Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, arrived Monday (10 May) in Baku for a two-day official visit to meet with Azerbaijani officials. Shortly after his arrival in the Azerbaijani capital, Lavrov met with Azerbaijani president, Ilham Aliyev.
Aliyev welcomed Lavrov, noting the positive dynamics in Russian-Azerbaijani relations. The Azerbaijani president referred to his telephone conversation earlier in the day with Russian President Vladimir Putin, emphasising Russian-Azerbaijani solidarity leading to the victory over fascism in World War II. President Aliyev quickly focused the conversation on the aftermath of the 44-day Karabakh war and the 10 November trilateral declaration between Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia. He told Lavrov that the current “post-conflict situation” requires a high level of communication. Aliyev reiterated his commitment to the opening of regional transport corridors, highlighting the work of the trilateral working group, co-chaired by the deputy prime ministers of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Russia.
Aliyev emphasised Azerbaijan’s demonstration of goodwill on humanitarian issues, asserting that it had returned all prisoners of war and the bodies of 1600 Armenian servicemen. He claimed that Armenia had not returned the bodies of Azerbaijani servicemen during the first Karabakh war – a number he emphasised was about 4000. He stated that Armenian citizens are using the highway between the Republic of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh unimpeded, which he said was a “manifestation of the good will of the Azerbaijani side”. He also noted that gas was transported from Russia to Armenia through Azerbaijan for a month due to repair work, which was another “gesture of goodwill aimed at normalising relations”.
Aliyev raised concerns about “growing Azerbaijanophobia” in Armenia – a factor he claimed was the only thing uniting Armenia’s government and opposition. He stated that Azerbaijan wanted to turn the page, but that this was difficult from a “purely emotional and psychological point of view”. He cited the destruction of the territories that came back under Azerbaijani control during last year’s war, including of religious monuments. He referred to the statements coming from political forces in Armenia regarding the reclaiming of any of the territories as “very dangerous and, above all, dangerous for Armenia”. He stated his country’s commitment to work with Russia, its strategic partner, to normalise the situation, which despite being stabilised from a military point of view, still required work in terms of political, economic, transport and other considerations. He expressed hope that Russia would help to lower tensions and take a more vigilant approach to the positions of the Armenian side.
Lavrov agreed that the situation in region requires good communication, noting that this is taking place at all levels.
Lavrov also highlighted the Azerbaijani-Russian unity as part of the Soviet Union in the struggle against “fascism”, also noting the contribution made by former Azerbaijani leader Heydar Aliyev, stating that he would “always remain in the memory of all Soviet people”.
Lavrov noted the development of humanitarian, educational and cultural projects between Russia and Azerbaijan, and thanked Aliyev for the personal attention he gives to the Russian language in Azerbaijan, and joint programmes with Russian universities, including with the Moscow State Institute of International Relations – their common alma mater.
He brought up co-operation on COVID-19 noting that the first batch of the Russian Sputnik vaccine had arrived in Azerbaijan on 2 May and there were more scheduled to arrive this month.
Turning his attention to the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh, Lavrov expressed Russia’s commitment to the implementation of the agreement stipulated by the 10 November trilateral statement and the trilateral meeting on 11 January between Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Russia. He stated that the Russian military contingent deployed in Nagorno-Karabakh as peacekeepers were carrying out the tasks agreed. He thanked Aliyev for his “high-assessment” of the soldiers’ role, promising to do everything “so that everyone proceeds from the assumption that the military aspects are closed”. He brought up the importance now of handling the details on the ground, such as delimitation and demarcation, noting that whilst not everything will be simple, military experts with the participation of diplomats can agree on mutually acceptable solutions.
The Russian official remarked that the Interdepartmental Centre for Humanitarian Response was in operation and the Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations was working with Azerbaijani colleagues to solve humanitarian issues that would improve the lives of Azerbaijanis on the ground. He noted that the co-chairmen of the trilateral working group, were meeting frequently to consider practical aspects related to the opening of transport links in the South Caucasus – “a potentially serious transport hub”.
Lavrov stated Russia’s commitment to the normalisation of relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia, and his country’s belief that a joint focus on the economic aspects of overcoming the protracted conflict are an optimal framework for this. He said that Russia was interested in helping to resolve humanitarian issues in the most constructive way, citing “prisoners of war” and “[the] prevention of abuse of historical and religious heritage” as outlying issues. On the latter point, Lavrov noted that UNESCO has a keen interest and that Russia is ready to create the conditions that would make their involvement possible. He emphasised that any agreements must take into account the positions of the interested parties.
The Russian foreign minister acknowledged that in the post-war period, there are issues caused by the projection of what is going on to domestic audiences. He agreed with Aliyev that certain unfriendly rhetoric does not help the situation, but insisted that Russia would strive to ensure that the agreements reached between the leaders of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia would be implemented. He stated that the issues related to this and to bilateral relations between their two countries would be discussed during his visit. He said that they would also exchange views on the post-conflict settlement process, and that Russia was ready to encourage companies to participate in restoration work and other planned programmes. In addition, he said they would discuss broader regional themes, such as the Caspian sea, and their mutual involvement in multilateral organisations. He finished by thanking the Azerbaijani president for supporting Russia’s application as an observer of the Non-Aligned Movement.
Lavrov has meetings today (11 May) with the Azerbaijani foreign minister, Jeyhun Bayramov.