the level of economic development in order not to degrade the quality of a product. In this case, we mean tractors, cars, etc. Azerbaijan is a kind of our stronghold in the Caucasus. We will develop a base there and it will create more production. Now, as far as I know, we are going to produce truck cranes on the basis of "MAZ" in Azerbaijan.
We are going to manufacture elevators there. Many elevators made at the Mogilev Elevator Factory during the Soviet period are used in Azerbaijan and need repair and replacement. It is better to produce them in Azerbaijan.
It will do so in other directions, including agricultural machinery, other enterprises. Of course, if Azerbaijan is interested in it. But there is an interest, as we have used to trade with third country in your territory. I think we with Ilham Aliyev will more specifically discuss the issue.
We receive many appeals from many Belarusian enterprises to raise this matter to receive the support from Azerbaijan. I think that we will get support from the Azerbaijani President and will even more intensively develop the production of our technology in this country. You will only win from this, because agriculture is developing in your country. And in this regard, rapid growth needs technology.
Q: You know, Azerbaijan have large hydrocarbon reserves, which are exported in different directions. Is Belarus interested in purchasing hydrocarbons from the Caspian region and, in particular, from Azerbaijan? What projects of cooperation in the energy field may be interesting for our countries?
A: A very important question. We have repeatedly approached the solution of this question. We have seriously calculated the options for hydrocarbon deliveries to Belarus, in particularly, oil. Indeed, it would be very well if the neighboring countries would be interested to supply us with oil and gas. Unfortunately, there is struggle for markets and no one will hand over it easily. But we need to diversify raw hydrocarbons supplies.
Russia is a friendly country to us, but we need diversification. We cannot depend on hydrocarbon deliveries only due to one country.
We calculated the oil supply routes through Ukraine and discussed this issue with the president of this country for a long time, and we talked about this in our last meeting. This is the route of supply by tankers to the Ukrainian Black Sea coast, and then by rail to our refineries. One more direction is the Odessa-Brody pipeline. I think this option is possible, and we can deliver your high quality oil to our plants for refinery absolutely without any problem.
Of course, one should know that it will be an intervention into the established market, the countries have been trading here a long ago, and there are definite relations. Therefore, this is not an easy process. One should take into account the export price of Azerbaijani oil is still too high now and economy is not take shape in another end of the pipeline - in the oil refinery plant. But it is so only for the time being. We have calculated these options and will launch this project as soon as we reach agreement and it becomes profitable commercially. Ukraine, Belarus and Azerbaijan, as well as other Caspian littoral countries, are interested in it.
There is not alternative to development of cooperation between our countries. I would ask you to convey my best wishes to the Azerbaijanis leaders, and especially, friendly, fraternal and long-suffering Azerbaijani people. We well remember that we have loyal friends in Caucasus like Azerbaijanis.