Last week, the president of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, conducted a video interview with the Italian newspaper la Repubblica.
Asked initially whether he was satisfied by the Russian peace mediation, Aliyev responded positively, stating that while there had been some minor incidents which still needed to be resolved – such as the ability of foreign citizens to visit territory in the zone of responsibility of the Russian military contingent without the prior permission of the Azerbaijan government – he was on the whole satisfied with the Russian presence.
Aliyev also announced that investment into the territories that returned to Azerbaijani control last year would be significant, totalling close to USD 1.3 billion, most of it in infrastructure. He also listed a host of other measures which were being undertaken; the building of roads and railways; the completion of electricity provision by the end of 2021; the construction of two new airports; housing projects; and the planning of two new cities. He added that the plan was to “return the former refugees as soon as possible to their homelands”.
Regarding the role of Europe in the South Caucasus, Aliyev said that while there was significant co-operation over more traditional areas like energy, he also saw potential for more involvement in Azerbaijan’s transport sector: “Now European Union is very actively involved and shows a big interest in our transportation potential, because we are transforming Azerbaijan into an important Eurasian transportation hub with modern infrastructure which has very diversified routes of communication with the neighbourhood. European Union is planning to be part of that”. He noted that the role of the EU in the post-war development was also being discussed.
In response to a question about Azerbaijan’s current tense relationship with Iran, Aliyev said that no other country should try to influence Azerbaijan’s decisions, and that blaming Baku would lead to deadlock. Regarding the issue of trucks entering Azerbaijan from Iran, he said it was a question of sovereignty and territorial control over borders.
“The number of trucks from Iran to Karabakh increased and we considered it as an assault, as a deliberate disrespect. So, then we took other measures which is absolutely legitimate”. He added that Azerbaijan wants friendly relations with all countries, most of all with its neighbours. He re-affirmed that “we reject all the accusations about Azerbaijan bringing Israel to the liberated territories”, Aliyev said, calling them pretexts aimed at demonising Baku.