President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev has been interviewed by local TV channels.
Tofig Abbasov from Azerbaijan Television: Dear President, first of all, on behalf of my colleagues and myself, I would like to express our deep gratitude to you for taking time for us today. This is a very important meeting for us. Because in all your interviews, you usually touch upon such issues and motives that clarify the processes going on in the country. On the other hand, we share the information we receive with the public. You create opportunities for us to correctly perceive all the reasons and perceptions surrounding the processes, positive and negative effects in the world. So thank you very much again.
Mr. President, of course, we are primarily interested in the results of 2022 in your analysis. Because the year was not an easy one. First of all, post-war and post-pandemic situations were on the agenda. On the other hand, we are witnessing very positive trends regarding the reforms under your leadership. Because there is a global recession in the world, but despite this, Azerbaijan has minimized these impacts thanks to preventive measures, neutralized some of them, and even achieved growth. It is not only us who say this, Azerbaijani sources do not say it. Foreign sources confirm it. Therefore, of course, all these processes are expected to continue. There is a great need to talk about new priorities. Because 2023 will not be easy either, we feel that. We would like you to comment on this issue and tell us your thoughts on economic growth and new expectations.
President Ilham Aliyev: Of course, we must all work hard to make 2023 a successful year. At the beginning of last year, I expressed my opinion during a meeting with Azerbaijani media representatives that I was hoping that the tasks ahead would be fulfilled in 2022, and we have achieved this as a whole. Today, at the beginning of 2023, during this meeting, we will certainly talk about these issues. I am still hopeful, and I have reasons for hope. Because the position shown by Azerbaijan in the post-war period and the successes achieved on the international scale give reason to say this.
After the second Karabakh war, our main task was to substantiate our glorious military Victory on the political level as well. We started work immediately. Because we understood perfectly well that if we do not confirm this Victory in the political sphere, if we do not urge the world community to accept this Victory, we may face certain problems. We immediately began working hard, and I think that today, two years after the war, we can say with complete certainty that the results of the war have been accepted by the world. Azerbaijan's right cause has been confirmed again, and we must strengthen the situation created at the end of the war, i.e. we must strengthen our positions. During the last two years, we have been able to achieve what we wanted both at the level of international relations and within the country.
Today, it is no secret that Azerbaijan is recognized as a very reliable and serious partner in the world. Azerbaijan is one of the countries that speak its word openly and conduct an independent policy. Of course, this is based on both our military power and our glorious Victory. Because I am a living witness that after the war, the positive attitude towards Azerbaijan’s policies has increased even more. In other words, the sympathy towards us has increased even more. Because the political elite of the world understands well at what cost we achieved this Victory, what risks we took, what forces we were and are still fighting against. So even though the war is over, the struggle is still going on, and I am sure that we will win. Because we are on the right path and our military and political power, including our economic independence, certainly increase our power.
If I talk extensively about the results of 2022, then there will be no time left for the rest of the questions. I think that, first of all, it is necessary to say a few words about our economic achievements. Because this is not an ordinary issue. The world is still just adjusting to the post-pandemic era. A sharp price increase is observed in many countries, including Azerbaijan. As our economy is a part of the global economy, it is a pity that we have been affected by these negative impacts. However, we are trying to alleviate this global crisis with social projects and social programs for our people. The very extensive social package I recently signed shows this again. In other words, if a country that has just come out of the war, with 20 percent of its territory completely destroyed, allocates so much funds to the social sector, it means that our social policy remains unchanged and, of course, it shows our economic power. Because we do all the work at our own expense. I have already said it. We have not received help from anyone after the war. Only the presidents of two countries – Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan – initiated the construction of two schools in Fuzuli. Apart from that, we have not received a single manat of aid from anywhere. Therefore, economic independence must be strengthened, and last year our gross domestic product reached a record high. According to the latest information, it reached 134 billion manats. This is a figure equal to about 80 billion dollars. Of course, foreign trade also increased and exceeded 50 billion dollars. The positive balance of foreign trade is 25 billion dollars. So those dealing with the economy know what this means. At the same time, our foreign debt has decreased. Both in absolute numbers – it is lower than 7 billion dollars – and in relation to the gross domestic product. Of course, it has decreased sharply. Whereas at the beginning of last year our foreign debt accounted for 17 percent of the gross domestic product, according to the results of last year, it dropped to 9.5 percent. For comparison, I can say that in many developed countries it accounts for 100 or even 130-150 percent. What does this mean? In means that we are economically independent. If we want, we can start work to attract loans from international financial institutions. In fact, we have already started that. Because the ongoing projects with both the World Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development are almost finished. High-ranking representatives of both of the world's leading financial institutions visited Baku last year, and new directions were determined during the discussions. So I can say with full confidence that we will not encounter any problem in attracting unlimited foreign loans. But there is no great need for that yet. Therefore, the economic and social spheres should always go in parallel. In countries where the focus is only on the economy sphere and the social sphere is left aside, people there suffer greatly from economic reforms. Our goal is to strengthen the country and make the life of every citizen even better.
Narmin Salmanova from Public Television: Mr. President, the year 2022 was marked by steps towards strengthening the financial well-being of the population of Azerbaijan, and, as you mentioned, by the introduction of large-scale social packages. However, there is a high price increase and inflation in the world, which, of course, affects Azerbaijan as well. What steps can be taken in the direction of reducing these impacts, especially in the direction of strengthening the social well-being and supporting the low-income population?
President Ilham Aliyev: Yes, as I mentioned, inflation has become a serious problem all over the world. Even in developed Western countries, where inflation usually did not exceed one percent – one or a maximum of 1.5 percent – inflation exceeds 10 percent now. Inflation in Azerbaijan is an imported inflation. Because we, of course, are a part of the world economy, we import many goods, and we work in this direction so that local production replacing imports becomes more extensive. But, of course, we are still dependent on imports. Therefore, if it is possible to say so, inflation was imported to Azerbaijan. According to the results of last year, it was 13.9 percent. In other words, our ability to fight this imported inflation is quite limited. However, as a result of the reforms carried out last year, including improvement of the business environment, promotion of sound competition, fight against monopolistic trends, as well as elimination of violations in the customs system, personnel reforms will certainly play a positive role here as well. But in parallel with that, first of all, as you mentioned, we had to not only think about social well-being, but also take tangible steps. Therefore, the 15-percent increase in the minimum wage was intended to mitigate the consequences of inflation. The minimum wage has already reached 345 manats. Are we satisfied with this? Of course not! But we are taking our own steps as much as we can. Because I want to say again that the main direction of our expenses is to restore Karabakh and Eastern Zangazur and strengthen our army potential. These two top priorities will remain as such for many years to come.
At the same time, in order to improve the social security of pensioners, the minimum pension was increased by 16.7 percent to reach 280 manats, and this process will be continued. So the experience of recent years shows that this is not a one-off step, it is a part of regular steps, and as our economic opportunities increase, similar steps will certainly be taken in the future.
A great deal of transparency has been achieved regarding the provision of targeted social assistance. In the past, huge violations were committed in this area. Social assistance was given to people who did not need it, and of course it was done for a payment. People who actually needed help could not get it. Therefore, a very extensive inspection work was carried out in this area. Today, about 60,000 families receive targeted social assistance from the state, and the amount of this assistance is increasing every year. So this year, the allowance per family is approximately at 460 manats and, of course, it will be increased further during the year, including the average monthly salary. We expect the average monthly salary in Azerbaijan to be more than 900 manats this year. Thus, by taking these steps in the social field, we support people in need and, at the same time, we are showing our commitment to our policy.
Another direction is related to support for the families of martyrs and those disabled in the war. Last year, important steps were taken in this direction, as 1,500 families from this category were provided with apartments by the state. In 2021, a total of 3,000 apartments were handed out. At least 1,500 apartments will be provided this year. So all the people from this category who are still in line will be given apartments by the state.
For information, I can say that 13,000 families have benefited from these opportunities so far. This is our innovation among countries that have experienced war, if it is possible to say so. Because in many countries there is no such practice. Why are we doing this? Because this is our moral duty to those families, and we are trying to fulfill this duty to the best of our abilities.
A total of 379 servicemen disabled in the second Karabakh war have been provided with the most advanced prostheses. Although only two years have passed, this program related to the second Karabakh war has been fully implemented. The implementation of this program was also covered in the media. Everyone can see that our disabled war veterans can even play football. Hand prostheses have more sophisticated technology. According to my information, state-of-the-art hand prostheses have a grip function of about 40. So we try to provide maximum help to our countrymen who have lost their health. Of course, since these are high-tech prostheses, they need to be replaced from time to time. All these programs are also on the agenda.
In other words, the social sphere is a diverse field. For example, we can add the self-employment program here. It is both a social and an economic area. Because this is an area that promotes small business. But I see it more as a social field. Such an initiative has been put forward for several years. It aroused great interest, and 60,000 families have been involved in the self-employment program to date. We have even involved international financial institutions in this program. It is an area that covers both social and economic aspects, as well as jobs – i.e. all these areas. Therefore, this year will be no exception. Because I want to say again that Azerbaijan is a social state, and we confirm it not by words, but by our actions. These programs will be implemented as far as possible this year as well.
Ilgar Mikayiloglu from Real Television: Mr. President, 2022 has increased Azerbaijan's transport, transit and logistical potential. Additionally, given the Russia-Ukraine war, there is already a great need for a new transport direction. I would like to ask you about the Middle Corridor passing through Azerbaijan and the Zangezur corridor, which has a very important place in the development of the Middle Corridor project. How would you assess the prospects for the realization of these issues and the importance of this corridor for the region?
President Ilham Aliyev: We have been implementing projects in the field of transport for many years. The Russia-Ukraine war has enhanced the importance of our work. However, I want to say again that we have been investing in this area for many years. Thus, all of the main activities related to the Middle Corridor and the North-South transport corridor in the territory of Azerbaijan have been completed. We are only modernizing a part of the railway, especially the Baku-Yalama line, and after that we will also modernize the Alat-Astara line. Because the volume of expected cargo is limited by the current state of the railway. We believe that 15 million to 30 million tons of cargo can be transported from the territory of Azerbaijan through the North-South transport corridor alone. This is a very high figure. Currently, all of Azerbaijan’s transit opportunities make up a small percentage of that. Therefore, the North-South transport corridor is a project that can compete with the Middle Corridor. Considering that, this has become one of the top priorities for Russia after the start of the Russia-Ukraine war, as you mentioned.
As for the Middle Corridor, we have a consistent policy in this direction as well. As you know, we inaugurated the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway five years ago. I should also note that this project was initiated by us, and it took a long time to implement it. Because there were political difficulties involved, some major Western countries opposed this project and created very serious obstacles. The reason was that this is a project that practically excludes Armenia. In other words, pro-Armenian trends manifested themselves in the implementation of this project. In other words, we lost a few years. Another problem was a lack of funding. Because there wasn’t anyone interested in investing in this project. Our appeals to international financial institutions remained unanswered. After we got the initial revenues from oil, we allocated a lot of funds to this project ourselves. As you know, Georgia was given a loan of 775 million dollars and this project was implemented. Currently, we are seriously engaged in expanding this project. An order was issued last year and more than 100 million dollars will be allocated from the budget, a part of which has already been allocated. We will increase the capacity of this railway from the present 1 million to 5 million tons. But even that will not be enough. True, there are other opportunities in the Western direction, including Georgian ports. Of course, we are using them as well, and one of the ports belongs to Azerbaijan. And yet, if we look at the volume of the expected cargo, we will see that it will not be enough. Last year I had numerous meetings with the leaders of Central Asian countries, and I can say that this topic was discussed in every meeting.
There should also be new routes for cargo from Central Asia. The route across the Caspian Sea is very attractive in terms of time. At the same time, we should make this route economically more viable by implementing a common tariff policy. I believe that negotiations are going in a positive direction here as well. So if we consider only the shipping potential of the Central Asian countries and the cargo going there from the direction of Europe, we will see that even if we implement and expand all these projects, it will still not be enough. Therefore, the economic viability of the Zangezur corridor should not be in any doubt. Of course, for us this is not only an economic and transport project, it is also a strategic project for us. We are sure that the realization of this project is our natural right. In addition, the realization of this project was also reflected in the trilateral statement of November 10, 2020. True, there is no word “Zangezur corridor” in it because I included the term “Zangezur corridor” in the geopolitical lexicon afterwards. However, it is explicitly stated there that there should be a transport connection between the western regions of Azerbaijan and the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic, and Armenia should provide it. Now Armenia wants to shy away from that. In fact, it has not fulfilled his obligations for more than two years now. But that won't stop us. So for us this is a strategic project, and not only for us, but also for several neighboring countries and for a broad geography.
That is why the work done in the field of transport has created a very strong foundation. What has already been done and what will be done in the future will certainly strengthen our positions. Because countries that do not have access to the world ocean usually can’t take advantage of transit facilities. Azerbaijan is one of a handful of countries that does not have access to the world ocean, but has already become an international logistical and transport center. Our infrastructure includes railways, airports, the Alat International Seaport and other transport infrastructure, the largest fleet in the Caspian. At the same time, our fleet also operates in the Black Sea. By my order, the number of our ships in the Black Sea fleet will be increased. In other words, Azerbaijan has become a serious actor in a very large transport market. Of course, the realization of the Zangezur corridor is a historical necessity. This is why I said that whether Armenia wants it or not, it will happen. In other words, they perceive this as another threat in Armenia, although I did not have such an idea. It is simply inevitable. It will happen sooner or later. Of course, we want it to take place soon.
Ilgar Mikayiloglu: I would like to touch upon another issue regarding Zangezur. In the interview you gave us at the beginning of last year, in response to a question about visiting the graves of your ancestors in Nakhchivan, you said that this was a fact. After the liberation of Shusha, we think it is right to consider that it was a continuation of the visit to the Great Leader's grave. I would like to quote you. You said, “Yes, it is, and I appreciate that you took it that way. Yes, these were the thoughts in my heart, but I will not say at this point what more is in my heart.” Now, let me ask, was what you said at the meeting about the Western Azerbaijan Community exactly what you had in your heart or is there something you haven't said yet?
President Ilham Aliyev: No, in principle, I think that we should gradually share our views on this topic. During the meeting with the Western Azerbaijan Community, I think we went a little deeper as a continuation of my words you quoted from earlier that year. Today, it is no secret that the Western Azerbaijan Community was denied its rights as a community that was deported for many years. Of course, talking about the rights of Western Azerbaijanis in a place where there was a problem of Karabakh might have looked like a premature fire. But today, I think that we have quite rightly brought this topic to the international arena. My recommendations, i.e. the recommendations I gave on December 24, are being implemented. A special working group has been set up based on all the tasks I set and, at the same time, based on the suggestions from the ground. We have started working on a single concept. Of course, Western Azerbaijanis should return to their ancestral lands, this is their right, all international conventions recognize this right of theirs. As the state of Azerbaijan, we must do our best to secure this right. Again, I said during the meeting with representatives of the community there that we wanted to do it peacefully, and I am sure that we will achieve that. Because there are no mono-ethnic states in our area, in Eurasia in general, and it would be good for Armenia, as they say, to get rid of this mono-ethnic state stigma. The best and fairest way for this is for Western Azerbaijanis to return to their native lands.
I also said during the meeting with the representatives of the Community that there was almost no life in the villages they had vacated after the deportation. Now there are videos, there are other documents, there are people who went to those villages. They saw that everything there is destroyed and there is no life there at all. Therefore, their return there will not create a problem for the Armenians who occupied their houses, just as they did elsewhere, in Karabakh for example. Because their return there does not mean the removal of the Armenians living there. Because those villages are empty and we will, of course, use all the opportunities available to us. Just as the Karabakh issue once united the entire Azerbaijani people and we achieved our desires, we should apply the same approach here. Of course, there is a great need for the activities of the media, both inside the country and abroad. I have also expressed my opinion about this. So a very broad program is being prepared.
I want to say one more thing – all our programs are implemented in all areas. We never come up with initiatives that cannot be realized. Therefore, work is already underway on a program in this area. I am sure that we will achieve this and restore historical justice.
Sanan Rzayev from CBC TV channel: Mr. President, last year Azerbaijan took several more steps to help ensure the energy security of Europe and the European Union. On July 18, the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, visited Baku. A Memorandum on Strategic Partnership in the field of energy was signed between Azerbaijan and the European Union. Mr. President, I would like to know how you would evaluate the pace of realization of that idea as a whole. And what does this Memorandum and this cooperation promise to both Azerbaijan and the European Union, both in the current year and in the next year?
President Ilham Aliyev: This is a significant event in the development of Azerbaijan's oil and gas sector. Of course, the visit of the President of the European Commission testifies to the attention being paid to this issue by the European Commission and by Mrs. Ursula von der Leyen personally. In recent years, energy security issues have been the center stage of the global agenda. This means that this issue has always been on the agenda of international organizations and the most influential international forums, and the way Azerbaijan has been implementing its oil and gas industry projects has always earned us great respect of our partners. But after the start of the Russia-Ukraine war, of course, other issues may have overshadowed energy security issues and become top priority on Europe’s agenda. This is understandable. Of course, interest in Azerbaijan's energy resources has increased significantly. However, even before that, there was an established opinion that Azerbaijan is a reliable partner for many countries, including countries that are members of the European Union. Azerbaijan's opportunities have increased, and we, as they say, were successfully doing our work at home and were moving towards more profitable markets. Of course, after the Southern Gas Corridor was put into use, we started exporting gas to European Union countries as well. We took into account the fact that we expect additional production both from the “Shah Deniz” field and from other fields. For example, if everything goes according to plan, the so-called “deep gas” will be produced from the Absheron field this year and, if there are no force majeure obstacles, from the Azeri-Chirag-Guneshli field next year, in 2024. We plan to start producing “deep gas”.
In other words, there is potential, Azerbaijan’s confirmed reserves are well known. I have stated the figure many times - 2.6 trillion cubic meters, but I am sure that it will be much more than that. Because our experience of working in oil fields suggests that as drilling continues, the volume of reserves proves greater than the initial estimates. Azerbaijan's fields will supply gas to international markets for at least another 100 years, i.e. as technologies develop, production opportunities will increase. Therefore, 2.6 trillion cubic meters is the confirmed minimum volume of our potential. Considering the construction of all the gas pipelines, of course, together with the European Union we aim to increase the supply. But to do this, of course, it is necessary to invest in production, and we are doing that, because it is necessary to expand the existing gas pipelines. Because both TANAP and TAP pipelines are designed for the volumes we contracted. We did not take into account the need to double the supply to Europe in such a short period of time. In other words, the document signed with Mrs. Ursula von der Leyen refers to this very matter.
Of course, the implementation of this Memorandum continues quite successfully. Whereas in 2021 we supplied a little more than 8 billion cubic meters of gas to Europe, this year it will be close to 12 billion cubic meters. As a whole, about 24 billion cubic meters of exports is expected this year. Therefore, we are already becoming a serious actor in the gas market, including the European market. We are already thinking about doubling the throughput capacity of TANAP and TAP. Of course, we are consulting with our partners about this. As for the TANAP project, things are easy here, because we are the main participant and shareholder of this project, and the main financial burden falls upon us. Our share in the TAP project is 20 percent, so, of course, we will have to work more on reaching consensus there. We have always approached oil and gas projects from a strategic point of view because we understood that if gas pipelines and oil pipelines are not implemented, we will remain in a somewhat locked-up space with our resources.
International energy companies first look at the economic side of the issue – when to invest and when to expand. So it would be wrong to expect international energy companies to invest billions in the project that will be needed in five years. Therefore, we are trying to reconcile our strategic outlook– we have never been wrong in this matter yet – with the economic opportunities and economic policy of our partners, and we are working in this direction now.
After the commissioning of the Greece-Bulgaria interconnector, new promising directions will open up and have already opened. Azerbaijani gas has already entered the Bulgarian market, and from this year it will also enter the Romanian market. So, in essence, we are approaching a certain version of the Nabucco project. If you remember, there were active discussions about this project for years, but later it was deemed unnecessary. In fact, work on the creation of a network of interconnectors, for example, the Greece-Bulgaria interconnector, is going on very actively. I also know that work is underway on an interconnector that will connect Serbia to the common system, including negotiations on gas supplies with Serbia. The creation of this network will allow us the opportunity to send our gas resources to that market. If the Ionian-Adriatic Sea project is implemented, this project will cover three more Balkan countries that currently do not receive Azerbaijani gas.
We have started active negotiations on the gas supply of Albania. In this case, Albania is only a transit country, there is no gas network in this country, and this work requires considerable costs. We have offered our services as close friends and partners, and currently work is being done on the issue of selecting gasification sites, first of all, agreeing which cities to gasify.
So if we take a broad look at the energy map of Europe, the Balkans, Western Europe, this map is clearly crisscrossed by various arteries, and this gives both us and them the opportunity to plan a long-term strategy. Of course, we should not forget the so-called “green transition” program of most European countries. Under such circumstances, after a certain period of time, it is assumed that fossil fuels will be abandoned altogether. However, according to my observations, trends in the European gas market – this program is in force, of course – the current situation regarding energy security will encourage European institutions to approach energy security from a more realistic perspective. Therefore, I am sure that oil and gas are unlikely to be abandoned in the foreseeable future.
Nigar Mahmudova from Khazar Television: I also wanted to continue the topic of energy. You have already mentioned the increase in demand for Azerbaijan's energy potential and that all this opens up new opportunities for us. What are the new opportunities opening up? We are probably talking not only about economic, but also political strengthening of Azerbaijan. It would be interesting to listen to your thoughts on this, Mr. President.
President Ilham Aliyev: Regarding new opportunities, in principle, I answered this in the previous question. What else can be done? Of course, we have now started energy negotiations with several countries, countries that were not our partners before. All the projects planned until the Russia-Ukraine war were almost going according to plan. At the Advisory Council meeting for the Southern Gas Corridor held in Baku every year, there was already an exchange of views on the successful completion of the TAP project, which is the last segment of the Southern Gas Corridor. However, new topics will be discussed at the next Southern Gas Corridor Advisory Council meeting, which will be held next month, and the number of participating countries will increase. For example, we believed that the completion of the TANAP project would actually mean the completion of our main work in this area. After that, we thought that we simply needed to export our own gas resources using the existing infrastructure. But as you can see, based on the request of the Romanian side, we have already been transferring gas to Romania since January. Because during the year, the energy minister of Romania came to Azerbaijan twice, and at the end of the year, I visited Romania. In the meantime, our respective agencies were in talks, and the interconnector was already operational, making it technically feasible. Of course, without the technical capacity, we cannot expand the geography of our gas exports, and technical capacity in the European space are not within our competence. In other words, European countries do it themselves, and the more connections there are, the more potential customers we will have.
I don't want to announce anything ahead of time, but since the beginning of the Russia-Ukraine war, we have received requests from more than 10 countries – from countries that are buying our gas now and are interested in additional volumes of gas, and also from countries that have never bought gas from us but want to join this program too. Of course, the role of Azerbaijan is increasing here, and we must take advantage of that. We have never made our oil and gas policy a key factor in the overall political context. Because we believe that these should be separate. But now, since the energy policy in the world is fully aligned with the overall geopolitical situation, this factor cannot be denied. Of course, our economic and political importance is growing, and if we look at the gas pipelines that feed Europe, we will see that there are not so many of them. In other words, existing suppliers are simply increasing gas production because there is a huge demand in Europe. Azerbaijan is the only one among the new suppliers. Considering that we have a very large resource base, we already have infrastructure and we have very active cooperation with the European Union not only in the field of energy but also in all other fields, attention is focused on Azerbaijan, of course. Of course, we understand our responsibility and try to be a reliable partner for new partners.
Ilgar Mikayiloglu: Mr. President, theories, opinions and statements were regularly voiced regarding the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline in 2022. But in reality, what is the basis of this information and what is our position on that?
President Ilham Aliyev: Discussions about the Trans-Caspian pipeline have been going on for many years, but there is no result yet. The total throughput capacity of the Trans-Caspian pipeline is estimated at 30 billion cubic meters of gas. There are several key issues for the implementation of this project, one of which is who will finance this project. Because when it comes to our projects, whether it is Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan or the Southern Gas Corridor, everything was clear. Azerbaijan took the leadership upon itself, created a team of countries and companies, and attracted international financial institutions. Notice which institutions participated in the financing of the Southern Gas Corridor – the World Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the Asian Bank, the European Investment Bank and the European Infrastructure and Investment Bank – the world's leading financial institutions. These institutions, companies and Azerbaijan as a country invested their own funds and implemented this project. There is still no clarity regarding the Trans-Caspian pipeline project. In other words, who will take this project forward and what will be its financial capacity? To calculate this, a feasibility study should be prepared. Companies should be involved in preparing it. That is, these are not issues that are resolved in one day or one year. If this project is started today, it will take a few years just to carry out all the studies – geological surveys, environmental surveys, technical capacities, financial capacity. All these are open questions. I think it would be wrong to talk about the Trans-Caspian pipeline project without answering these questions first. We, as a country, have always supported this project, and I have openly stated it several times that yes, if we are approached, we are ready to present our capabilities, make our infrastructure available and address other necessary issues. But we cannot initiate this project because it is not our gas.
In parallel with this, even if all the issues I have listed are resolved, another issue will emerge at the second stage. Let's say that the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline has been built and brought to the shores of Azerbaijan. What will happen after that? What route will it follow to be sent to Europe? TANAP? TANAP has a total throughput capacity of 16 billion cubic meters today. Almost all of it has now been supplied by us, by Azerbaijani gas. The expansion of TANAP's capacity up to two times is also associated with Azerbaijani gas. Because we can produce at least 10 billion cubic meters of additional gas in the next five to six years, if everything goes according to plan. Of course, the only way to do this is through TANAP and, as I said, interconnectors. In other words, what will happen beyond the borders of Azerbaijan? That is, will a new pipeline be built on the territory of Azerbaijan? Possibly. Who will build it? Therefore, these are all open questions. The topic of the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline has been politicized for many years. I am against it. Because I have always been in favor of working on real projects. After answering all these questions, of course, this project can be implemented. Because in principle, I think that this project can be economically viable, but a feasibility study is required, of course. This must be confirmed. Contracts must be signed with the owners of gas and its price stipulated. Because the longer the distance, the higher the cost. But we have always given political support to this project. If we are approached about this project, we will do our best to help.
Sanan Rzayev: Mr. President, if you would allow me, I would like to continue the question about the gas price and the energy sector. When you answered the previous questions, you touched in detail upon the issue of the volume of our gas reserves, especially our plans in the Balkans and Europe. This is one side of the matter. On the other hand, strange opinions have been circulating in the foreign media recently that Azerbaijan is buying Russian gas for subsequent exports to Europe, world markets, etc. In this regard, I would like to know, first of all, what you think about this information and what your take on those who think like that is?
President Ilham Aliyev: In my opinion, this is information manipulation, and I have every reason to think so. I must say that this was first announced by Mr. Schröder, former chancellor of Germany and former head of one of the Russian energy companies. Then this theory was circulated in the media and, of course, our opponents welcomed it with joy, trying to accuse us of playing some kind of an unfair game. This completely defies all logic. Even if we look at the volume of our exports in straightforward terms, it is clear that this is out of the question. Yes, we used to buy gas from Russia, it was a long time ago when I was still working in an industrial company. It was profitable. At that time, our own gas was not sufficient, and we bought gas in order not to use fuel oil in the production of electricity, i.e. to get more benefits. Of course, fuel-fired power plants pollute the environment. Today, all of our power plants run on gas, water and other partially renewable sources. Also, if I am not mistaken, in 2006 or 2007, gas purchases from Russia were stopped due to a sharp increase in prices – they practically doubled. At that time, we were told that the price would be twice as high. The price was already quite high compared to the price in Western European countries, and the volumes being sold were supposed to reduce four times. We used to buy 4 billion cubic meters of gas, but they told us on behalf of “Gazprom” that they could supply us only 1 billion cubic meters of gas. This conversation took place at the end of the year, in November, after the country's energy balance had already been approved. Under such circumstances, we had only one month left to make a decision. Instead of the expected 4 billion cubic meters, we could get only 1 billion cubic meters. But we got out of the situation. As they say, every cloud has a silver lining. This situation compelled us to pay more attention to production in our own country, and we stopped buying gas from Russia. About 15 years have passed since then.
Now we are talking about buying 1 billion cubic meters of gas from Russia. The contract was signed at the end of last year, but we have not received even half of that volume. Why are we doing this? Yes, our consumption is increasing, the population is increasing. Enterprises that did not work at full capacity when there were insufficient reserves – methanol plant, urea plant, petrochemical plants – are now working at full capacity. If we look at the volume of production and exports in Azerbaijan last year alone, we will see that we exported 22 billion cubic meters of gas and I think we imported only 200 and 300 million cubic meters, i.e. one percent. This year we will export 24 billion cubic meters of gas and import the remainder of that 1 billion cubic meters. So either laymen or provocateurs can talk about the fact that we will buy gas from Russia and then sell it. I think in this case we are facing both. However, attempts to constantly slander Azerbaijan and reduce our role and importance are not new. I remember that at one time they used to say that Azerbaijan does not have oil and the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline will not be built, then they said that Azerbaijan does not have gas, and now they are saying this. Let them say whatever they want. We have done our job and we are doing it successfully.
Tofig Abbasov: Mr. President, one of the strategic events of last year was that a four-sided agreement was signed with your participation in Bucharest on December 17. We are talking about the Strategic Partnership Agreement, in which Azerbaijan, Georgia, Romania and Hungary envisage the production, then increase and also transmission of green energy in our territory. I would say that there is a tremendous knock-on effect behind this event. First of all, we have almost launched a new index of diversification of our energy policy. Then we created a new cooperation format. Because according to the information I have, that Agreement was reached in Baku, and our partners, i.e. Georgia, Hungary and Romania, welcomed that document with great approval. First of all, I would like you to comment on the implementation prospects of this agreement. On the other hand, if we have to call everything by its name, you have just talked about the place of the pro-Armenian factor in politics. It is no secret that France was trying very hard to involve Romania in its anti-Azerbaijani front, so to speak, and they even took into account what the Western media had written about it – that they would send arms and ammunition to Armenia through the Black Sea and on the condition of using the territory of Romania. Is it possible to say that it was the success of our diplomacy in the second moment that prevented and thwarted that destructive plan?
President Ilham Aliyev: As far as this project is concerned, of course, its essence has not been fully analyzed yet. Because it was a novelty and came as a surprise to many. Of course, when we started working on this project, we clearly saw what steps should be taken to implement it. Therefore, after we joined this project, it actually started to be implemented. Because this project as an idea, a general concept that had preexisted for many years. Even the feasibility study is being prepared, and in the initial transmission capacity of the project was calculated at one thousand megawatts of electricity. After we joined the project and did all the analysis, we suggested that once we have joined it, let's do it on a larger scale. We proposed that it should be at the level of 4,000 megawatts instead of 1,000 megawatts. Because the costs will be high anyway and the cable will be laid anyway. Therefore, by laying the cable with more possibilities, we can achieve more. The implementation of this project also raises investment interest in Azerbaijan. Because we currently do not have the ability to export so much electricity. We export, our average export capacity is around 1,000 megawatts. However, the investment projects currently being implemented in Azerbaijan – two projects are already being implemented, one is a solar power plant, one is a wind power plant, and the third project is to be implemented in the coming months – will provide us with more than 700 megawatts of clean green energy.
In parallel with this, according to the memorandums of intent signed with two of the world’s leading companies, the construction of solar and wind power plants with a capacity of up to 22,000 megawatts is planned in Azerbaijan. It is a matter of the future to decide whether all of these 22,000 megawatts will be fully implemented, or whether only a half or 30 percent of this volume will be implemented. However, I think that at least half of this volume is completely feasible, very feasible. The main issue is its future fate – how will it be transmitted? Because we need to expand our existing transmission lines. I am going back to the Zangezur corridor. In our opinion, electricity should be transmitted through that corridor as well. It is for this purpose that we are building a large receiving and converting station in Jabrayil district. If this project is realized, then a station should be built on the border between Nakhchivan and Turkiye. At the same time, transmission opportunities in Turkiye should also be expanded. Because it is not designed to take in that much energy. So this is a very global project, and it can be fully realized. Because the companies investing billions of dollars in Azerbaijan today have certainly calculated everything. They are sure that this energy will be consumed both in Azerbaijan – the current economic situation in Azerbaijan is such that they are satisfied – and there will also be opportunities for export.
Another issue – it is also very important, it has been somewhat left out of the general context – is that if we implement these projects together with our partners, I can say that Azerbaijan will not invest a single manat. All of it will be realized on the basis of foreign investments projects. Then the natural gas we are using for the production of electricity today will not be used and will therefore be exported. So our natural gas exports will increase because we will also export the gas saved in the new fields of Absheron, Umid-Babek, then ACG and Shah Deniz. So, as they say, a second winning opportunity will present itself both for us and for Europe. The probability of this project being implemented, if it is possible to say so, is very high. Why am I saying this? Because, first of all, the President of the European Commission, Mrs. Ursula von der Leyen, participated in the signing of this agreement. Her participation suggests that this is a priority project for Europe and that there will be no financial constraints related to the implementation of this project. So far, we haven't come to a decision about which countries will invest and in what volumes, what country will receive the funds allocated by financial institutions, i.e. who will return the debt later. There have been no talks on this yet. But everything will depend on the feasibility study. Thus, Azerbaijan will become a country of even greater importance for Europe.
I can also say that we have already started the energy dialogue with the European Union. As part of this energy dialogue, not only natural gas but also green energy and green hydrogen are on the agenda. Therefore, this is a field with great prospects and a project that can bring great benefits to the economy of Azerbaijan.
Tofig Abbasov: Mr. President, I would like you to express your opinion on another issue. We will export, as they say, heat, electricity and light to the West through the Black Sea. However, some forces want to transfer weapons and ammunition to our infamous neighbors. In other words, we have almost automatically crossed out that plan. Is that so?
President Ilham Aliyev: In any case, we will do our best, we are doing everything in our power. I must also note that no matter what weapons are given to Armenia, it will not help them, and I have said this to the Armenian side several times. I told them not to waste money on that. Because, first of all, it will not help you, and secondly, it may create an illusion in the revanchist forces in your country. It can create the illusion that you can retaliate. You will not be able to! If we see that there is a serious threat to us, we will crush this threat immediately – no matter where this threat comes from, from our territory or beyond our borders. This is our legitimate right. This is why there are such attempts. We see and know which countries are preparing to give arms to Armenia. Unfortunately, India is now playing a role among them. We consider this as an unfriendly step. Because these weapons, especially offensive weapons, have a target, and it is Azerbaijan. Therefore, of course, we are taking the necessary measures and cannot allow Armenia to create a danger for us, we can never allow that to happen.
Narmin Salmanova: Mr. President, in 2022, we witnessed some armed incidents on the convention border between Azerbaijan and Armenia, and also in the territories of Azerbaijan where Russian peacekeeping forces were temporarily stationed. We saw the Farrukh, Revenge operations, as well as the battles in mid-September. In general, can we expect the factors that led to these incidents to be eliminated in 2023? What are your predictions in this respect?
President Ilham Aliyev: I do hope that Armenia clearly understands that these provocations will have no result. After the second Karabakh war, the signals we sent to the Armenian side were that you should come to terms with this situation, and the signing of the act of capitulation should actually put an end to this conflict between us. Unfortunately, we did not see this. On the contrary, Armenia did not abandon its plans both in Karabakh and in the direction of the border, and we were forced to take measures. We had warned them. At the same time, we told our European partners that if we see a threat, we will act immediately. I believe that this was also why the reaction of the leading international forces to these events was reasonable. In other words, no-one condemned us, no-one blamed us. Because everyone could see that we were not the ones who instigated the clashes.
The main reason for the Farrukh operation was not only to take control of those strategic heights. At the same time, a large area of our territory was under fire from those heights, and illegal Armenian armed groups that still exist there occasionally fired in our direction. It was even impossible to repair the Khachinchay reservoir. This is why the Farrukh operation removed this threat, and it was unexpected for many, including Armenia and the separatists who had made a nest in Karabakh. They believed that the Armed Forces of Azerbaijan would never conduct any operations in those areas. We have shattered this mythology. This is our territory, and the reason we are not conducting a serious operation there is not because we are afraid of anyone, but because we believe that we must get what we want through political means. Unfortunately, it was not a lesson and a very large-scale mining process was underway in Saribaba, Girkhgiz and other directions. All those mines were discovered. How did Armenian-made mines of 2021 even get there? The Russian peacekeeping forces can’t answer this question to this day. What can they answer after all? We even invited them there. We invited representatives of the Turkiye-Russia Monitoring Center and showed them – come and see, how did it cross into our territory, who carried it, and who is responsible? Saribaba, Buzlukh, Girkhgiz operations, including the Revenge operation, were because the Armenians had killed our serviceman. We had a martyr, and we had to show our strength once again. We thought that this would eventually be a lesson for them, but it was not, and the September clashes were inevitable.
I now hope that there will be no such situations in the future. Because last year, since March, we have shown three times that no-one can stand in front of us and we will achieve what we want, and no Armenian patron can come to their rescue. This is first. Secondly, the heights controlled both in the direction of the Azerbaijan-Armenia border and in the direction of Karabakh provide us with a great strategic advantage. Because as I said, visual observation already allows the opportunity us to see any danger from the very beginning and prevent it. I do hope that Armenia, which has already suffered such military and political failures three times, will understand that a peace agreement is inevitable. The sooner they understand this and the sooner they find the strength to agree to it, the better it will be for the region.
I want to say that again we have no intention of starting a third war. Those accusing us of this are simply either victims of Armenian propaganda or are pursing a fabrication and slander campaign against us yet again. I must also note that a new wave of a disgusting campaign of slander is spreading against us in some Western media. We are seeing its first manifestations, but it is likely that even more unsightly steps will be taken. But that won't stop us. This is why I think and hope that 2022 brings a real end to the second Karabakh war and that such events do not happen this year. Let me say again – if we see that there is a threat against us and Armenia and its patrons are planning some kind of provocation against us, we will immediately eliminate this threat with all the means at our disposal. We are warning them and those behind them.
Ilgar Mikayiloglu: Mr. President, after the 2020 Patriotic War and its victorious end, certain work have been done in the army in terms of weapons and equipment in order to create military units of various purposes, especially commando, and quickly replenish our ammunition arsenal. Moreover, the integration of technology into the Armed Forces has completely changed the strength of our military. True, we are ranked 57th on the Global Firepower index, but let me admit that I am somewhat skeptical of this number.
President Ilham Aliyev: So am I.
Ilgar Mikayiloglu: Because if we look at the countries ahead of us, they are countries with technology of the 1960s. How did they get ahead of us? They have no experience. But okay, it's their figures, but I have the impression that in the last two years, we seem to be building a completely new army, taking into account combat experience and technology.
President Ilham Aliyev: Yes, you are absolutely right. During the war, our Army showed its strength, showed its resolve, and our people as a whole showed their indomitable spirit. Our soldiers made great sacrifices, they literally faced death, and nearly 3,000 of our children were martyred. Our army was strong enough. The fact of the strengthening of our army was not a secret to anyone. I remember a time when we started allocating major funds for military expenses. I was even accused by some international organizations that Azerbaijan should solve this issue peacefully and that there was no military solution to this issue. Why is so much being allocated? Even within the country, some criticized us for allocating so much money to the army. There were those who weren’t very impressed by our parades. We were simply showing our capabilities, we were showing that we would not come to terms with this occupation. We didn’t want war to be necessary. All my efforts as President were focused on that. I tried to convince the co-chair countries of the former Minsk Group, as well as our partners in Europe, that we would not put up with this situation. I told the previous and current leadership of Armenia – if you think that the situation would continue like this, it will not. They simply thought that those were words spoken for the sake of propaganda. We were forced to show our strength because the messages we were sending did not reach the address. I even demanded that sanctions be applied against Armenia. I thought that if sanctions were applied, then they would be forced to vacate our land of their own free will. However, this did not happen and we showed the strength of our Army in the war. At the same time, we saw that there was a need for the further development of the army. everyone knows this now. During the 44 days, we did not take a single step back, not a single person ran away, there was not a single deserter. This is perhaps an unprecedented indicator in the world’s military history. I am leaving aside the fact that there were 10,000 deserters in the Armenian army. In general, the soldiers and officers who attacked, going up from the bottom, facing death, breaking through six to seven defense lines are real heroes, and this is the strength of our Army.
At the same time, however, we started work immediately after the war, as they say, without even a day's rest. We began to analyze all stages of the war. I ordered that yes, this is a historic Victory and we have already accomplished our historic mission. Now, instead of rejoicing, it is necessary to work and find out the drawbacks. Of course, there were and still are drawbacks. We are working hard to eliminate them and apply our war experience already based on the new army concept. Many things have been done in two years. But this work is not finished yet. As they say, it is probably inappropriate to talk about this openly. But I can say that our commando forces have already been fully formed, have become a major unit, and this process is being continued. New commando forces will be created. Their number will be increased. We have already at least doubled the size of our Special Forces, which bore the brunt of the war, and we will increase it further more. All supplies have been provided at the highest level.
I should also note that we have increased the number of special forces of the Border Service, special forces of the Internal Troops, special forces of the State Security Service, Foreign Intelligence Service, detachments and groups have been created. We have increased the number of marines several times. We have increased the number of special forces of the Nakhchivan Standalone Army. I can't cite the numbers now, because I think it would be wrong. At the same time, their number is still increasing. We have not yet reached our goal. We have already created and will create a force it would be suicidal not to reckon with.
We have resolved the issue with Armenia. I am sure there will be no third war. But the threats have not disappeared, we have faced some new threats after the war. Resisting these threats is not an easy task – it requires both resolve and self-confidence. We have never gone on an adventure, and we never will. If we have, as they say, given a very crushing slap to these provocations, it means that this is not just propaganda, we feel strength in ourselves. Everyone should know this so that no-one fools with us. We started it immediately after the war. Because we knew that it would determine the future of the world. But look at the Russia-Ukraine war. Everyone is doing it, everyone. The largest countries of Europe, which did not pay attention to army building at all, are now building their armies. They have now started talking about a single European army. They have now started manufacturing military products or expanding its production. When did we start this? It's been 15 years. I should also say that we have signed new contracts with major Turkish and Israeli companies, with companies from other countries. At the same time, we are in the final stages of negotiations with several leading companies to expand local production.
A new era is beginning for Azerbaijan’s military industry. At the same time, it will be an export-oriented industry. Because, first of all, we must meet our own needs to the maximum. I am sure that several of the planned enterprises will already start production this year. On the other hand, we currently sell military products to more than 30 countries. There is a shortage in the world’s arms market. Because Russia has practically left the world arms market. Now Russia's military industry works for its own domestic needs. America has actually directed its military products to Ukraine, and so has European countries. Other well-known players have virtually left this market, which means it remains vacant. But there is a great need for it. This is why we have to fill this market. I believe that we can be an exporter of military products worth hundreds of millions of dollars. In other words, we aim for this and will move towards this goal.
Of course, this will further expand the geopolitical opportunities of our country. Look – natural resources, a strong army, a strong economy, a united nation, civil solidarity, and the military-industrial complex. Who can stand before us?