International forum themed “COP29 and Green Vision for Azerbaijan” was held at ADA University

On April 23, ADA University hosted the international forum themed “COP29 and Green Vision for Azerbaijan”.


President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev attended the forum and responded to questions from the event participants.

Opening the forum, Rector of ADA University Hafiz Pashayev said: Your Excellency, Mr. President Ilham Aliyev.

Distinguished participants of the 6th ADA University Policy Forum.

It is a great honor to welcome you at our semiannual policy forum. This time, we have 64 participants from 30 countries. At the personal initiative and support President Ilham Aliyev we will be going tomorrow to beautiful city Lachin liberated from the Armenian occupation and is already witnessing the return of Azerbaijani IDPs.

Since our last forum back in December 2023, Azerbaijan has been unanimously supported as a next host of UN Climate Change Conference. This is another sign of our strong diplomacy at a global scale and well recognized reputation of Azerbaijan as a reliable partner for multilateral negotiations. Previously, Azerbaijan has successfully chaired other important organizations such as UN Security Council, Non-Aligned Movement, Organization of Turkic States and many others.

Baku is the birthplace of the world oil industry. Now, it is symbolic that in coming November tens of thousands of delegates are expected in Baku for COP29 Summit to discuss the future of our planet from climate change perspective.

ADA University is honored to be active academic partner of Organizing Committee in providing trainings, conferences and researches with relevant international institutions. This forum will contribute to the global policy discussions by adding the input on regional security, the vision of Azerbaijan regarding the energy transition and green growth, developments of green eco-friendly zones in Karabakh, wind and solar projects of Azerbaijan, future of green corridor into EU and many other issues.

We’d also like to focus on the environmental impact of the Armenian occupation, including the massive landmine problem and possible international legal tools to mitigate this damage.

Your Excellency, Mr. President, using this opportunity, please allow me to congratulate you and our nation with diplomatic success in regards to return of villages in Gazakh region by peaceful means. We wish you all the best in tireless efforts to bring prosperity and development to our region. We thank you for your time with us at ADA University, especially knowing how busy your schedule is. We hope that today's discussion and tomorrow's visit to Karabakh will further shed light on the regional developments. Undoubtedly, this will be of great assistance to our participating experts in their future analyses and materials to publish. Mr. President, the floor is yours.

President Ilham Aliyev: Dear guests, I am very glad to see you all. Welcome to Azerbaijan, I wish you a pleasant stay in our country and fruitful discussions, as always. I am grateful for being invited again to have an opportunity to talk to you.

I regularly participate in the ADA’s forum. As it was already said, last time we met here in the beginning of last December. So many things have happened since that time in Azerbaijan and around. I would say that all of these events develop in a positive direction, whether it's the process of normalization between Azerbaijan and Armenia, border delimitation, or if we talk about COP29. Of course, it's a sign of big respect and support to Azerbaijan from the international community. We are now in a very active phase of preparation. We had only less than one year. So, we must be very active and efficient in order to have good results.

Of course, the COP29 is a big responsibility for us, not only from the point of view of all these organizational issues, but also from the point of view of delivering results.

You will visit Lachin tomorrow. I see many familiar faces and also I know that there are new participants. Participants of the forum have already been to Shusha, Aghdam, Zangilan, and now Lachin. I am sure you will enjoy your trip. Lachin is one of the most beautiful parts of Azerbaijan. When we talk about a green future, you will see that Lachin is all green.

Of course, huge development is now underway. Seeing how we rebuilt the Lachin city and already one village next to it, you will actually see how Karabakh and Eastern Zangezur will look like after we complete the restoration work. Last May, I handed over the keys to the first inhabitants of Lachin who returned there after more than 30 years. Now, every month, the new residents are coming. As we estimated, the percentage of former refugees who want to go back to their native lands is even higher than we anticipated. Even those who have never been there, I mean, the young generation or children, they enjoy being there. So it really demonstrates how the Azerbaijani people are connected to their roots.

Lachin was occupied ten days after Shusha in May 1992. That was actually one of the most tragic parts of the First Karabakh War because land connection between Armenia and the Karabakh district of Azerbaijan was established as a result of that occupation. Thus, it allowed for a huge movement of weapons and military personnel from Armenia to our land.

The liberation of Lachin was also a demonstration of our strong political will. The biggest part of Lachin was liberated by political means. During the Second Karabakh War, we liberated the southern part of Lachin. And that was also a very important military victory. But, the biggest part, including the city, was liberated by political means. So, when I say that the occupied territories were liberated by military and political means, Lachin is a good example of that.

Now we are moving on the political track. I'm sure that we can achieve all our goals through political means, as we have already demonstrated.

So, I don't want to take much of your time with these introductory remarks. I think, it’s better if we leave more time for discussions. So, once again, thank you for the invitation. And thank you for being with us.

Assistant to the President of Azerbaijan Hikmet Hajiyev: Thank you, Mr. President. With your permission we can start discussion and a Q&A session. I will invite for the first question. Mrs. Daria Isachenko, Associate, German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), Germany.

Daria Isachenko: Thank you very much for this opportunity. My name is Daria Isachenko. I'm from the Center for Applied Turkish studies at the German Institute for International Security Affairs. I wanted to ask your opinion about the Eurasian integration over the last 2-3 years we've seen Azerbaijan participating in the summits and other events of the Eurasian Economic Union. Are you interested in Eurasian integration? What benefits do you see for Baku? And can it be expected if Azerbaijan might become a member. And if I may add another second question. This week you will be visiting Germany later. I was wondering what kind of what expectations do you have about this visit and thank you very much indeed for this opportunity. Thank you.

President Ilham Aliyev: It’s true that we have been invited to participate in some of the events of the Eurasian Economic Union at the level of President and at the level of Prime Minister.

I participated once as a guest of honor. Actually, with all the countries that are members of the Eurasian Union except Armenia, Azerbaijan has a very close partnership relationship. So, for us, this group of countries is not something very strange. So we know them very well. With respect to the plans, with respect to closer cooperation, Azerbaijan's economy is actually a self-sufficient economy. It demonstrates sustainable growth even in the period of crisis. We have very low foreign debt, which is now even below 8% of our GDP, which really demonstrates that we are among the leading countries in that respect - sustainable economies, self-based on natural resources, and diversified economies with good economic ties. By the way, bilateral ties with members of the Eurasian Union actually, are enough for us. So, if there are additional advantages and we see practical advantages of further integration, of course, we will evaluate that. If we really assess the benefits and shortcomings of being more associated with the Eurasian Union, of course, we will make the right decision.

According to the information which we have, there are certain economic disagreements emerging from time to time among the member states. As I said, except for Armenia, with all the rest of the members of the Eurasian Union, we have very good relations, including economic ties. So, of course, we don't want to find ourselves in a situation where we will have to fight or make steps, which will hurt some economic benefits of our parties. But again, all our steps, including those with respect to membership in international institutions, have always been based on pragmatism. The same I can say about our membership in the Non-Aligned Movement. We became a member of the Non-Aligned Movement something more than 10 years ago. That was a deliberate and well-analyzed step. After that, we became a chair and demonstrated our capability and also gained a lot of friends.

So far, we don't have such plans, but we cannot say that it will not be the case for elaboration in the future. Everything will depend on what additional economic benefits we may get from being closer. If we see it, yes, we will make a decision; if not, we are satisfied with what we have now.

With respect to German-Azerbaijani relations, I would say that in recent months we have seen more active interaction. I was invited to Germany and visited Germany last March, and met with the President, Chancellor. With the chancellor, we also met last February in Munich. And this time, I'm invited to participate in the Petersberg conference as the President of the host country of the COP29. This is a traditional conference held in Germany, and usually, the President of the host country is invited.

At the same time, there'll be meetings with leaders of Germany. I think that we are now on the good track of our cooperation. There is a big mutual economic interest. Recently, I met with a big group of representatives from the German business community and members of the German Eastern Economic Committee. There are a lot of plans of cooperation, of investments, of getting access to contracts with governmental structures. Of course, the political foundation is always important because in Germany, and of course in Azerbaijan, business always evaluates political risks. If the relations between the countries are stable, then, of course, business is guided by that. So, I would say that now we experience, maybe, one of the most active periods in our bilateral relations. We can assess it very positively.

Hikmet Hajiyev: Matthew Bryza, Board Member, The Jamestown Foundation, United States.

Matthew Bryza: Thanks so much, Mr. President for the honor of being here with you. These are some of the most interesting conversations I've ever had. Just seeing how and listening to how you respond to everything in detail, no notes. And thank you, Ambassador Rector Pashayev, for a chance to be here.

What an amazing nine months since last September? We were talking at lunch how Azerbaijan is taking quantum leaps in recovering all your territory, rebuilding them with these innovative technologies into green energy zones, smart municipalities, COP29. Getting back to Gazakh villages. Russian peacekeepers have left. It's unbelievable what has happened.

Organizing COP29 is obviously overwhelming. And it's which everybody has to spend most of their time on. But there's a strategic communications part I wanted to ask you about. What the strategy is? To tell Azerbaijan’s story about all these factors I just mentioned not in a way that promotes Azerbaijan because then people just think you're trying to manipulate the stage. But just tell the actual story because people are listening out there. They want Azerbaijan to succeed because they want COP29 to succeed. So how does the strategic communications plan look?

And I might add as a suggestion, maybe we can convene it, a regional greater Caspian group of NGOs and companies or like-minded people to focus on how this whole COP29 chairmanship for Azerbaijan came out of the peace process. And you were sitting there, telling us last December that Pashinyan and just lifted his veto. It's a really great story, but it's not going to be told unless there's some mechanism. Maybe to come up with a declaration at COP29 that leads to an ongoing working group year after year. Thank you.

President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you very much. Of course, we will evaluate these suggestions. And really, we want COP29 to be successful from the point of view of tackling the issues of climate change. At the same time, it's an opportunity to tell our story. And you are absolutely right that we have a lot of things to tell to the world and to tell the truth. I think one of the advantages of being a host country is that we will receive tens of thousands of people. Most of them will visit us for the first time. And they will have an opportunity for a maximum of two weeks or less to assess the situation themselves, how they feel here, what the country looks like, and what our plans are.

As you said in your comments, so many events have happened since we last met, and all of them in a positive direction. We didn't have any setbacks, didn't have any crisis. On the contrary, we are just building success after success. And everybody, at least in Azerbaijan and in the region, understands that it is not just by chance. All is based on thoughtful policy, on strategy, on proper tactics, on many other elements of our policy and diplomacy.

You're absolutely right, COP29 was the result of a peace process. Actually, though the main topic will be finance this time, as a host country, we can add additional agenda, and one of them — there will be several but — one of them will be peace. First, because it was a peace process that allowed us to become the host country as Armenia lifted the veto. We also took steps towards them. Actually, it is just more than COP and just more than what happened last December because it created more confidence between us. One of the biggest challenges is the lack of confidence, mutual or very low level of confidence.

This case demonstrates that we can at least not act against each other every time and at every stage. So, that was the first time when we did not act against each other on the international arena. On the contrary, well, we did not support each other, but we were neutral. I think, this is a success.

What we see now on border delimitation, I think, is one of the results of that step when we demonstrated that. A lot is to be done, of course, in order to build more confidence between the two countries and especially between the peoples. But what important is a tendency and which paths we are passing. I think the illustration of what I'm saying is really remarkable. Because COP29 in Azerbaijan is a result of the resolution of the conflict and progress on a peace track.

I think that in order to put your ideas on a more practical scale, it will be good if you can share more with us how you see these events being integrated with your activity. There will be a lot of side events during COP. Main international organizations will hold their events, even summits. Maybe you can also think of other forums at that time.

Usually, you convene in December, so you can reschedule a little bit. First of all, I'd like to invite you, if you have time, to visit us - we'll be happy - and also to think what else we can do.

Because now the Caucasus is one of the regions on the global scale where events develop rapidly. In order to direct them in the right direction, we need to be proactive. We cannot just sit and wait. If we do, we will lose. It’s not a time that you can relax.

I was saying that right after the Second Karabakh War that we had no time to celebrate, and we didn't celebrate. We worked and we continue to do it because a lot needs to be done.

I think that this agenda will lead to strengthening of security measures in the Caucasus, I mean, in the Southern Caucasus in general, and will create opportunities for at least consultations among three Southern Caucasian countries, which lead the way to future cooperation. I think it's a unique chance now. We've been deprived of that since the collapse of the Soviet Union, unlike the Baltic States, which started their independent journey in a peaceful environment while we had wars. So now, it's a chance to turn that page, and we're doing it, and I think COP29 is an excellent example.

What we are now seeing on the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and not you do not see what is behind the scenes. I mean the context between representatives of the two countries. Discussions are more open, more constructive. With respect to the border delimitation, Azerbaijan and Armenia behave in a very constructive way. What is seen is only a part. It is a result, but this result is based on regular contacts and positive dynamics. So, we need to consolidate on that and move forward.

Hikmet Hajiyev: Nigar Göksel, Türkiye and Cyprus Director, International Crisis Group, Türkiye.

Nigar Göksel: Thank you, Mr. President. I congratulate you for hosting of the UN Climate Summit. I am very excited about that. Actually, you somewhat answered what I was going to ask, which was, at what stage do you expect the Armenia-Azerbaijan peace track to be at the time of the summit? And how do you expect that hosting the summit might contribute both to Armenia-Azerbaijan dialogue but also to a wider regional cooperation?

President Ilham Aliyev: I think that taking into account what we have already discussed, there are good chances for having a serious progress on the peace track. Just going a little bit back, I want to say once again that it was Azerbaijan, the country which initiated the peace process. Because when the Second Karabakh War ended, there was a certain vacuum in the region and also beyond, and actually, nobody knew what is next. So, the war stopped. It was not yet the solution. And what is next?

So, we decided to launch this initiative and start negotiations, publicly announcing that. At the first stage, there was no response from the Armenian side. We can understand it. Because the results of the war were not very easy for them. Then, we made another step. We elaborated the basic principles for a peace agreement, those famous five basic principles, which we made public.

Actually, negotiation started based on those principles. Armenia added some different topics. That was actually the main obstacle because they wanted to integrate into the peace agreement between two sovereign countries, issues related to the so-called Nagorno-Karabakh, which was absolutely unacceptable for us because so-called Nagorno-Karabakh was and is the Karabakh region, an internal issue of Azerbaijan. And that was the main reason why we did not achieve progress. Because all the time they insisted on that paragraph, which was absolutely unacceptable for us. So, we saw that there was no way to come to an agreement.

It lasted until last September after we fully restored our sovereignty. But, there was another problem because after that the Armenian side took a break, and for at least two months did not respond to our comments because we have this practice of exchanging comments. Both foreign ministers do it regularly. I think, it’s already eight or seven times that we have exchanged comments on the draft agreement.

Negotiations resumed only relatively recently. My meeting with the Armenian Prime Minister took place two months ago only. After that, the ministers met, and we are grateful to Germany, to Chancellor Scholz for making this proposal and to Minister Baerbock for hosting the meeting of the two foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan. So, I would say that we are only now approaching the real substantive negotiations because after the full restoration of our sovereignty and territorial integrity, Armenia lifted that paragraph. So, they do not insist, obviously, any longer on any mentioning of so-called Karabakh in any aspect. So, actually, this eliminates the most important obstacle. The rest of the paragraphs, I think, can be agreed, because there is nothing new, nothing, which we invented. All the principles are based on international law norms and a pragmatic approach.

We've been approached by Kazakhstan with a proposal to have a meeting between the foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia in Kazakhstan, and we agreed to that. If Armenia also agrees, the next meeting of the foreign ministers of both countries will take place there. I also want to make it clear, we are not talking about any kind of mediation. Because what happens now on our border demonstrates that when we are left alone, nobody wants to use the situation for their political ambitions, we can agree sooner than later.

So, it is only the platform, only the premises, which we are talking about. And we are grateful also to the government of Kazakhstan for such a proposal. So I think now, we need to wait for the Armenian side to respond. But again, coming back to the substance of what is being discussed, I think that we are close and maybe closer than ever before. Because we've never been close during the times of occupation. We could not agree on basic principles at that time. Those famous Madrid principles, we could not even agree on that. We did not even have a draft of a peace agreement at that time. But now we have it. Now, we have a common understanding of how the peace agreement should look like. We only need to address the details, but of course, both sides need time. Because if signed, it will be a historical agreement for both countries. Therefore, every word, every full stop, every paragraph is important, but what’s important is that we both have the political will to do it.

Hikmet Hajiyev: James Sharp, Former British Ambassador to Azerbaijan, United Kingdom.

James Sharp: As you know, we hosted COP26 in Glasgow, three years ago now. And from our perspective, of course, being chairman gives you both opportunities and responsibilities. The key responsibility of the chairman will be to negotiate the consensus agreements on a whole range of issues that the countries need to decide upon to tackle climate change. But also, in this responsibility, we felt anyway, that we had to show the leadership in taking measures to show the rest of the world that we were doing what we wanted everyone else to do. We were going beyond what we're asking everybody else to do. So, at that time, of course, we were lobbying you and Mukhtar Babayev that Azerbaijan should be committed to net zero by 2050, of course, and you weren't able to meet that commitment at that time, but hopefully, as chairman you will be able to commit to that. But in terms of opportunity, I mean, we've partially covered this already, but it's an opportunity to shine the spotlight on the region on the Caucasus, the Caspian, the Central Asian region, and the problems environmental problems that these regions face as a result of climate change, such as the shrinkage of the Caspian Sea, which we see, increasing desertification and of course, some of the trans boundary river disputes that we see in Central Asia and in the Caucasus. So I was just, I'd be more interested in some of your… if you have ideas about how you might specifically want to address those environmental issues, the regional environmental issues. Thank you.

President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you. Even before we were awarded with COP29, we were seriously addressing environmental issues and trying to reduce the negative impact of climate change. As you correctly mentioned, everybody can see here, especially in summer when people go to the beaches, that the sea goes away year after year, which has never been like this before. There were periods when the sea came and went, but that was a process, but now the sea only goes, and this is a serious problem for environment and also for trade. We have to dig more canals in order to accommodate vessels. If the shrinking of the Caspian Sea continues like that, so we will face not only environmental issues but also serious connectivity issues. Because one of the important projects now being implemented, the Middle Corridor, passes through the Caspian Sea. So, it's a variety of issues. We are doing a lot on environmental protection here. You lived here for several years, so you know our agenda on that. We are doing a lot to clean the Absheron peninsula, and one of the prominent examples is the White City project, formerly known as the Black City. I don't know if all of you have been there, but if not, I would recommend visiting. We’ve built a city inside the city on the territory, which was completely polluted for decades, a part of Baku, which when we passed it by car, we always closed the windows because of the smell. Now it is a demonstration of green city planning and delivery. And another example is Bibiheybat bay, which was featured in a James Bond movie. If you watch that movie, you will see how it looked. But now it's one of the greenest parts of Baku. So, there are many examples like that. Now, we are also actively working on the water resources in Karabakh and Eastern Zangezur. We were deprived of them during the times of occupation. The main rivers, which have their source in Azerbaijan, are situated exactly there. During the times of occupation, Armenians were just closing the dams and depriving us of water in the season when we needed it, and opening in winter. So, hundreds of thousands of hectares of Azerbaijani land, which were supposed to be irrigated by water from Eastern Zangezur and Karabakh were not irrigated. So, now we are back. We are now controlling our water resources. We are planning to build several big water storages and the water canals, not only in that part but also in the central part of Azerbaijan. Our plans have already been announced, and really, it will allow us to save every drop of water, which now is just lost. In our old canals, we have a loss of about 30%, but with modernization and new technologies, the loss of water will be not more than 5%. With respect to transboundary rivers, this is the biggest concern because we cannot control that situation. There are objective and subjective reasons.

The objective reason, of course, is climate change. Objectively, there is less water in the rivers, but at the same time, we know that there are hydro-technical infrastructure projects on those rivers, which lead to their shallowing. The same we see, for instance, in the Volga River. Because the Volga River is a main source for the Caspian Sea. Now, when there is less water in the Volga River, obviously, the shrinkage of the Caspian Sea is not because of climate change. It's also because the Volga is not feeding the sea properly as it should be. So, of course, it is an issue of multilateral cooperation. With our neighbors, we are actively addressing these issues. Because if we don't take coordinated measures and proper steps, we will all suffer. Talking about in general with respect to results, we are committed to working actively with all the members. We have, I think, good opportunities for that.

Chairing the Non-Aligned Movement for four years has gained Azerbaijan a lot of friends who trust us. The countries of the Global South, of which Azerbaijan is a part of, today need special attention. Of course, one of the issues of disagreement with respect to climate issues is the responsibility of developed, developing, and underdeveloped countries, and this shared responsibility must be fair. Of course, negative contribution to climate problems must also be openly addressed. So, we think that with these good connections with many European countries, we can play a role as a coordinator or bridge. At the same time, being a country rich in oil and gas allows us to have more interaction with oil and gas-producing countries and to create a platform for responsibility for countries rich in oil and gas. Because these countries, including Azerbaijan, must take serious steps. We have already demonstrated this in the platform, which is called OPEC+, where coordinated reduction of production led to the stabilization of oil prices. We need to make coordinated efforts on the financial contribution of those countries, which produce oil and gas, and this will be absolutely objective. And we also are ready to do it. And another issue, which was a kind of innovation for COP29, is that we initiated and already established the Troika mechanism. It was Azerbaijan's initiative to have this format with COP28 UAE and COP30 Brazil. So, we have already had meetings of ministers, and that will help us plan. Because by November 2024, COP29 Baku will be finished, but the process should continue. We are now using the great experience of the UAE in preparation and delivery. So, being together in this Troika really creates synergy, coordination, and predictability.

We have other plans with respect to ideas, but it's probably a little bit premature to disclose them. But we treat our chairmanship not only as an opportunity to present our country, though that’s important but as an opportunity to contribute really to the practical resolution of the most urgent issues on global arena. I'm very glad to see you, Mr. Ambassador. Welcome back.

Hikmet Hajiyev: Alexandre Hedjazi, Director, Global Environmental Policy Program, University of Geneva, Switzerland.

Alexandre Hedjazi: Thank you very much. Mr. President, allow me to congratulate again as my colleagues, the presidency of COP29. From our position in Switzerland, we see a lot of interest in Azerbaijan. You're in the center of Eurasia surrounded by big sizable neighbors. And we see with a lot of interest how Azerbaijan has fulfilled its promise of coming up with its own - we're talking earlier with the youth here – Azerbaijani way and when it comes to bringing two success stories of Azerbaijan. One being one of the big players on Global Energy scene, and its new role as one of the prominent players on environmental scene, I wanted to ask for your insights on how you would like, how you foresee that massive investment that you've done within the last few years in the deployment of strategic infrastructure. I’m thinking for example of Port Baku in bringing these two elements that somehow could be contradictory - energy, trade and energy development and environmental stewardship. How do you foresee the use of these infrastructures that you've invested for your country to leave a legacy for Azerbaijan and Azerbaijan people and the region? Thank you.

President Ilham Aliyev: First of all, I'd like to say that all petroleum operations conducted in Azerbaijan since 1994 adhere to the standards of international environmental protection.

Our main investors are leading energy companies of the world. Of course, everybody knows that their attention to environment is a really good example. We witnessed it not only during activities on offshore rigs but also during the construction of major oil and gas pipelines, where special care was taken for birds, turtles, and other species, as well as archaeological excavations. There have been cases where they had to divert because of important archaeological findings. So, this is one thing. Another thing is that before independence, during the Soviet time, and during the times of Tsarist Russia, our energy resources were exploited without any concern for the environment. And that was how Baku was one of the most polluted cities of the world. We had oil leaks, we had oil spills, we had to spend hundreds of millions, and even billions of US dollars in order to clean that terrible legacy, which was an ecological catastrophe. What you see now in Baku, or cannot even imagine how it looked 10-20 years ago, because we made a lot of re-cultivation, a lot of cleanings, and a lot of ecologically friendly initiatives. Now as a COP29 chairman, the level of our responsibility, of course, is growing. First, because we treat this chairmanship with a very serious approach, and second, because we are in the spotlight. Immediately after we got the chairmanship, we've been attacked by different NGOs and media that, once again, an oil-producing country is chairing COP. So, it was as if having oil was our fault. And my message was, it is not our fault that we have oil. Look at how we use these resources. First of all, look how we use it for country development, poverty reduction, and fair distribution of wealth, as well as for infrastructure and green energy. Today, with stable oil and gas production, and even growing gas production, we are developing green energy projects. One important issue here is the restrictions imposed in Europe with respect to fossil fuels. We see a kind of contradiction here. We have already raised this issue in front of our European partners. On one hand, the European Union wants more gas from Azerbaijan. For this purpose, almost two years ago, the EU and Azerbaijan signed a Declaration on a strategic partnership in the energy field. Based on that, our gas supply to Europe should increase from 8 bcm in 2021 to 20 bcm by 2027. This is not an obligation, it is a target that we are moving towards. This year, our gas supply to Europe will be around 12 billion cubic meters, which is four billion more than in 2021. So, we have to invest more. We have to produce more. But there are restrictions on financial institutions financing fossil fuel projects. For instance, the European Investment Bank has completely took it out of their portfolio. The EBRD has a small portion for fossil fuel projects. So, how does Europe want to get more gas from Azerbaijan? When, first, they do not provide financing. Because for projects like those we have implemented, whether they are oil or gas pipelines, about 30% of the financing comes from corporations. The rest is lent money. So, this is the first question.

And second question is, they want us to produce and supply more, and they do, by the way. There are projects related to interconnectors construction in Europe. But at the same time, they do not give us a guarantee that our gas will be needed for a long time. So, we cannot invest billions only for 5-10 years and then not be able to recover the costs. The Southern Gas Corridor and investments in the Shah Deniz Stage 2 project have not yet reached the zero balance today. We are still repaying debts; whatever we get from gas sales, we have to cover the debts. So, these are the two most important issues we need to address with respect to EU-Azerbaijan gas cooperation.

As for the incorporation of green energy and fossil fuels, I think that the world will need fossil fuels for many more years. It would be, I think, naive to think that one day just it will stop. So, the world is not ready for that. The world’s economy is not ready for that, and industry is not ready for that. So, I think the best way will be to create synergy and to have an evolutionary way rather than to put a target, which cannot be reached. In our case, we have already started making active investments with our investors in green energy projects. Last October, we inaugurated the first 240-megawatt solar power plant, and this year, we will see the groundbreaking ceremony for four more solar and wind power plants with a total capacity of 1,300 megawatts. So, that will make our potential 1.5 or even more. But this is only the beginning because we have an enormous potential of wind, offshore and onshore, as well as solar energy, plus we add hydro. Only in Karabakh and Eastern Zangezur, the capacity of the hydropower stations has reached close to 170 megawatts in the last three years, and this is only the beginning. Thus, we will substitute a large portion of the gas we use to produce electricity with renewable sources, and this is absolutely realistic. What I'm saying is not our plans; we have already signed contracts. Already, the land has not only been selected but also commissioned for construction. So, probably in several months, maybe a maximum of three or four, we'll see all of what I'm saying.

If we bring renewable production in Azerbaijan up to five gigawatts, we can substitute a large portion of the natural gas, which we use for electricity. We can reach our target, which has been articulated with the percentage of renewables, in an even shorter period of time. And of course, the synergy here is that the gas we save by not using it in power stations can be sent to Europe, which needs it and will continue to need it. But not only Europe will need that, Europe will need additional green energy sources. Because even taking into account the huge investments European countries are making, they still will be in shortage. So, they will need additional energy, and we are working on that. As you know, the green energy cable from Caspian to the Black Sea and then further down to Europe is now in the last phase of feasibility study. As soon as the feasibility study is ready, we will start, and we are already discussing on a practical track the opportunities of connecting this cable with Central Asia. Actually, what we are talking now is that we're expanding that project. Because, it started as a Black Sea cable from the Georgian Black Sea to the Romanian Black Sea coast. We expanded it to the Caspian Sea, and now we're expanding it further down to the Eastern Caspian, to Kazakhstan.

Taking into account the investment projects in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan with renewables, there will be not energy deficit, but energy proficit in a relatively short period of time. The way of exporting will be again through Azerbaijan and further down to Europe. All these issues are closely connected with geopolitics and regional cooperation. Azerbaijan has always separated energy projects from politics, but at the same time integrated them only in a positive meaning. All our energy projects lead to cooperation. Today, if we look at the countries surrounded by the Southern Gas Corridor, we see that some of these countries do not have easy relations. But these projects unite. It's a shared interest. It is a win-win situation. And energy actually leads to peace. In history, we know that oil has led to war and bloodshed. Now, we are changing the paradigm. And so far, we've been successful.

It has been 30 years since Azerbaijan started its oil cooperation with international companies, being the first country to invite foreign oil companies to the Caspian Sea. I think, we have a brighter future by not abandoning fossil fuels. We will not do it, but at the same time, we will concentrate on the green agenda. Once again, thank you for raising this issue, and it would be good if we can elaborate on that more. Maybe closer to COP, we have more ideas about what we have just exchanged, making it also part of our agenda at the conference.

Hikmet Hajiyev: Xiaoyun Qiang, Director, Center for Russian and Central Asian Studies, Shanghai Institutes for International Studies (SIIS), China.

Xiaoyun Qiang: Thank you, Mr. President. My question about a bilateral relationship between China and Azerbaijan. As we know, Azerbaijan plays a unique and very important role as a bridge between the South and the North. East and the West. So, how do you say the prospects of cooperation between China and Azerbaijan in the development of the trans-Caspian international transport corridors? Thank you so much.

President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you. Our relations are developing very successfully based on mutual respect, mutual support, and recognition of each other’s territorial integrity. Azerbaijan was among the first countries to express its opinion with respect to the elections in Taiwan. We did not only express concern but also denounced it. So, our policy with respect to One China is very well-known to our Chinese partners, and China has always supported Azerbaijan's territorial integrity. So, this was a kind of a basis for our cooperation, but now, our cooperation is expanding in political and economic areas, as well as in transportation. I have met with President Xi Jinping many times and have had very good impressions from our meetings. And actually, these meetings gave additional impetus to our relations. We now see more Chinese companies as investors in Azerbaijan in the industrial sector, which we highly appreciate. Our political contacts are regular, and there is an exchange of high-level delegations. Of course, as you mentioned, the transportation part is also becoming more and more important. The Trans-Caspian Transport Route is needed today more than ever before. We see the growing volume of cargo going from China through Azerbaijan year after year. By the way, during the state visit of the President of Kazakhstan last month, we had a ceremony of joint welcoming the container train from Xi’an, which arrived in Baku. This was our joint demonstration of cooperation between our countries. Of course, Kazakhstan and China have much more active cooperation, but Azerbaijan and China are also developing their cooperation in a very promising and fruitful way.

I firmly believe in the great future of the Middle Corridor project here in Azerbaijan. We have constructed all the necessary infrastructure, including a modern new sea port. By the way, now we are working on expanding the sea port because today's handling capacity of 100,000 TEUs and a total of 15 million tonnes will not be enough. We'll learn how to understand it. We want to bring it to 25 million tonnes and 500,000 or even 1 million TEUs in order to be able to accommodate the growing volume of cargo not only from China but also from Central Asia. Because in today's geopolitical environment, this route, as I said, is needed. We also take additional steps with respect to institutional support because physical infrastructure is not enough. So, we have already created a joint venture between Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Georgia. We are now working actively on the digitalization of the transportation route. We are applying artificial intelligence systems in our customs administration. So, that the handling of cargoes will take less time, and transparency and control over cargoes are absolute. So, this is what we're doing now, apart from building railroads, seaports, etc.

You also mentioned the North-South Transport Corridor, which is no less important for Azerbaijan. It's really a geographical gift, I would say, that we are situated on this juncture as both roads cross our territory. With respect to North-South, we already have railroad infrastructure, which connects us with Russian and Iranian border. And soon, we will start to build new railroad infrastructure because we expect at least 15 million tons of cargo coming only from Russia to the Persian Gulf. And if we add cargoes from opposite direction, so, I think, 15 million is only the beginning. Today, our North-South railroad, the Azerbaijani segment can handle six seven million tons of cargo, which is enough for us and for transitors, but for the future, we will need additional railroads. So, we already are working on accumulation of financing. And not later than next year, we will start practical construction of that. Actually, a part from Russian border to Baku is being renovated already but now we need from Baku to the Iranian border. And last point on that, these roads will not be separate, because it will allow cargoes to go from South to West or from North to West, which is already happening now, using existing infrastructure. But with the new infrastructure, the volume will be bigger and of course that will increase geopolitical importance of Azerbaijan and definitely will bring additional financial benefits to us.

Hikmet Hajiyev: Yoko Hirose, Professor, Keio University, Japan.

Yoko Hirose: Mr. President, thank you so much for this great opportunity. I am Yoko Hirose, professor specializing in Azerbaijan and former USSR region. Recently, I wrote an article for the Azerbaijani Ministry of Foreign Affairs, magazine of world diplomacy about how you and your father had implemented great policy for IDPs. I sincerely respect your accomplishment and I am very honored to have this opportunity today.

Now Azerbaijan and Turkiye are increasing its international influence. I believe that Zangezur corridor will become ever more important as Azerbaijan increases its international and regional influence. As it seems Armenia and Iran are against the Zangezur corridor I understand that it. What kind of policy does Azerbaijan have regarding the Zangezur corridor? In addition, Russia recently withdrew from peacekeeping operation in Karabakh but according to 2020 peace agreement Russian forces were supposed to maintain peace after Zangezur corridor opened. What will happen in this regard? Furthermore, what will happen to the relationship between Azerbaijan and Russia and the future centering on the Karabakh issue. Thank you so much.

President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you. Several questions you asked, I will try to answer all of them. On the Zangezur corridor, as you mentioned, the trilateral statement signed on November 10th, 2020, clearly reflected this. Yes, the word “Zangezur corridor” was not mentioned, but it was said that there must be a connection. A transportation connection between the eastern part of Azerbaijan and the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic, with Russian border security forces provide control, must be established. So, that was signed by President Putin, Prime Minister Pashinyan, and myself. So now, Armenia has been violating this provision for more than three years. And again, they signed it themselves, and now they want to get rid of that paragraph, but it is not possible. And what they do is just block the possibility of building this land connection with the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic. This behavior, of course, is very disappointing. How the trilateral Statement was signed is a different story. What were the circumstances? Also, everybody knows that there was a signature by the Armenian Prime Minister, and it must be respected. So, seeing that the process got stuck, we actually had to find another option. And we found it. We started consultations with the Iranian side and agreed to make a bypass through Iranian territory, actually on the southern part of the Araz River. We only need two bridges for transportation, and maybe two additional bridges for railroad, and by the way, the construction of the automotive bridges has started. There was even a ground-breaking ceremony with the participation of high-ranking officials from Azerbaijan and Iran. What will be in the end? Armenia will lose. They want to become a crossroads, yeah, they call it the crossroads of peace. But in order to become a crossroads of peace, first, they have to agree with us. Because if Azerbaijan does not agree to that, it will be just a piece of paper or a statement. Without an agreement with us, it is absolutely useless. Unfortunately, they try to discuss it with different countries situated far, far away from the region. But when it comes to the point, they don't want to discuss it with us. Our position is very clear. The trilateral Statement must be respected.

Land access from mainland Azerbaijan to the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic through Armenia must be provided with international control and security mechanism. If they don't want now due to some reasons, that it should be Russian border security, they should say it. But again, it is something they signed themselves, and they must respect their signature. So, it's clear that they will lose the opportunity to become a transit country. They've never been a transit country as independent country. I mean, they will never become because all these speculations about the so-called “peace crossroads” are absolutely unrealistic without Azerbaijan. If they think that someone will come and build a railroad from Iran to Armenia and Georgia, they need to find someone who will spend maybe five to seven billion US dollars for nobody knows which reason while there is a land connection between Iran and Azerbaijan and the North-South Transport Corridor is being built, and there is a real connection between Azerbaijan and Georgia. So anyway, it is up to them how to plan their future.

But with respect to our plans, as I said, construction has started. Next year, we plan to complete the construction of the railroad, which was dismantled by Armenians during the times of occupation. From Fuzuli to Zangilan, it's almost done. And after that, along with highway bridge, we plan to build a railroad bridge to Iran and then back to Nakhchivan. So, that will allow us and other countries to use this road for transportation to Persian Gulf because that will be another extension of the north-south transport route because bypassing Armenia and coming Nakhchivan then extension is through Julfa to Iran and Iranian railroad. And also from Nakhchivan, there is a plan, which already was announced by Turkish Government to build a railroad connection between Nakhchivan and Kars. So, that will be also part of the East-West Transport Corridor. Today's capacity of the railroad we are building to Zangilan is around 5 million tons. But, if we see more cargoes, it can be expanded. So, Azerbaijan definitely will strengthen its position as a regional transportation center without having direct access to world ocean, but Armenia will remain just a deadlock as they are for more than thirty years.

With respect to the Russian peacekeepers, the announcement has already been made by the presidential administrations of Russia and Azerbaijan that they are leaving the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan before the timetable. And that was a joint decision by the leaders of Russia and Azerbaijan. I can also inform you how we negotiated this issue: I think it would be interesting. I have already revealed a couple of times in my meetings with Azerbaijani journalists that on November 9th, when we were negotiating the trilateral Statement through President Putin because we didn't have any contact with Armenian colleagues. So, there were several telephone conversations, agreeing every item of the trilateral Statement. It lasted from early in the morning until almost the morning of November 10th. That's why we always say that the Statement was signed on November 10th because it was already, I think, 2 a.m. or even 2:30 a.m. in Baku. The item regarding Russian peacekeepers was presented, and Armenia’s position was that there should be no time limit for them. In other words, they should stay forever. We could not agree with that. We insisted that there should be a time limit. That was one of the most difficult parts where both sides could not agree. For us, it was one of the most principal parts of the statement and our position was that if we do not agree on that, there'll be no statement and the war will continue. At that time, our troops were on the outskirts of Khankendi. We de facto controlled so-called Lachin corridor and the fate of 15,000 Armenian troops, which were surrounded. How we liberated Shusha, it was absolutely clear for everyone. They would have either surrendered or even worse for them. So, we said okay, there will be no agreement, we will continue. We will enter Khankendi within several hours. So, Armenia had to agree. Now I think they understand that we were right. So, a five-year term with the possibility of extension if neither side objects was actually the starting point of the withdrawal of troops. So, what could have been the situation if we didn't have that timetable? We can only guess. But again, the decision to withdraw troops earlier was made based on consultations between Azerbaijan and Russia. Azerbaijan is always committed to its international obligations. And our position was that if it is written November 2025, it must be November 2025. But at the same time, both Russia and Azerbaijan clearly understood that they could leave earlier, but again, it was a joint decision, and this decision, I think, only strengthened Russian-Azerbaijani relations.

And as you know, I was in Russia yesterday, and that's why we rescheduled the time of our meeting. I returned at 2:30 a.m. this morning. So, that's why I asked you to have the meeting not in the morning. So, I'm sure that this decision strengthened our relations and also the public perception or public appreciation of bilateral relations. Because it demonstrates that when countries have normal channels of communication, respect each other, cooperate, don't do anything against each other, they can find agreement on the most sensitive issues, and this example is a clear demonstration of that. Yesterday, once again, we reaffirmed the strategic substance of the relations between Russia and Azerbaijan. This is to the benefit of our country, I'm sure to the benefit of Russia, and to the benefit of the region.

Hikmet Hajiyev: Craig Oliphant, Senior Adviser, Foreign Policy Centre, United Kingdom.

Craig Oliphant: Thank you, Mr. President, for taking the time in a packed schedule, really to share your insights with us. Craig Oliphant from the Foreign Policy Center in London. Please let me echo the appreciation expressed already by others to you and the organizers for this really invaluable opportunity to meet you for such a timely and important discussion. My question already was partly covered, but could you comment further on the current outlook for border delimitation involving not only the return of the villages, as we've heard, but also the more complex issue of the exclaves. And obviously, we've all been following very closely the very welcome announcements from last week. How do you assess the prospects for implementation now moving forward, and the knock-on effect for the overall framework agreement? You mentioned a moment ago on COP29 coming out of the peace process and I wondered if I can turn that proposition into a question. Do you see the actual holding of COP29 in November as a propitious backcloth for further progress on reaching an outline agreement in the peace process like a kind of push-pull dynamic in action through 2024 Thank you.

President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you. I think, it is absolutely realistic to reach an agreement between Azerbaijan and Armenia before COP29, at least an agreement on our basic principles. I think, this is also an option: to agree on the basic principles and then to spend more time on details or wording. But even the draft can be ready, I think for that, both sides just need to work hard and maybe have many sessions of meetings, not just for one day, but maybe for several days.

Delimitation and a peace agreement are two separate issues. I think, it would be wrong to combine them and make one dependent on the other. For a very simple reason, our border with Armenia something around 1,000 kilometers, maybe more, maybe less. The biggest part of that border was under occupation for 30 years, from Kalbajar, from the Murov mountain to the Araz River, close to 500 kilometers. In Soviet times, even when we had administrative borders, some parts of the administrative border between the Armenian Soviet Republic and the Azerbaijan Soviet Republic were not identified. The biggest part of the border is absolutely uninhabited, and the height of the mountains is 3,500 meters, and for nine months a year, it is covered with snow. So, it's really a very difficult terrain. So, from a practical point of view, to delimitate this border within a short period of time is not possible.

Another two examples of the regional issues. Azerbaijan and Georgia, two friendly countries, and Armenia and Georgia, also two friendly countries, could not delimitate their border for more than 30 years. And not because, as I said, we have current problems, no. Both Armenia and Azerbaijan have friendly relations with Georgia, but just because it's a complicated issue. Our border with Georgia, I mean those segments of the border, which have been agreed is about 70% only. So, it's a slow process. It is a process, which needs a high level of accuracy. Therefore, if we wait until the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan is delimited and then sign a peace agreement. So, we will wait only maybe 30 years or more. So, our suggestion is to separate these two issues. Saying that I don't want someone to misinterpret our position, or produce speculations. Azerbaijan and Armenia, when agreed on declaration of October 2022, clearly demonstrated that we will base our relations on well-known 1991 Almaty Declaration. And second, we said that we do not have territorial claims against Armenia in case they don't have territorial claims against Azerbaijan. We demonstrated it to Armenia that if they continue to have territorial claims against Azerbaijan, we will have territorial claims against Armenia and what will be the result of that? I think, now everybody understands. After they publicly lifted territorial claims against Azerbaijan and recognized Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan, of course, from our side, there will be no territorial claims against Armenia. Therefore, I just wanted to make it clear. Because sometimes, those who are situated far away from here and want to behave as more Armenian than Armenians themselves wants to misinterpret our policy and our steps. Our policy and position is based only on pragmatism.

The beginning of delimitation from the occupied villages of Gazakh was our proposal. We told the Armenia side that if they really want to demonstrate that they're ready to move forward, they should do it because these are the villages, which were inhabited. It is not some uninhabited hills, which can be contested. They were inhabited by Azerbaijanis and were occupied. One of them was even occupied during the time of the Soviet Union in 1990. Actually, that's when the war started against us. And the fourth of them was occupied in 1992, after collapse of the Soviet Union. I think, around 10 or 12 kilometres of our state border, is already considered to be delimited. This is a significant moment. It is not by chance that many regional and non-regional countries already expressed their support to that. How the process will continue, we'll see. As I said previously, both sides demonstrated constructiveness. Both sides understand the sensitivity of this issue, and at the same time commitment to international law. I think if the same approach is applied at a later stage, we can move faster.

There is also one issue, which we always raise from point of view of pragmatism that the border should be, of course, delimitated based on principles but at the same time, there are such parts of that border, which create problems for both sides. It concerns the roads, sometimes, security mechanisms, the visibility of the depths, or the territory of each other. Therefore, we must be creative. We should not stick to the line and just go like a blind cat on that line. No, we take the line as a basis. But we must be reasonable and agree on such a border that will be safe and secure for both sides and comfortable for both sides. So, as I said, the biggest part of the border and its surroundings are not inhabited places, but there are parts where people live close to each other. One of them was exactly the territory of those four villages where the distance between the settlements may be several hundred meters or maybe less. When we raise this issue of four villages, we raised it actually right after the Second Karabakh War. We never forgot about them.

The issue of exclaves is a different story because it's more complicated as these exclaves are situated, of course, in the territory surrounded by other countries. Therefore, they must be addressed during the process of delimitation. If the Armenian side wants to address them now in the second stage, we are ready. If they want to address them later, we're also ready. After delimitation is finished and immediately demarcation is done now in that area of the four villages of the Gazakh region, I think, both sides, the two commissions on delimitation, must agree about the next steps. We don't want this issue to be a kind of isolated episode. We want to continue on the path of delimitation. I would suggest starting maybe from the easiest part. If the Armenian side wants to start with the most difficult part like exclaves, we're also ready for that.

Hikmet Hajiyev: Stanislav Pritchin, Head of Sector of Central Asia, IMEMO RAS, Russia.

Stanislav Pritchin: Mr. President, good afternoon. Thank you very much for your time. My question lost a little bit value after your comprehensive answer on an energy balance of Azerbaijan. But anyway, I will try. My question about nuclear energy because from the point of view of ecological damaging, probably this is one of the most secure kind of energy sources, especially taking into account that even recycling of solar panels usually now costs very, very high price. At the same time, it's very difficult to organize this process without damaging environment. Meanwhile, we see now the real breakthrough in nuclear energy from the point of view of using, for example, used fuel from old style reactors for new reactor. So, Russia's Rosatom is one of the leading companies here and from this perspective especially take into account that gas resources is huge in Azerbaijan but they are not endless and from the point of long-term environmental issues, does Azerbaijan consider the possibility of using low power reactors or generally nuclear power plants as the possible answer for long-term demands for energy. Thank you very much.

President Ilham Aliyev: We've been approached by Rosatom with different ideas, and now we are in the process of consultations with them. As you correctly mentioned, having huge deposits of natural gas, which is considered to be the cleanest fossil fuel energy source, and also renewables, we feel ourselves on the safe side. We actually are even now exporting electric energy. We have swap operations with Russia. Throughout the year, we export and import almost the same volume of electric energy to and from Russia, but we also export electric energy to Georgia and through Georgia to European destinations. So, for domestic consumption, we will not need additional sources.

The second argument is that, for us, it could be interesting from the point of view of technological development, preparing specialists, and planning the long-term strategy of our energy policy. Therefore, from this point of view, we are interested in evaluating this potential. Especially, as you mentioned, with the new technologies, it is now much more attractive and safe than ever before. An important part is about the cost and who will cover it. With respect to renewable energy projects, which I already mentioned, all of them are financed and will be financed by foreign investors. In other words, Azerbaijan will not invest a dollar in that. Of course, if local companies want to be co-investors, of course, it is possible but not the Azerbaijan state. What we will invest in only is energy grid because we need to strengthen our energy grid to be able to absorb thousands of megawatts of wind and solar.

With respect to nuclear, usually, it is the host country who pays the bills and it is very costly. So, from an economic point of view, I think it would not be wise now to enter these kinds of arrangement even if it is a kind of loan arrangement. If it's a loan anyway, you will have to repay. From point of view of environmental protection, yes, we are, of course, in favor of environmentalism, but not to that stage to spend several billions for something, which you can get free of charge using the financing from other sources. So, this is actually the position of Azerbaijan. We do not close the door. At the same time, we are not pursuing a proactive policy in that respect, we are in the phase of evaluation. Of course, an important part will be related to the markets because even now in order to get to the premium market, we need to have a long way and to build thousands of kilometers of transmission lines, including one beneath the Black Sea. So, for export markets, it can work, for domestic consumption, problematic.

Hikmet Hajiyev: George Gvimradze, Director of News and Current Affairs, Georgian Public Broadcaster, Georgia.

George Gvimradze: Mr. president, Thank you so much for your time. I would like to express my appreciation to the organizers who invited me here for this really interesting opportunity. We may within our mutual region… my question will be about our regional cooperation. This morning during the discussions with the students there were a lot of talks about the stability and security as a main, the major conditions for development. This is what really needed in our region. On one hand, we all have pragmatic positions to join our efforts within the region, even to develop the joint energy capabilities. For example, you have these plans for the green energy or along with the traditional energy resources you mentioned. Armenia has its nuclear capabilities, Georgia with its water resources, and you mentioned these capabilities of the energy transfer. On the other hand, you are the initiator with the President Erdogan of Turkiye, back in 2022, about the format 3+3. The peace agreement with Armenia you mentioned it is hopefully on its way. But despite all the pragmatic thoughts, what can you say about the sustainable stability and security? Do you believe it is really possible in our region, with, let's say, so quite complicated relationships among the possible players of any regional cooperation. I mean, it is not sustainable to speak about development of one particular country in this very complicated region. We need sustainable regional cooperation, and what could be, in your opinion, the sustainable platform for these kinds of cooperation inside our region? Thank you.

President Ilham Aliyev: I think that if we put an end to the long-lasting confrontation between Azerbaijan and Armenia and sign a peace agreement very soon, what you say can turn into reality. Because the potential of the countries of the Southern Caucasus is already known, and we already know in which areas we can work together. You mentioned the area of electric energy and correctly identify the potential of the three countries. Yes, it is true. But if we add natural gas cooperation here, for instance, between Azerbaijan and Georgia, we will see that it is also mutually beneficial. Today, Georgia is hundred percent on the safe side with respect to natural gas supply. And year after year, due to the growth of economy and industry in Georgia, the consumption is growing. Year after year, we increase our supply. Now, I think it has already reached three billion cubic meters. It's almost 100 percent of the gas supply to Georgia, which comes from Azerbaijan. Potentially Armenia can also be recipient of Azerbaijani gas, especially taking into account that, gas price for Georgia is a very friendly, very preferential. From the point of view of proximity, point of view of infrastructure, of course, it could be natural to have this kind of cooperation.

When we were talking earlier about the Zangezur corridor, we did not mention that we see it not only as a railroad or highway connection, but also potential communication, potential cable. Because one of the electric cables to expand our export capacity can go through Armenia. Potentially, it can be even a gas pipeline. Because today in order to supply Nakhchivan with natural gas we have arrangement with Iran. So, we actually getting a gas from Iran to Nakhchivan. Now we are building another pipeline - we finance it – from Türkiye to Nakhchivan and it will be the Azerbaijani gas. It is like touch your left ear with the right hand. If it goes through Armenia, it will be beneficial to all. It will save a lot of costs, of course, and many other issues like that. I know that Armenia wants to become a part of the Black Sea energy cable because of extra energy capacity. But they cannot because relations with Azerbaijan are not settled. There are four countries involved: Azerbaijan, Georgia Romania, and Hungary, and Bulgaria is joining, and that's it. So, there's no way, and it is a consensus decision. Thus, a peace agreement is a starting point.

Should we plan our post-peace agreement in the future? Of course, we should. We have discussed with Georgian colleagues several times the possibility of trilateral consultations, just to start consultations on issues of practical importance such as transportation, energy, potential trade relations. But every time, the Armenian side refused, and Georgian colleagues know it very well. Regional cooperation with good relations with regional countries, I think, is the best scenario for the Southern Caucasus. By the way, we have a trilateral format of cooperation between Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Türkiye. Our different ministers meet regularly. So, all this is absolutely possible, but we need to have a breakthrough on a peace agreement. Frankly speaking, neither Georgia nor Azerbaijan face any kind of difficulties today with respect to their energy or transportation security. The country which lacks it is Armenia.

For me, frankly speaking, it is a big question why they oppose the Zangezur corridor so fiercely. Why they consider this as a danger. They have a kind of phobia, which I cannot explain. They even speak against the word “corridor”. They think that “corridor” means a violation of sovereignty. But when we speak about the North-South Transport Corridor, which crosses Azerbaijan, we don't have these phobias, “corridor” is a well-known international word. So, when they hear “Zangezur corridor”, they become almost insane. So, it is very strange. But again, we need to think about the future.

I think, you raise important issues to think about and to plan post-peace treaty development. Here, I also invite our colleagues and participants to maybe think about that. Maybe on the level of some informal meetings in Georgia, to organize a kind of session-seminar on that just to see what could be the potential. Because now we can only assume what can happen, but maybe there can be minimal things that we haven’t even thought about. So, we treat it positively; we think that regional processes must be taken care of by regional countries. By the way, this excellent example, which we discussed, of the delimitation and return of the four Gazakh villages, demonstrates that when we work together on a bilateral track, we can achieve good results.

Hikmet Hajiyev: Ellen Wasylina, President and Founder, Trocadéro Forum Institute, France.

Ellen Wasylina: Thank you, Mr. President, it's an honor to be here and come back to Azerbaijan.

President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you.

Ellen Wasylina: Very pleased. I have a couple of questions, but I think we're going to add some more in on if you allow me because I think most of the questions you already answered. The big question is, what do you hope to achieve with the COP? But I think you've already answered most of that, right. And then, how can Azerbaijan combine energy security, supply and demand, and sustainable economic, and social (ESG) development, and investments to achieve the U.N 2030 goals. If I may add just a little bit to that Mr. President. If you could address maybe some education issues and how are you preparing the next generation of young students that we met at ADA to meet the challenges that are coming. Thank you, Mr. President.

President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you. I think that being here in ADA is a good illustration of our educational policy, and it is absolutely clear for everyone that the best investment is in education and in the young generation. We're trying to do it for us. It's one of the main priorities. We have special programs with our international partners, including a special presidential program for training our young generation in leading international universities. At the same time, a high-level of education in Azerbaijan is also a priority. So, we try to combine both. And now, with the presidential program financing education abroad, we mainly concentrate on domestic potential. Probably you know that soon, we will have a separate building for the Azerbaijan-Italy University, also on the foundation of ADA. Actually, its activity has already started, but construction is ongoing. We have the Azerbaijani-French University here for many years, and also two universities from the Russian Federation: Moscow State University and Medical Academy.

With respect to sustainable development and energy, I think our economic performance and social programs clearly demonstrate that we have used the benefits from oil and gas to ensure fair distribution and to tackle issues of unemployment and poverty. So, when we started our energy cooperation and began to receive the first revenues from oil sales, the level of poverty in Azerbaijan was close to 50 percent. So, every second person was poor, and among the refugees, it was more than 75 percent. So, you can imagine the situation. So now, we have reduced it to the level of five percent, and the same is with unemployment. Regarding social infrastructure, there is a large-scale construction happening in Karabakh now, but previously it was everywhere: modern hospitals, clinics, universities, and a special program for constructing schools. So, social infrastructure was one of the most important. Issues related to employment are always at the center of our attention because our population is growing. So, year after year, we have tens of thousands of new citizens. Therefore, issues with employment are something we must always be very attentive to and not be relaxed about. When we see that the unemployment rate is low, but if we don't address the issue of development, it will be difficult. Especially now, with this Fourth Industrial Revolution where many specialties and professions will no longer be needed. So, we will face a serious challenge. Therefore, we need to prepare our young generation for new jobs, which do not exist now but will emerge in two to three years.

We pay special attention to vocational training. We now have a special program for opening vocational centers all over the country with respect to the kind of climatic conditions, or kind of economic development of the regions. For instance, in touristic destinations we open vocational touristic schools, in other parts - industrial. So, it's a combination of elements, but with the main objective, of course, to keep the level of literacy as high as today, which is absolute, and to train young generation. So, they can contribute to the development of the country. I remember when I launched first time the program of sending young people abroad, there were some ideas that we need to take a kind of commitment from them that they will come back. Otherwise, we will spend a lot of money and they will just stay where they study. I said: No. I said that we need to create such a condition in our country that they prefer to come back. So now, I see that absolute majority of those who have been trained in United States, Britain and other European countries come back. So, this is an indicator that we are on the right track. We need to work even harder so that the young generation of Azerbaijan does not leave their country. Because this is one of the problems for many countries in the post-Soviet area that young generation prefers to leave, and then you just face depopulation. We have a growth in population. Some countries have different problems. I don't know which is worse. I think ours is better because the more people you have in the country, the more powerful you are. But you have to provide these people with jobs, housing, decent conditions, and healthcare. And that's what we are doing. The absolute majority of the assets we got from oil and gas sales are channeled into the social sector. Thank you.

Hikmet Hajiyev: Michael Reynolds, Associate Professor, Co-Director, Program in History and Practice of Diplomacy, Princeton University, United States.

Michael Reynolds: Thank you Mr. President for taking the time to meet with us and of course, thank you to ADA university, in particular, Rector, ambassador Pashayev for making this possible as well as our visit tomorrow. As a professor, I'm very gratified to hear that you're giving thought for education in Azerbaijan in the future of its youth. And earlier today, we have met a number of outstanding Azerbaijani students, I was quite impressed by the quality of conversation. So I'm very glad to hear that. Given that you've just come in, just returned from Moscow and meeting with Vladimir Putin. I wanted to follow up on the question posed by my colleague from Japan. As you know, as we all know, Russia for over 200 years has played a very important role in this region and has been an important power that now may be changing as it's drawing down its military presence, its peacekeepers from Azerbaijan. It seems it's also drawing down its military presence in Armenia. At the same time, there are some other outside powers that perhaps are trying to replace Russia in the region. And I'd be curious to hear your thoughts on the future of Russia's role in the South Caucasus and if also if you'd like to comment on the role of other outside powers in the South Caucasus and what do you think might be now might this play out? What sorts of benefits might bring to Azerbaijan and the region? What sorts of dangers might those powers bring? Thank you.

President Ilham Aliyev: Russia is a neighbor of Azerbaijan and a country with which we have very active cooperation in different areas. Yesterday, during the meeting with President Putin, we broadly discussed these issues. Our economic cooperation, particularly in the area of transportation, of course, a big part is cooperation in the humanitarian area, and we have more than 300 Russian schools in Azerbaijan. People who prefer to study in Russian schools choose them. So, there is a lot that we share in common, and, of course, as a regional, also Caucasian country, because part of the Caucasus is within Russia’s boundaries. Of course, Russia will never leave this region because it is in this region. I think all countries of the South Caucasus must be interested in having good relations with Russia, based on mutual respect, sovereignty, territorial integrity, and mutual interest. I think the example of Azerbaijan really demonstrates that this is possible.

By the way, this was also one of the topics, which we discussed yesterday with my Russian colleagues, that we managed to elaborate such a format of cooperation, which is mutually beneficial. There are certain phobias, stereotypes, and propaganda, but I think in the case of Azerbaijan, you can see that it is too much exaggerated. You can protect your sovereignty, your independence, not only formally but also in reality, your independent policy, and be in good relations with Russia. This is absolutely possible; just look at Russian-Azerbaijani relations. By the way, we discussed it. There are many more peoples in the former Soviet Union who are closer to Russia, either on ethnic or confessional grounds, but look at their relations with Russia compared to our relations. So, I'm sure that these positive trends will continue. Azerbaijan is playing an important role in the Southern Caucasus, and this role is growing, which is only beneficial.

With respect to others who want to come. We need to treat it, of course, with special attention and properly measure our resources. I mean Azerbaijan. How we can address or influence this process. For us, the main concern, as you can imagine, is potential revanchist trends. We have full rights to be concerned because Armenia launched aggression against us, occupied our territory, expelled millions of people from their homes, looted our territories, and devastated everything, destroying 20% of the territory.

So, we have full right to be very seriously concentrated on everything what is happening in Armenia. It is not that we are interfering in their internal affairs, or in their relations with some other countries, which are situated far away. Not at all. We never interfere in any country’s internal affairs and all our neighbors know it. But it is a matter of our national security. We cannot sit and wait seeing how France, India and Greece are weaponizing Armenia against us, and do it openly, demonstratively, and as if trying to prove something to us. We cannot just sit and wait and we openly express this position to Armenian government and to those, who want to take care of Armenia now. We will have to take serious measures if we see a serious threat to us. So far, those weapons, which are being delivered to Armenia. Some of them are dangerous, some of them are not, but this is not critical. So, my message to Armenia, once again using this platform, is don't do it. And again, my message absolutely should not be considered as something arrogant. No. Something which is not unaffordable again. No. I'm not going to interfere in whatever they do. It is their life and their country. But when they build military power against us, when they sometimes concentrate their troops on our border, we cannot remain silent. This is about our security, and we have the right to be concerned. So, my message to them and to those who want to use them as an outpost against Azerbaijan; don't do it. No matter how many weapons are sent to Armenia, they have no chance against us. The Second Karabakh War demonstrated this. For only 44 days, we climbed the mountains, which ordinary people cannot climb, just hiking, and we did it with weapons, with light weapons and destroyed their army completely.

Then, several hours of anti-terror operation, when we put an end to separatism, also demonstrated to them. We again have no bad intentions against Armenia. We don't have any claims against their territory, but they should understand that, firstly, these weapons will not help them. Secondly, this is dangerous. My duty is to warn them, and also to warn those who are behind them, manipulating them, that this is really dangerous. They should listen to what I say. Because they know that they should listen to what I say. My recommendation is that. And also apart from that, Armenia can be another candidate for global confrontation. Unfortunately, we have these cases close to our borders. So, they can be used for a global confrontation between the West and Russia, and if it's the best scenario for them, it is for them to decide. But that could be a catastrophe. Those today who promise them ultimate and continuous support will run away if the first bullet is shot on the border. I'm absolutely sure. The so-called European peace observers, which are retired military and policemen, use binocular diplomacy against us and demonstrate - I don't know what they want to demonstrate - they must be grateful to us that we do not respond. I'm sure they will run away if something serious happens. So, this is how we see the situation, and again, the way to security and stability in the region goes through Azerbaijan-Armenia normalization. They must learn, I mean Armenia, to be a normal neighbor and to put an end to territorial claims to their neighbors. We see some positive trends. But this is not enough. It is only words, and we know how they can change their mind. In 2019, they were saying that “Karabakh is Armenia”, and that was a trigger for the war. Now they say “Karabakh is Azerbaijan”.

I don't know, maybe in five years’ time, when they are supplied with deadly weapons, they will say again, “Karabakh is Armenia”, and what should we do? We cannot wait. So, thank you for raising this issue. I think it was a good opportunity for me to send a message to Yerevan.

Hikmet Hajiyev: Thank you Mr. President. It’s more than two hours that you spent together with us and you covered more than 12 questions. And we have quite a substantial number of the questions in our list, but I know that you're actually quite busy if you can allow us to stay one-two questions.

President Ilham Aliyev: If the audience is not tired. We can continue. I will try to be short in my answers.

Hikmet Hajiyev: Iulian Chifu, President, Conflict Prevention and Early Warning Center, Romania.

Iulian Chifu: Thank you very much, Mr. President, for inviting me here, and also I should congratulate you for having the retreat of the Russian troops quite earlier and not paying at least the fees that some of us paid for seeing them leaving tens of years after the moment of the occupation. So, my question is related to energy security to the cable that you've already had the opportunity of invoking that the project with EU that we are sharing for clean energy to be sent and shipped to Romania, Hungary and so on. So actually, as you know, we have another project with the data cables, so a number of projects are underwater. And since the wider Black Sea region is quite complicated nowadays, and the security of the underwater infrastructure is also at stakes. I would kindly ask you, if you can comment or if you have ideas how we can improve this part of the security that is also concerning, yes, green energy moving and transport that but also the security of the Black Sea region. Thank you.

President Ilham Aliyev: I think that this issue primarily must be addressed by Black Sea countries because our responsibility probably will end close to the shores of the Black Sea. If we make analogies with our fossil fuel projects, it was agreed that every country is responsible for their segment of the pipeline. For instance, in Azerbaijan, we never had any penetration, illegal penetration, or stealing from the pipeline or any other unpleasant events. So, each country - Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Türkiye - on their territory, they provided the security, and the same is with the Southern Gas Corridor. So, now with the green energy cable, I am sure that Black Sea countries will take care of that. We cannot be helpful because we are not physically present there. I think that it should not be subject to kind of attack or intervention or penetration because it is not against anyone. This cable is just in the interest of all the countries of the Caspian, Caucasus, and Black Sea. But, again, of course, I'm sure that corresponding countries will take care of that on that part of the Black Sea, which belongs to their jurisdiction.

Hikmet Hajiyev: László Vasa, Chief Advisor, Senior Research Fellow, Hungarian Institute of International Affairs, Hungary.

László Vasa: Mr. President, thank you very much to get the opportunity to be here again. Thanks for the organizers. I am very grateful to be here and raise a question. Some of my questions were answered. But I have one left, short one. How do you see the chances for securing Turkmen natural gas for Europe through Azerbaijan?

President Ilham Aliyev: First of all, if this decision is made, it must be made by Turkmenistan. If they decide to build a Trans Caspian gas pipeline, going under the Caspian and then through Azerbaijan to Europe, they will approach us. So far they haven’t. And of course, we will not initiate this project. Because usually, the country which is the owner of resources is implementing the project. For instance, when it was the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan or Southern Gas Corridor, it was Azerbaijan, which initiated and was a kind of coordinator, and all the host government agreements and agreements with off-takers were negotiated and signed by Azerbaijan. So, I do not remember a case when the transit country could finance or initiative that. So far, we haven’t received any messages from Turkmenistan. Therefore, I cannot comment on that. There are a lot of discussions about that. But my advice is just to evaluate a variety of factors; first, who will pay for that? Second, what will be the non-cooperative financing, taking into account what I already said about restrictions of European financial institutions to finance fossil fuel projects? Who will be the recipients of this gas, and what will happen after the gas is delivered to Azerbaijan? Because today, the Southern Gas Corridor is fully packed. So, we today, think about the expansion of TANAP and expansion of TAP. So, if somebody thinks that building a pipeline under the Caspian makes the deal done, it is not. Because either there must be another pipeline all the way down from Baku to Europe or I don't know. So, a lot of questions, and no answers. Therefore, my comments are based on that.

Hikmet Hajiyev: Jakub Korejba, Non-resident Fellow, AVIM Center for Eurasian Studies, Poland.

Jakub Korejba: Thank you, Mr. President. It's a pleasure to be here again, a pleasure and the true joy of a scholar and theoretician who can see the history happening, as my deep feeling is that what we are witnessing here is the future in the making. I come from Poland, the country that has always had interesting neighbors and this is what makes our two countries similar to each other despite their geographical distance. And this is not exactly an optimistic constatation because as we could see during last few months, not all of your neighbors are interested in peace, progress, cooperation and prosperity. Therefore, my question to you is, do you think that the unconstructive stance of your Armenian partner during the peace process is simply a bargaining kind of theater and part of the negotiating position? Or is it something deeper long-term strategy? And if this continues, is there a plan B in case Yerevan keeps rejecting the piece and engages external forces to destabilize the region. I know that Azerbaijan has a lot of strategic patience. You proved that more than once. But what if your patience is ignored and abused? Is there an alternative strategy for such a case? Thank you.

President Ilham Aliyev: Well, the alternative strategy can only be continuing the arms race; we have no other choice. It is not what is preferable, especially taking into account that we need a lot of financing to rebuild the liberated territories. But if we don't reach a peace agreement, that will mean that Armenia, as you mentioned, is planning something different. And they're using this process only to win time. We have quite substantial reasons to believe that this is the case. Though we're not sure. Taking into account the history when we were since 1992 until 2020 in the process of negotiations, but actually Armenia used these negotiations only to cement the occupation and to make the de-facto occupation eternal.

That was their plan and now when we not only analyze more, but when we hear a lot of domestic politics in Armenia, we once again get convinced that they were not planning to liberate even one centimeter of our territory, including the current government. Because the way how the current government is behaving should not mislead anyone. And when I hear from some Armenian supporters in the West that look how brave they behave, I always say that but what was the motivation of their bravery? If not for 2020 September-November, today they would have continued to shout in Khankendi, “Karabakh is Armenia”. So, we made them brave; they take brave steps if they considered, not because they are so constructive, but because they're scared to be very open and frank, they're scared. You know, not to be scared, they need to have peace with us. We will see because, as I said, the fact of the so-called Nagorno-Karabakh is out; they agreed that it will not be in the peace agreement. So, that means that the main obstacle is no longer here, and if they stick to some not so important terminology, we will just clearly see that they want again to use this time to get more weapons and then to attack us again. But, we will not give them this chance because it's absolutely clear, and once again, I want to say that those who try to direct them against us are making a big mistake. So, we already have a very bitter experience of almost 30 years of occupation. And we'll plan our future based on the real situation. So, this is how we see the process. So, I think by the end of the year, it will be absolutely clear. So, if the peace agreement is not signed, then, as I said, the arms race will continue. And well, if they don't want a peace agreement, we can live without this agreement, but will it be comfortable for them to live next to us without this agreement? I don't think so.

I think it's mainly in their interest, more than in our interest, to agree on the terms, which are based on international law, and in these proposals and these comments, which we sent, there is nothing that cannot be accepted. Only they must be reasonable and not demand the unachievable. It’s also important for them to know, and for those who support them, that the thirty years of occupation and the result of the Second Karabakh War should not be ignored, and no one should behave as if that never happened. The result of the war always influences the post-war situation. And in our case, we did not take advantage of our victory. Not at all. We stopped, as I promised during the war, and I said: “Give us a date when you leave our territory, and we will stop,” and we stopped. And that's only almost four years, and then in Karabakh, when they started to demonstratively ignore us, when they held so-called presidential elections in Nagorno-Karabakh and elected a so-called new president, when a criminal oligarch from Moscow came there and started to behave as if he's a prime minister of a country and also financing terrorism and spreading threats to different people. They should have known that we will not tolerate it, and we delivered the message to them many times directly and through Brussels, as through other channels - don't play with fire. We can restore sovereignty anytime, and no one will stop us, and that's what happened. It lasted several hours, not 23. 23 hours were needed just to finalize the formalities. It lasted several hours, less than 10 hours. And it was done. So, that was a lesson to them. The Second Karabakh War was the lesson. And again, we did it, and we didn't do anything else. Who could have stopped us then? If we had some terrible plans that some people in some Western European capitals tried to present, who could have stopped us? This retired French policeman on the border? Could this have stopped us? Of course not. We stopped ourselves. Because we don't want the territory of Armenia; we want only ours to be under our control completely and forever.

Hikmet Hajiyev: Carlo Marino, Founder and Director, Eurasiaticanews; Vice President, Italy Azerbaijan Association in Milan, Italy.

Carlo Marino: Mr. President, thank you for the honor you give me. I am a friend of Azerbaijan. I am also vice-president of Italy Azerbaijan Association in Milan. My question is, what is your opinion on the current state of relations between Italy and Azerbaijan? And are there opportunities for collaboration between our two countries in the fields of green economy? Thank you very much.

President Ilham Aliyev: Relations are excellent. Italy is one of our closest partners and friends in the European Union. Not only is it a good and reliable partner, but we also have very active political contacts. My visits to Italy and the visit of the President of Italy to Azerbaijan are good illustrations of our partnership. Today, Italy is one of the leading countries in activities in Karabakh and Eastern Zangezur.

Actually, it is second after Türkiye in the number of companies that are working there now. And they are working on very important projects. On cultural heritage restoration, for instance, the destroyed Palace of Karabakh Khan in Aghdam is being restored. They are working on the restoration of mosques in different liberated cities. So economic cooperation is excellent. Italy is our main trading partner. And oil from Azerbaijan makes a substantial part of Italian oil consumption. And also, I think Azerbaijan is the second or third gas supplier to Italy. I can say only excellent, I think more than ever. But also, the Italy-Azerbaijan University, when ADA and five leading Italian universities created a joint university, is also based on profound political and cultural ties.

On green energy, we'll be happy to work with Italian companies. So far, we haven’t started, but the potential is here. By the way in the energy area Italian companies are our main partners. For instance, a famous company Ansaldo is a supplier of turbines to our almost 1300 megawatt power station under construction in Mingachevir. There are Italian other companies including Maire Tecnimont, which was a contractor of the big industrial site. Also helping us in renovation of our refinery. So, these are really a very solid foundation and very diverse relations, which are growing year after year, and thank you for naming yourself a friend of Azerbaijan. We have many friends of Azerbaijan in Italy. I would like to ask you to convey my best greetings to all of them. By the way, in the energy area, Italian companies are our main partners. For instance, the famous company Ansaldo is a supplier of turbines to our almost 1,300-megawatt power station currently under construction in Mingachevir. Other Italian companies, including Maire Tecnimont, which was a contractor of the big industrial site, are also helping us in the renovation of our refinery. So it's really a very solid foundation and very diverse relations, which are growing year after year. And thank you for naming yourself a friend of Azerbaijan. We have many friends of Azerbaijan in Italy, and I would like to ask you to convey my best greetings to all of them.

Hikmet Hajiyev: Amb. Abdulaziz Al-Horr, Director, Diplomatic Institute of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Qatar.

Abdulaziz Al-Horr: Mr. President, thank you very much. Actually, I would like to ask what are the key challenges Azerbaijan is facing in balancing economic development with environmental sustainability especially that Azerbaijan is a hydrocarbonic economy-based country? I knew that you partially answered this question. Maybe we'd like to add some key other key challenges as well.

President Ilham Aliyev: We have already managed to a certain extent to diversify our economy, and now, oil and gas make up less than half of our GDP. But our exports are something like 95% based oil and gas. So one of the main objectives now is to diversify our exports. It will not be easy because, as I already said, gas production and export will grow, and for other sectors of economy, we need markets for exports. Our problem is that we do not have easy access to the European market, the market of the EU, because of certain restrictions and quotas, etc. Our main markets are neighboring countries, primarily Russia, which is our main market for non-energy goods, and also Türkiye. I know that to diversify our export, it is not enough only to produce; we need to have access, but we are working on that.

But with respect to other sectors of our economy, we have big hopes regarding transportation. As I already said, this juncture of corridors will create a lot of economic activity. We also consider these transportation routes not only as facilitation and transit but also as an opportunity to build industry along the route. So, we hope that manufacturers from the region will come and undertake these projects. We are now in the active phase of development of the Alat Free Economic Zone, which is already accumulating residents. So, we're trying to do maximum what we can in order to develop other sectors of the economy. Also, digital transformation is one of them. Industrial development is now based on a more science-based approach, as I already mentioned, especially concerning employment and the Fourth Industrial Revolution. By the way, the Davos World Economic Forum selected Azerbaijan as one of the regional centers for the World Economic Forum’s Center for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. So, this was also a sign of appreciation for what we are doing. There is huge potential, as we have already discussed, in renewables, with 157 gigawatts of offshore potential alone. Many companies are now working with us, and as I mentioned earlier, we need to strengthen our grid to be able to absorb all of that. So, I think the future is predictable.

Hikmet Hajiyev: Laurent Vinatier, Regional Adviser, Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, Switzerland.

Laurent Vinatier: Good afternoon. I would like to make a comment I'm working for the Center for Human Rights and Dialogue. It's a mediation organization and I fully agree with you. The less mediators, the better for the peace process. I'm gonna change my job at some point. I wanted to ask you a question about Turkiye. I spend a lot of time in Armenia and yes, Armenia is dead-locked and polarized politically? And to what extent you think that Azerbaijan could let Armenia build more bridges with Turkiye, giving Armenia the space it needs to make steps forward.

President Ilham Aliyev: Yes, Armenia and Türkiye are currently working on the process of normalization of relations, and we support that. We have publicly stated that our support for Turkish-Armenian normalization, and you may be aware that Armenia has territorial claims not only against Azerbaijan but also against Türkiye. This issue definitely needs to be addressed. You know, that national symbol of Armenia is Aghridag Mountain, which they call Ararat, and it is situated in Türkiye, which I think is absolutely unacceptable. And my personal opinion, it is absolutely wrong to send such a message to their society.

I remember that the previous President of Armenia, Serzhik Sargsyan, was once asked at a meeting with, I think, some young members of his party or something like that, “Now we’ve liberated the Artsakh (so-called). What about Western Armenia?” That's how they called and some of them still call Türkiye. “What about our lands? When will they be liberated?” And he said: “We did our job and this is up to you to do it.” So, this is not something I invented; you can find it on the internet. That’s what he said, and that’s what they thought. This, I think, is the biggest tragedy of Armenian society; that they really thought they could separate that part of Türkiye from Türkiye and adjust it to Armenia. So, they overestimated themselves, and this is their biggest problem. Now they want to normalize, and we support it, but they need to get rid of all these attributes.

With respect to Azerbaijan, they need to change their constitution. And again, I'm saying that not because I want to interfere in their affair, but because in their constitution, they have a reference to the declaration of independence, which states that the so-called Nagorno-Karabakh is part of Armenia. So, how can we sign the peace agreement when they have such a reference in their constitution? So, when I say that you need to change the constitution, it’s not because I'm arrogant or trying to be rude. No, it is because a precondition. Similarly, I think their national symbol, Aghridagh Mountain, must be changed. They have many mountains in Armenia; they can choose another one if they like. But as far as I know, there is coordination between Azerbaijan and Türkiye on this issue, as well as on many others, because Türkiye and Azerbaijan, I think, are the two countries closest to each other in the world on a global scale. And it’s not just the Alliance Declaration that unites us, but a lot of things that contribute to our unity, which are important factors for regional security and stability. I mean, Turkish-Azerbaijani unity. I know that the established position in Azerbaijan and Türkiye is that two processes must go in parallel. Turkish-Armenian rapprochement and Azerbaijan-Armenian normalization should go in parallel. This is our position, and it is also the position of the Turkish President. The ideal situation is that one day two agreements can be signed - a peace agreement between Azerbaijan and Armenia, and a normalization agreement between Armenia and Turkiye, which includes the opening up of all communications, putting an end to decades-long hatred, turning the page, and starting normal development. What we hear from Yerevan officials? Yes, we take note of that. There must be a difference between real Armenia and mythological, they call it historical, but I call it mythological, because history should not be subject to manipulation. So, they created myths about history. They incorporated in their history historical personalities, which never had any Armenian ethnic roots. So, this is a historical manipulation. At one point, they started to believe in all those myths. That was a tragedy. Because they created the mythology, they wanted the world to believe it, and they started to believe it themselves. When they say that the young generation of Armenians will take Turkish territory, that was a degradation of a serious psychological disease, not only of Serzhik Sargsyan, but also of those who listen to him and those who asked him this question. So now, what we expect? That Armenian government will move from words to actions, and we will judge them by their actions. They need to understand that the Turkish-Azerbaijani alliance is as solid as rock, and they need to take that into account now and in the future.

Hikmet Hajiyev: Bruno Maçães, Senior Advisor, Flint Global, Portugal.

Bruno Maçães: Mr. President, good afternoon, I want to ask about the European Union, which hasn't come up a lot in this conversations maybe not a good sign for the European Union. You know that we have elections in about a month and a half – new European Parliament and new EU Commission, not a new European Commission president but a new president of the European Council, a new high representative, maybe new commissioner positions on defense, an important commissioners on energy. You talked a little bit about your disappointments with European Union on questions like finance for energy projects and perhaps also trade. I wanted to ask you to put your thoughts on the next five years and of strategic relationship with the European Union. What do you expect from them vis-à-vis Azerbaijan?

President Ilham Aliyev: Well, our expectations are based on common sense, on an understanding of the policy of the European Union, and what we can achieve in our bilateral relations. We never set targets that cannot be reached. Therefore, we never set the target to become a member of the EU. We clearly understood and understand that this is not realistic. It will never happen, even if we do everything they demand. The example of Türkiye is a great illustration to that. Many countries were admitted to the European Union after Türkiye became a candidate, but Türkiye was not, only because the population of Türkiye is Muslim.

Let's be very fair. We speak very openly. To say that Türkiye does not correspond to some criteria is absolutely groundless. So, that was a factor, and we understand it. We are also Muslim. They will never accept us. So, why should we insist? Let us elaborate on a mechanism of cooperation that will be mutually acceptable. I think that we were very close to that, very close before, recently, before we saw that the right kind of attempts to make a dividing line in the Southern Caucasus. That was particularly why we expressed our concern with the unprecedented meeting in Brussels of the President of the European Commission, the Secretary of State of the United States, and the Armenian Prime Minister. Never in the history of these institutions was there a meeting like that with anyone from the former Soviet Union, even with Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova. These kinds of meetings did not happen except for Armenia, which is a member of the Eurasian Union, a military ally of Russia, has a Russian military base, Russian border security on their border with Iran, Türkiye, and now with Azerbaijan, is a member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization - kind of like NATO for this part of the world. And we had legitimate concerns about that. Because we had credible information that there was a military component to that meeting. We still believe that there was. I don't know to what degree it materialized or not, but it is a serious concern. Plus, we know that European Union is planning to allocate substantial finance from the so-called European Peace Facility. Actually, this is a structure, which finances the supply of weapons. It is called a peace facility, but it is not peace actually. This is again against us and this is also of concern. So, these are the main factors of our concern. Unfortunately, again, Armenia is interfering in our relations with other countries and institutions. My answer would not be fully and completely sincere if I don't mention the person you mentioned who will be substituted - the High Representative for Foreign Affairs, who said that the European Union is a garden and the rest of the world is a jungle. And that was a public statement. He called all of us the jungle - Africa, Asia, Latin America. If it was said by a member of the European Parliament, even the President of European Parliament, I wouldn't have been surprised, because the European Parliament is one of the centers of Islamophobia and corruption, which is well-known. But it was said by the person who is responsible for diplomacy of the European Union, and no one in the European Commission, those who stand higher than him, corrected him. No one said “Go, Mr. Borrell, and apologize in front of the rest of the world.” You call us a jungle, okay, but your garden’s trees would have dried out if not for the jungle. How can we continue business as usual and pretend that we didn't hear? We cannot and we say it, and I say it publicly. So, these are fundamental issues. Yes, we have cooperation in energy, and they asked us to help when there was a disruption of gas supply from Russia. They came and asked us to help. In July 2022, just several months after the war in Ukraine, we signed declarations. They asked us to increase supply, we said okay. We started to invest. We wanted to help them, and we still want to help. Anyone who wants help can rely on us, but we must see the adequate attitude to us and seriously assess our concerns. Our concern is actually the security of our country and our people. We suffered from occupation, and Europe turned a blind eye to our refuges. Now, they help people who moved from Karabakh back to Armenia. I support it, and they do a good thing to help them, 60,000 maximum, because the rest were military personnel. But what about the millions of Azerbaijanis? Why didn't they help them? What was the reason? Why they didn't help them? So, these are questions, which we ask, and we don't have answers. So, again, understanding the geopolitics of the region, we should base our steps not on kind of expectations and perceptions but on real situation. At the same time, I think open discussions with all the partners including European Union are necessary. If they want to be more active in the Southern Caucasus, they cannot ignore Azerbaijan, the biggest country with respect to territory, population and economic potential. If they want to ignore Azerbaijan, they will not be in the Southern Caucasus. This is clear. We are ready for cooperation but based on mutual respect and mutual interest. That would be my answer.

Hikmet Hajiyev: Klaus Larres, Professor, Wilson Center / UNC-Chapel Hill, United States.

Klaus Larres: Thank you very much for your many exhaustive remarks. It's certainly most interesting to be here. Perhaps, towards the end of the afternoon it would be interesting to hear your views on how the Ukraine war can be resolved. The war is dragging on without any end in sight, as far as I can see. China is contributing to Russia's economy and also to its war effort. Then, the US House of Congress has just passed a huge aid bill for Ukraine. And there's serious concern in Europe, as far as I understand that if Ukraine is defeated, Putin will go further into the Baltic states into Poland. How can the situation, which seems to be escalating, which doesn't seem to get better, how can the situation be resolved? What can Azerbaijan do, and also maybe out of curiosity, you talked to Mr. Putin last night. Was the Ukraine war and the resolution to the war mentioned, were are any good suggestions made? Thank you.

President Ilham Aliyev: No, yesterday we discussed only our bilateral issues and issues related to situation in the Southern Caucasus. I don't know how Russian Ukrainian war can end, if somebody knows probably should be nominated to the Nobel Peace Prize. I don't think anybody knows how it will end now. But maybe, I will put it this way; when it can end. Because sooner or later, wars stop. I can speak from our experience. It might be interesting to note that when we signed the ceasefire agreement in May 1994, the war didn’t actually stop. So, something similar could happen between Russia and Ukraine. Even if they agree to stop the active phase of the war, it won’t guarantee that the war will end. During the times of occupation, we had tensions on the line of contact, sabotage groups, sniper warfare, and many other dangerous episodes. Our line of contact was much shorter than today's line of contact or battle between Russia and Ukraine. So, imagine if a ceasefire agreement is signed, will that guarantee that peace will come? No, we waited 28 years. After that, we restored sovereignty by force. We did it because we were right and because we could do it. And for us, it was a matter of life and death. At that time, we weren’t sure who would step in on the Armenian side. There could have been different options. And none of them were pleasant for us, but we didn't think about that at that time. For us, it was either we restore our sovereignty and dignity or we all die. That was our approach. We waited, we accumulated power. We worked on the international arena. We tried to prove our case and explain that we were a victim of aggression. But all was basically without any result. Yes, international institutions adopted resolutions, decisions, etc. But they did not materialize. There was no mechanism of implementation. So, we materialized it by force. As I say, we brought peace by war. That's also an option, and we demonstrated that it is possible. So, I don't have a practical answer. As I said, I think no one knows when it will stop. But even if it stops, it's not a guarantee that there'll be no back-set. What can Azerbaijan do? Nothing, absolutely nothing from the practical point of view. We provided humanitarian and financial assistance to Ukraine worth more than 30 million euros. We are participating in the reconstruction in the city of Irpin, where there is a big Azerbaijani diaspora, and many social infrastructure is being restored by Azerbaijan. Nothing more. We do not supply weapons to Ukraine, even though we've been asked, but we cannot. We say it openly and publicly, and we will not. Humanitarian assistance, yes. Weapons, no. So, that’s my answer. Of course, it's a big tragedy for two peoples who are very close to each other, from an ethnic point of view, from a religious point of view. It's a big tragedy. Was there a chance to avoid the war? I think, yes. Was there a chance for Ukrainian leaders in previous years to build normal relations with Russia? I'm absolutely sure that yes. I was just speaking about Russian-Azerbaijani relations. We are neighbors. We build strong partnership relations. We respect each other's sovereignty. We do not interfere in each other's affairs. Couldn't it have been possible between Russia and Ukraine? Of course, Russia and Ukraine are two very close peoples. Why did it happen? Who is to blame? I have my opinion, but I will keep it to myself. But I think the chance was missed in the beginning of 2000. The chance for Ukraine to build a strong state was missed. That's my personal opinion based on my experience and knowledge. I knew and worked with all Ukrainian presidents, except the first one. I have been in this position since 2003. And when I say something, it's because I know and have experienced it firsthand, not because somebody told me something. I have witnessed many episodes in Russian-Ukrainian relations. Tense, friendly, hostile, but never like what we see today, never. This is unfortunately a tragedy situation, and people are dying every day. It must be stopped. Who can stop it? I don't know. I have tried to be very open. Disclosing some episodes from my memory is the maximum I could afford.

Hikmet Hajiyev: Wojciech Górecki, Senior Fellow, Centre for Eastern Studies (OSW), Poland.

Wojciech Górecki: Mr. President, thank you. Great honor to be here. Frankly speaking, I heard most of the answers I’d like to ask you, but let me ask about the situation in the Middle East. How risky is conflict between Iran and Israel? Azerbaijan is a neighbor of Iran with a very good relations with Israel, with a very deep alliance with Türkiye. I guess, what was going on in the Middle East is so extremely indirectly important for you. How serious is the situation?

President Ilham Aliyev: Well, I can say probably what you know about the situation. Noting more than that. With respect to close neighborhood, yes, this is our geography. We are used to living in this geography, and maybe for people from Europe it could seem to be very risky, but it is our life. We cannot change it. So, we are used to living in this geography and protecting our security, statehood and lifestyle. I have said many times in different audiences that in Azerbaijan, we do not have serious potential risk. All the potential risks we may face may come from abroad. What we should do is to keep our doors closed to troublemakers and open to loyal guests. What we can observe is that both countries are not interested in escalation. This is a good sign. Maybe these kinds of mutual attacks were necessary for both sides to understand that they should refrain from these provocative steps. I think they demonstrated a high level of wisdom in deciding to stop. I think they would have stopped even without advices from other sources. Because neither of them is interested in that. It would lead to another devastating confrontation, which neither of these countries, nor the peoples of these countries, nor the world can afford. So, do we feel some concern? Well, not more than usual. We live in this geography where things happen, where wars have always been a way of treating your neighbor. The Caucasus, unfortunately, whether it’s south or north, has been an arena for wars and bloodshed for centuries. What can we do? Including Azerbaijan. So, we put an end to war by war. We have now recess, I would say. How long will it last? Nobody knows. It doesn’t only depend on us. If it did, it would last forever. But it doesn’t depend solely on us. The Caucasus, this part of Caucasus, I mean, the South Caucasus, is becoming more and more attractive to many countries. Because location, natural resources, and neighborhood are important. Azerbaijan is the only country which borders with Russia and Iran. No other country has a border with both of these countries. This is our life, we live it with dignity and with maximum commitment to our independence.

I think today's Azerbaijan is a good illustration that it is possible. The geography and difficulty should not be used as a pretext for complaints. You know, our geography is different from European, but this is our life and we must live like an independent country, and achieve a success in order to demonstrate to people of Azerbaijan that our choice and our lifestyle is the best in the region. That's what we're trying to do.

Hikmet Hajiyev: Nathir Obeidat, President, University of Jordan, Jordan.

Nathir Obeidat: Thank you, Mr. President for this comprehensive discussion. Again, most of my questions were answered. But still, I will ask other questions based on your experience with Armenia and you have the feeling of occupation. What do you think about the suffering of people in Gaza? Can you do something in order that you have good relations with King Abdullah II from Jordan? Because here we are talking about the human factor and suffering of people. Not only killing but people that don't have food to eat and etc. So, I want to hear from you about this. Thank you.

President Ilham Aliyev: Yes, our feelings are absolutely clear. What all the people who watch this tragedy - we feel the same. We feel big sympathy with innocent victims, with families who lost their beloved ones. We feel sorrow when we see how children die. Our feelings are absolutely common to every normal person. What we can do? Again, I already tried to answer this with respect to the Russian-Ukrainian war; not much. We are not part of the region, and if regional countries cannot do anything, then what can Azerbaijan do? Neighboring countries, unfortunately, also cannot do anything. So, this issue unfortunately leads to an unprecedented tragedy and truly unprecedented level of injustice. That what I feel.

But we live in the real world. We don't live in the world, which is based on papers. We had papers for 28 years, the most valuable in the world, resolutions of the UN Security Council. So what? Who cared about that? Even those who adopted those resolutions demanding Armenia to withdraw its troops, themselves did not do anything to implement them. What should we have done with these resolutions? Cover ourselves with these resolutions? No, we took rifles and went to die. That's what we did. Is it my recommendation for everybody? No. I'm speaking for myself, as a President and Commander-in-Chief, and on behalf of 10 million Azerbaijanis who feel the same and share the same during the times of occupation, war, and the post-war situation. We have been celebrating on our soil for four years now. This is the bitter truth of real politics and must be taken into account. Solidarity? Okay. Does it work? No. Words? No. Nothing. We felt it on our skin for 28 years. So, what can I say? Every leader of a country or community has their own way of tackling this issue. Some leaders prefer to have negotiations forever. I also wanted to, but then I said enough is enough. My recommendation is not to copy what we have done. I just want to share with you. You asked what I feel, and I told you how I see the situation. I don't want to say something that I don't believe in, like unity and solidarity – an iron fist only.

Hikmet Hajiyev: Liliana Śmiech, Director General for International Affairs, Chairwoman of the Foundation Council, Ludovika University of Public Services, Warsaw Institute, Hungary.

Liliana Śmiech: Your Excellency, Mr. President, it is a huge honor for me. My question is very short. Do you see Azerbaijan as most important bridge between eastern and western world taking into account the connectivity strategy that is being implemented?

President Ilham Aliyev: Well, the most important bridge could be very arrogant, I think. But yes, it's kind of cultural, I would say, bridge because our location, definitely, geography influences the lifestyle, the society, and the mood of the society. We feel ourselves comfortable when we are in Europe and when we are in the eastern part of the world. We do not feel discomfort because the Azerbaijani society has absorbed to a large degree the values of both Islamic and European civilizations for centuries. So, definitely, this location dictates us to be proactive on transportation, because if we didn't use this location, no one would forgive us. We started to invest and built, and as I said, it was not enough only to build railroads or ports. We need to build bridges between countries. And I have said many times, every country that wants to be a transit country - and now we see that the number of those who want to be transit countries growing - must first build bridges between the countries. Because if you don't have good relations with your immediate neighbor and the neighbor of your neighbor, you will never be a transit country. They will bypass you; they will avoid you. So, we have strong relations with countries on the eastern shore of the Caspian Sea, Central Asia, on one hand, Georgia, Türkiye, and many European countries on other hand. Russia and Iran to the north and south. This is the reason why we talk about connectivity at this juncture, north-south, east-west. If we had problems with only one of these neighbors, it would not work. And it would make our life better. Of course not.

As I said, we must protect ourselves from external potential risks, and that will be a guarantee for our success. Because internally, as I said, we don't have any points of concern. Now, the geopolitical situation after the Russian-Ukrainian war has changed so that our geography is needed more than ever before. We were talking about the North-South Transport Route. This project has been under discussion for more than 20 years. As I said, we have a railroad in Azerbaijan that can transport 6-7-million tons. Now, it is needed for our neighbors to have 15-30 million potentially through this route. The same Russian-Ukrainian war led to transit problems through Belarus and Poland, making the Middle Corridor more in demand than ever before. The situation will change. Of course, it will. Nothing is eternal. But with our connectivity projects, we should not try to take advantage of this situational change. We must create a platform with tariffs, a digital transportation system, and predictable cooperation so that this route is used even after all the sanctions and blocks are lifted. So, that's what we're trying to do.

Hikmet Hajiyev: Krševan Antun, Senior Associate, Institute for Development and International Relations, Croatia.

Krševan Antun: Your Excellency, Mr. President, thank you so much. It's an honor to be here. While you were speaking, I was recalling the history that we have in Croatia. We have so much in common. 20% of our territory occupied, hundreds of thousands of refugees. So, I want to congratulate you and for a personal courage and the people of Azerbaijan for liberating your country. I've been coming here for more than 10 years. I can witness your new energy. And I believe that now is the right time for you actually, to boom as a country. And I wish you all the success. So, just a short question concerning the energy projects and extension of TANAP and TAP projects. So, do you have, or Azerbaijan, do you have a plan the connection to TAP pipeline considering Ionian Adriatic pipeline so that we could have Azerbaijani gas in Croatia? Thank you.

President Ilham Aliyev: First of all, thank you for your kind words about our country. I appreciate it.

With respect to the Ionian Adriatic pipeline, there are two serious problems ahead of it. First, this project is not included in the European Union's Projects of Common Interest, and that's why it lacks support. Second, the volume of natural gas, which can be consumed by three countries of that project is very low in order to build such an infrastructure project in a very difficult terrain. Because, as you know better than me, there are mountains, etc. So, that's a reason why it has not materialized so far. Is there an alternative? Yes, there is an alternative, and we are working on that. Of course, if anybody builds the Ionian Adriatic Pipeline, we will definitely start supplying. Because we have additional gas resources. But if not, access to Croatia and from Croatia to your neighbors in Bosnia Herzegovina and Montenegro can be achieved through Hungary. Because we already started gas supply to Hungary, I think, several months ago. This is actually the way to access your market. As far as I know, representatives of the governments of Croatia and Azerbaijan are already in the phase of consultations about that. So, I think that this is a more realistic way because, as I already mentioned, we are physically present in Hungary. Additionally, through Bulgaria, we have already entered the market of Serbia, which can also serve as a route to neighboring countries. So, I think we need to explore those options that can be realized sooner and with lower costs.

Hikmet Hajiyev: John Roberts, Energy Security Specialist, Methinks, United Kingdom.

John Roberts: Mr. President, thank you very much for having us here today. And your efforts on the peace process must be extraordinarily difficult to know just how you and the Armenians are going to reach a settlement. So therefore, it's very encouraging to hear that you think that you're going to manage to do that relatively soon. So, thank you for that. Question I want to ask is actually about COP and the energy transition. It's a simple one. What do you think the relative importance is between renewables on the one hand, and fossil fuels, particularly, natural gas in the pursuit of Azerbaijan's own energy transition?

President Ilham Aliyev: I think I have already touched upon the issue of finding the proper balance between fossil fuels and renewables. Azerbaijan, I think, is a good example of that with huge deposits of natural gas, which will be enough for at least 100 years to supply ourselves and the markets. We have also attracted investments in renewables. It was a big gift for us to have sun and wind, despite occasional complaints from the inhabitants of Baku about the wind, which blows there almost 300 days a year. But now, it will not only bring fresh air from the Caspian Sea but also provide clean energy. I think that in several years, we will demonstrate what I am saying on the ground. Because I have already mentioned the projects that are in the pipeline and more to come, we will be among the leading countries in transitioning from fossil fuels to green energy. We plan to supply our electricity demand with renewables and to mainly export natural to those who need it. Thank you.

Hikmet Hajiyev: Rachael M. Rudolph, Assistant Professor of Social Science, Researcher, Beijing Institute of Technology, Zhuhai Campus, United States.

Rachael M. Rudolph: Hi, Mr. President. I'm glad to be here again for a second time. I want to ask a very specific question. Building on what Professor Qiang had mentioned with respect to Azerbaijan-China relations, I'm interested in more specifically electronic vehicle development in Azerbaijan. And I know that there was a conversation that was just discussed last month. So, when talking about the development of Azerbaijan's indigenous EV market, what role do you see China playing in that specifically? Thank you.

President Ilham Aliyev: We consider China as our main partner in this process. We held very productive negotiations with several Chinese companies. I think the decision has already been made in favor of BYD, which will soon start manufacturing electrical buses, and not only them. The contract has either been signed or is soon to be signed in order to purchase a substantial number of electric buses from BYD, marking the first step in our cooperation. As far as I remember, there is also a guaranteed number of electric buses, which our state will purchase from manufacturing in Azerbaijan. So, our plans with respect to electric vehicles were not only to buy them but also to create manufacturing here, because we already have several factories that assemble vehicles from different producers. We will probably need hundreds of busses. Taking into account that BYD is also very famous for different types of electric vehicles, I think, for the market, it will also be a big advantage. So, it's already a done deal. I'm not sure about the formalities, but decision has been made. So, we're looking forward to receiving the first buses probably before COP. It will be another good demonstration about our agenda to the international community.

Hikmet Hajiyev: Wojciech Górecki, Senior Fellow, Centre for Eastern Studies (OSW), Poland.

Wojciech Górecki: Thank you, Mr. President. Thank you. I have one question on the perspective of reopening of land borders of Azerbaijan, which is of great importance in terms of tourism, in terms of existing Azerbaijani community in Georgia. I mean, especially land border with Georgia. Thank you.

President Ilham Aliyev: We were talking about security, regional development risks, etc. We see around us different areas of instability. The decision to keep the land border closed was made because of COVID. We are still formally in the quarantine phase, but at the same time, let's be frank, the decision to keep the borders closed is not only based on that. We now see, after our borders are already closed, the strengthened security in Azerbaijan. In previous times, there have been many cases. Some of them were public, some were not made public, where we faced serious threats and problems coming from outside. When I say that all our potential risks can come from outside, I mean exactly that. You will understand if we don't go too much into the details. But as President, as a person who deals with national security issues on a daily basis, I can say that we've seen tremendous benefits for our national security after we closed our borders. And this is a reality. Yes, people have to take that into account. We understand that there are inconveniences for people in Azerbaijan and also for Azerbaijanis and another nationalities who live in our neighborhoods. But national security should prevail over all other feelings, all other reasons, especially at a time when we have a war on our northern border and a crisis on our southern border. We have new areas of conflict emerging like mushrooms after the rain. I think that the people of Azerbaijan understand it.

With respect to tourism, I can say that the number of tourists is growing year after year. Probably this year, we will reach the pre-COVID number of foreign guests who enter Azerbaijan. The first three months of this year demonstrate a 24% growth of foreigners who come here. So, if this trend continues by the end of the year, we'll have more than 3 million foreigners who come to Azerbaijan, which is more than before COVID. So, for tourism, actually, it doesn't make any difference. Yes, it is inconvenient for some people in Azerbaijan who would like to go by car to the neighborhood. We understand it. It is inconvenient for Azerbaijanis who live on the other side of the border in Dagestan, Georgia, and Iran. We are surrounded by Azerbaijanis, as you know, on all our borders. But we have to be responsible. So, the situation to open the land border hasn't come yet.

Hikmet Hajiyev: Rick Fawn, Professor, University of St Andrews, United Kingdom.

Rick Fawn: Thank you very much, Mr. President. In this invaluable marathon session, we have perhaps not mentioned demining in Karabakh. One of the very, very hopeful things of these sessions is for all of us to see the horrible tragedy that remains. I'm wondering if you might briefly update us. And how that still impacting on the massive infrastructural developments that we get to see also in the important visits to Karabakh, and also what the international community could do to assist Azerbaijan? I know coming from the UK that there has been assistance, but it really shouldn't be an issue that is left simply to Azerbaijan. Thank you very much.

President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you. We're very grateful to the UK and other partners who provide assistance to us in this most important issue of post-conflict reconstruction. Unfortunately, the war against Azerbaijan continues. When I was answering the question about the Russian-Ukrainian war, I said that a ceasefire or even an end of war is not the end. So, we lost more than 350 people most of whom are civilians who were severely injured. Unfortunately, this number will grow because the map of mines, which Armenia refuses to provide, claiming they didn't have it, and then finally agreed to give us, was inaccurate. The accuracy depended on different formulas and made up 25%. So, demining is the biggest impediment for reconstruction. We cannot move forward not only people but also equipment and build roads without demining. Our resources are limited, although we have increased the number of personnel in our state demining agency. At the same time, we have created several military units of deminers in our defense ministry. But still, it is not enough. This could be one of the issues where the European Union can help us. We have raised this issue and even suggested that if you don't want to give the money, you could give the money to a company that will come and demine, if you wish to help. Actually, that could be fair because they have already announced a huge package for Armenia. It was announced as 2.6 billion US dollars, although Armenian territory was not subject to occupation and devastation. But when it comes to Azerbaijan, unfortunately, we see a different approach. So, we would be grateful to any country, company, NGOs, or donor organizations that could help us. We need more trained personnel. We need more people. Of course, if financial support is provided, we will be very grateful. If not, we'll continue this way. Every year, we allocate about 60-70 million US dollars from our budget to our demining agency. It is not enough, and we do not increase it not because we don't have the money, but because we lack the means and trained personnel. Because you cannot send a person from the street to this dangerous job. They must be well-prepared. So, thank you for raising this issue.

Hikmet Hajiyev: Kamran Bokhari, Director, Eurasian Security & Prosperity, Newlines Institute for Strategy & Policy, United States.

Kamran Bokhari: Thank you very much, Mr. President, Your Excellency. It's an honor to be here. I really enjoyed your candidness and the insights that you so generously shared with everybody, I really mean it. And congratulations on everything that your country has achieved from liberation of your territory all the way to COP209, and best wishes for the future. You have touched upon the question that I wanted to ask. But I will ask it a bit differently. So, we've been talking about risk, and we've been talking about connectivity. And you mentioned the North-South corridor, we've talked about the Middle Corridor. There are great changes taking place to the north of this country, and of course, to the south. There is the conflict that you have explained that you don't expect it between Iran and its adversaries to get out of hand, but Iran is also going through change internally. Likewise, you mentioned that you don't know when, and none of us can foretell when the war in Ukraine will end. But the longer it goes on the implications become more and more grave. How do you see this strategic environment affecting your country's ability to navigate towards the future and to achieve the goals that you've set for yourself? Thank you.

President Ilham Aliyev: Well, actually, I think the best way to navigate in this difficult environment, even without this war situation in the region, is as it is. I think the main remedy and the main recipe could be to be fair and straightforward. We have managed to establish good relations, and sometimes excellent relations, with our neighbors. I think this is mainly because of that and because they can trust us. They know that there will be no surprises from us. With respect to Ukraine, our support for Ukraine's territorial integrity has been articulated many times. This opposition is something we do not hide, regardless of the audience. At the same time, our friendly and strategic partnership relations with Russia have not suffered and should not suffer because of this war. This is the position of our government, which is based on our national interest.

I am responsible for Azerbaijan’s security, safety, development, and stability. Whatever is necessary for that, I'm doing based on principle, so we never did something, which we did not consider right, legitimate, or perfect from the point of view of international law. Because if you yourself violate the rules, which you want others not to violate, then it's just the beginning of the road to the desert without water. The same goes for other neighbors. Our good relations with Israel have already been mentioned. Yes, we consider each other friends. That should not be a factor that interferes in our relations, say, with Iran or with Palestine. Our position is absolutely straightforward and, again, based on international law. We fully support the aspirations of the Palestinian people to have their state. We have been co-sponsors in many cases in different institutions, including the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. So, one should not exclude the other. You must be fair, base your steps and statements on international law, and do everything in the national interest and nothing against it. There have been cases in the region where foreign actors were moving the pieces on the country’s chessboard, and what results did it bring? Tragedy. Foreign actors have their own national interests, and they do not necessarily coincide with yours. If they do coincide, good. If they don't, we say no. We have never joined any adventure that could create a potential threat to Azerbaijan, and have always been fair in our relations with Iran, Russia, Georgia, Europe, and our brothers in Türkiye. This is the reason why we achieve success. So, nobody expects us to do something that we do not want to do. This is already an established format of cooperation.

What important is that we never do anything against anyone without any motivation. Yes, now we face unjustified attacks on Azerbaijan from some countries, and we do respond. These countries have actually launched a Cold War against Azerbaijan. We said okay, we accept this, and we do the same, and we do exactly the same without crossing the red lines. We do not burn the last bridge. But we will respond, but we will never start first. And the same was with Armenia. We did not attack them. We did not occupy them. We did not expel them. It was them who did it. They received the response. Yes, in 22 years, but anyway. So, if I continue to share my ideas on that with you, we will probably need another four hours. So probably, I’d better stop, and I think what I have said is already enough. Thank you very much for your patience. All the best and have a safe trip to Lachin.

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