Ilham Aliyev met with the heads of Russia's top mass media outlets at TASS headquarters

23 February 2022, 15:40
Ilham Aliyev met with the heads of Russia's top mass media outlets at TASS headquarters

As part of his official visit to the Russian Federation, President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev has met with heads of Russia's top mass media outlets at the TASS headquarters.

First Lady Mehriban Aliyeva also attended the meeting.

TASS Director General Sergei Mikhailov said welcoming the meeting participants: Hello, colleagues. We are glad to see everyone at this meeting. Of course, we cannot declare victory over the pandemic yet, but we are slowly resuming our TASS Editor-in-Chief Club, the famous TASS one. Not because we decided to start alphabetically with the letter "A," but it just happened that way. Thank you very much for coming to TASS. We are always delighted. You are always a very dear guest here, and we remembered that meeting ten years ago. Mrs. Mehriban Aliyeva was here relatively recently, five or six years ago. As usual, our meetings are held in a warm and friendly atmosphere. Any questions. Would you like to say anything?

President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you very much. I would like to thank the leadership of TASS for the opportunity to meet with the heads of leading Russian media. I think that the time is the best, given the format of my visit to Russia, the official visit, and especially, of course, the signing of the Declaration on Allied Cooperation yesterday. Many documents have been signed between Russia and Azerbaijan – more than 200. But this one is quite special because we have reached an alliance level after 30 years of interstate relations. I would say we have only formalized it because I think that the nature of relations between Russia and Azerbaijan for many years met all the parameters of the relations between allies. In other words, this is a document that sums up much work and opens up excellent prospects for future interaction between Russia and Azerbaijan and prospects for positive regional development. And less than a day after the signing of this document, I am here. As already mentioned, this is not my first time here. This venue has become somewhat dear to me, primarily due to the relaxed atmosphere always present in TASS. It is an opportunity to exchange views and clarify some issues that are sometimes beyond the scope of official statements.

Official statements were made by the President of Russia and myself yesterday. They have been published in Azerbaijan's press in full. I believe you had the opportunity to get acquainted with them. Therefore, I would not like to repeat myself. I think we should leave more time just for our conversation. So it is a pleasure to see you all here. And thank you for taking the time to come here on a day off, to spend your time on this meeting. I appreciate it very much.

Sergei Mikhailov: Please, colleagues.

Vladislav Fronin, Editor-in-Chief of "Rossiyskaya Gazeta": The first question has to do with the Declaration. There are 43 provisions in the Declaration. Could you please elaborate on the new level if we don't speak about "general level" in general terms? Could you please clarify what the new level in the economy, the new level in culture and other areas of interaction are about? After all, we have had an agreement for many years. And does this mean that this is higher than that agreement?

President Ilham Aliyev: I think it does. It is higher than the agreement because the agreement, as far as I remember, was about friendship, cooperation and security. However, it did not define the format of relations as allies. For many years, the relations between Russia and Azerbaijan were characterized by both me and President Putin as relations of strategic partners. The current format of relations is the highest. In other words, there is practically nothing higher than this. In interstate relations, this is the tip of the iceberg, so to speak. I have given this instruction, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan has posted the full text of the Declaration on the website so that everyone can get acquainted with it. As I noted yesterday, there are 43 provisions in it. Of course, it would take too much time to comment on all the provisions. And there is no need for that; you can look it up. But the very title of this Declaration speaks volumes. This, as I said, is the outcome of very hard work over many years to increase the level of interaction and the result of specific work by a group of representatives of Russia and Azerbaijan for more than one year – since January last year – on the actual text of this Declaration. It covers almost all areas of life. And, of course, there is also a series of documents being developed that will back up this Declaration with concrete agreements on various fronts.

I should also note that eight road maps are being implemented, which have been adopted by Russia and Azerbaijan in various areas – trade, economic, transport, humanitarian activities and other areas. In other words, the relations are so diversified that it is easier to say or find the areas we do not cooperate in than those in which we cooperate. Of course, I also think that to define this level as one of allied cooperation is an outstanding achievement and, of course, a great responsibility for our countries, for two neighboring countries. We must live up to this high level together in the future.

Dmitriy Kiselev, Director General of the International Information Agency "Rossiya Segodnya": Ilham Heydar oglu, the documents on allied relations were prepared in one situation and with one Russia, but were signed at a moment when the situation in the world had changed qualitatively, and so had Russia. We all know what we are talking about. What do allied relations with Russia mean in these changed circumstances? How does this color the situation, our allied relations, and how would you decipher them in the current situation?

President Ilham Aliyev: Well, all this happened so recently that it needs to be analyzed, of course. But I must say that the text of the Declaration was prepared several months ago. The final text was ready, and it was just necessary for the presidents to meet in person – of course, taking into account all the pandemic restrictions and the presidents' schedules. During my last visit to Moscow at the end of November last year, it was agreed that this would happen at the beginning of this year. The Russian side proposed the date. This date was proposed about 20 days before the day of signing, and we accepted it. Of course, I did not even consider the possibility of correcting this date, taking into account the fact that the events you are talking about happened as I was flying here on the plane on the 21st. But even if I had still been in Baku, I would also have flown here. Therefore, nothing has changed or should change for our relations. We will continue to work along the lines reflected in the Declaration and with which we have been working for many years. We have always supported each other in the international arena for many years. I will say without false modesty that I, among others, laid the foundation for this as chairman of the delegation of the Azerbaijani parliament to PACE. When we were just elected there, we organized a meeting with the Russian delegation on our initiative, agreed to support each other on all issues, and consistently voted in solidarity. And this tradition was then picked in other international institutions. This can be traced even by a non-specialist. Therefore, I think we simply formalized yesterday what was already there, we gave it the name that corresponds to the spirit and nature of our relations, and we will continue to work in this direction. I am sure that there will be no correction in the position of the Azerbaijani and Russian sides in connection with the events that have happened and the events that may still happen in our region.

Mikhail Komissar, Director General of Interfax agency: Picking up the same topic and also taking into account the fact that not so long ago the situation with Karabakh was to some extent resolved, do you think that Azerbaijan can now move towards the CSTO, the SCO? Are there any such plans?

President Ilham Aliyev: The point is that as far as the SCO is concerned, we are already involved in a certain sense. We have been a dialogue partner for more than a year now. This is the first step, and the second step is to be an observer. Several years ago, we officially applied to the SCO Secretariat to upgrade our status to an observer, but, unfortunately, this issue has not yet been resolved. And my contacts with the leadership of Russia, with the leadership of the People's Republic of China and with other members of the SCO in this context show that there is no reason why our status should not be upgraded. But this is not happening for reasons unknown to us.

As for other integration projects, we proceed from the principles of expediency and to what extent this would meet our national interests. I think it is no secret to anyone that the leading role in the CSTO belongs to Russia. This was demonstrated not so long ago in the CIS. And it was clear to everyone even before the events in Kazakhstan. Having allied relations with the Russian Federation and two out of 43 provisions directly dwell upon issues related to military assistance if necessary – these are provisions 6 and 16 – I think that this is quite enough. The CSTO is the CSTO as long as Russia is there. If Russia were not in the CSTO, no one would even remember it. This is what our position stems from. Therefore, the step in raising the level of military-political cooperation between Russia and Azerbaijan has been taken. We also have very trusting, close and friendly relations with other members of the CSTO, except for Armenia. After the Second Karabakh War, our relations with Armenia will also normalize. In any case, we have officially declared our desire to conclude a peace treaty with Armenia. This will probably happen at some stage. But in the current geopolitical realities, we must be realistic and should not wish for what is impossible to achieve. We must move towards establishing lasting peace in the Caucasus. Therefore, I think that yesterday's document answers your question to a certain extent. The same, anticipating further questions, also applies to the issue related to the EurAsEC. This has also been discussed both in the expert community and in the political arena for a long time. But here, too, we proceed from the principle to which extent this will meet our economic interests because our strategy and tactical steps have always been based on our resources, on what we have at our disposal. We have managed to create a self-sufficient economy and not depend on international financial institutions or other financial injections.

Therefore, we will analyze everything from a pragmatic point of view. Yesterday, at a meeting with the head of the government of the Russian Federation, this topic was discussed. And our position was openly brought to the attention of the Russian side – we should put before ourselves, as it were, two sheets of paper – one with pluses and the other where there may be some restrictions or where our economic sovereignty can be corrected to some extent. And after analyzing the pros and cons, of course, a decision that is beneficial to us will be made. Along with this, I must say that Azerbaijan has signed free trade agreements with all CIS countries, including Russia – except Armenia, of course. A step towards easing economic and customs barriers has been made. As they say, let's now wait and see. We can't guess anything and have never announced any goals that cannot be achieved in a short time. But, of course, this is on the agenda as part of the discussions within our team.

Margarita Simonyan, Editor-in-Chief of RT TV channel and the International News Agency "Rossiya Segodnya": Ilham Heydar oglu, we are now in the process of discussing more and more sanctions, including personal sanctions. Some of those present here are already banned from entering Europe, like Dmitry, some of us, like myself, for example, will be most likely banned today. We know of many examples of people being denied entry somewhere based on what they did or did not do, spoke, like Dmitry and I did or did not speak. We also know many examples of denying entry based on citizenship because relationships between different countries can differ. But there are almost no examples in the world when entering into a country would be prohibited on ethnic grounds. We all know that Armenians are not allowed to enter Azerbaijan. This is usually explained by security reasons. Thus, the Azerbaijani people appear in a somewhat bad light, which is strange. It is hard for me to believe this. I don't believe that this is the case, that when people in Azerbaijan see an ethnic Armenian, they will attack them and tear them to pieces. After all, this is not the Middle Ages. Wouldn't you like to set an example of a civilized and cultural attitude to this issue and just cancel this ridiculous status quo?

President Ilham Aliyev: Well, first of all, I have to say that the information you have shared with us is not accurate, to put it mildly. We do not have a ban on entry on an ethnic basis, and the numerous visits by representatives of the Armenian people to Azerbaijan testify to this. They have participated in sporting events such as the European Games. A team from Armenia participated, and I even remember personally handing a silver medal to a representative of Ukraine who was an Armenian by nationality. He stood on the podium next to the Azerbaijani boxer who won gold. I awarded him, shook his hand and congratulated him, and the audience, which, perhaps, was not fully tuned in to this, applauded me for a long time.

Margarita Simonyan: I know this story.

President Ilham Aliyev: Yes, you see. Then it means that there is a certain bias in what you said. The same applies to the arrival of representatives of Armenia, not just ethnic Armenians. Representatives of Armenia have come to Azerbaijan for various events. There was a visit by Catholicos Garegin several years ago, and I met with him in my office. He visited the Armenian church in the center of Baku and was surprised that we keep more than 5,000 books in Armenian in this church. He witnessed this himself.

I can give many more such examples – MPs, public figures and citizens of other countries with Armenian roots. We don't have any restrictions. There are, or rather, there were concerns that when this happens somewhat chaotically, there was a certain risk that there might be some incident. Because for almost 30 years, all Azerbaijani cultural, historical and religious heritage in Karabakh and Zangazur was destroyed. I have brought a book - it is not even a book, but more of a photo album, "Karabakh before and after the occupation." I will present it to you so that you can see it. This is better than any words about what happened there. And, of course, there are many victims, many people who have lost their parents and loved ones.

We still have about 4,000 missing people. Unfortunately, they are not being returned. We are not being told about mass grave sites. We are responsible for the safety of our citizens and visitors, so we requested that if either the citizens of Armenia or citizens with Armenian surnames want to come to Azerbaijan, the relevant authorities should be notified. In particular, if we are talking about Russia, the Embassy and Ambassador Polad Bulbuloglu know these instructions. There were cases when an entry was denied, but that happened precisely because these formalities were not observed.

I do not want to talk about what happened to the Azerbaijanis who accidentally got into the territory controlled by the Armenian armed forces. They wanted to visit their homes and were detained, taken prisoner and tortured. This is another topic. But I think that after the end of the war if the Armenian leadership accepts our ideas to start working on a peace treaty, such visits may become commonplace, as was the case before the war. Baku, unlike Yerevan, has always been a multinational city. Azerbaijan is still a multinational state, unlike Armenia, which is a mono-ethnic state, where almost all national minorities, primarily Azerbaijanis, have been deported and expelled. Therefore, the spirit of multiculturalism in Azerbaijan is visible practically everywhere.

Moreover, thousands of Azerbaijani citizens of Armenian nationality live in Azerbaijan. There are fewer of them than the figure that is being mentioned – 30,000. There were 30,000 of them perhaps 10-15 years ago, but still, they are there; they live and live normally, no one has any issues with that. So taking this opportunity to answer your question, I would like to invite you to Azerbaijan. And you will see that there are no restrictions.

Margarita Simonyan: You said that there was bias in my question. There is no bias, believe me. I am aware of the cases you are talking about. And you are saying that all these cases are special.

The country's President knows about them: sports events, political and public events. But, for example, in the 20 years that I have been working in this system, no one has succeeded in sending a film crew with even a sound engineer with an Armenian surname. If this is not the case now and you are inviting me with an Armenian surname, maybe I can take a few more colleagues along who would love to come. Do I understand you correctly that we can apply in such cases if we go there with a group?

President Ilham Aliyev: Yes.

Mikhail Gusman: This does not mean that all employees in the organization Margarita is heading are Armenians. It doesn't mean that.

President Ilham Aliyev: Well, I think the majority are.

Margarita Simonyan: You are wrong.

President Ilham Aliyev: Well, you have just made a mistake too.

Margarita Simonyan: A total of 6,000 people work in my organization, and most of them are British and American. So I understand you correctly, don't I? Ilham Heydar oglu, I am a fifth-generation Russian woman.

President Ilham Aliyev: Yes, but in this case, you asked the question as an Armenian, as far as I understand.

Margarita Simonyan: I asked the question as to the head of an organization that is faced with the fact that I cannot send my employees to two countries solely on ethnic grounds: people with Armenian surnames to Azerbaijan and people with Georgian surnames to Abkhazia. It just seems that this is wrong in the modern world. And we are now, it seems, moving to some ethnic layer of conversation; this is also wrong.

President Ilham Aliyev: You started it. I simply wanted to correct you by saying that what you said is not valid. And I can provide hundreds of examples when people with Armenian surnames come to Azerbaijan both as part of a film crew and as part of official delegations, including from Russia and other countries – from France and the USA. There were a lot of them. You are probably unaware of that. But I think that if you come to Azerbaijan with your group, you will be convinced of this.

First Vice President Mehriban Aliyeva: May I add something to what Margarita said.

President Ilham Aliyev: Yes, of course.

Mehriban Aliyeva: Before we visited Moscow, a documentary was shown on Azerbaijani television. The film was about an elderly woman. She is 79 years old, and she came to Aghdam, to the liberated Aghdam, to find her home. The woman is very old. Indeed, she could hardly walk, and for almost 30 minutes, she tried to tell through tears about her emotions that she, of course, did not find anything. She didn't even find the ruins. She tried to find at least the neighborhood. It is quite a frightening sight, and I think that now is the opportunity – I want to invite you all. Mr. President has also mentioned the book, but you have to see it with your own eyes. Why am I talking about this now – she told her story, and in parallel, footage, pre-war footage was shown from before the first war, when there was a wedding in her family. It showed them celebrating this wedding in the front yard, welcoming a young bride, and then the current footage, today's footage. She has tears of pain, tears of happiness that she finally came to this earth. She said: "I have seen this. I am lucky to have survived to this day." In the end, she grabs a chunk of land and kisses it. So I am telling you this now – it is difficult to convey this, you probably need to see it and feel that there are many such people. During the years of the first war, we had about a million refugees. Many of the people who lived with the dream did not live to see it come true. Those who survived, of course, are happy now. And, of course, these people have families, have acquaintances. And when such situations occur, as the President has emphasized, first of all, this is done to protect. Because when we talk about some big problems, we often speak in general terms, and we fail to see a person, which is probably quite natural. Behind every problem, there is still a person with his story, life, and emotions. Unfortunately, people are different, and people's emotional background is also different. That is why, as a state, and the President speaks on behalf of the state of Azerbaijan, it must protect everyone who visits Azerbaijan. But the state knows what emotions people live with. It is also a fact: people control their emotions differently. There is no difference in ethnic, national or religious composition. All people are different and react differently. Some may be more able to control, analyze and act under generally accepted norms. Others can't help it. This is one factor that is also very important for us because we understand we must protect people visiting our country regardless of what nationality they are. I wanted to add this so that it is taken into account. It has absolutely nothing to do with anything else, let's say, some ethnic factor. This is not the case. And it is essential that there is an understanding. I had a multiethnic class at school – Armenians, Russians, Jews, Azerbaijanis. I can't even say that the Azerbaijanis – if you remember, there were 45 people in a class back then – made up the majority. We were all friends, united, and absolutely nothing foretold that this might happen. And I think this is the essence, one of the best features of the Azerbaijani people, and it could not disappear. A situation today is totally understandable and, unfortunately, has historical roots.

Margarita Simonyan: Can your classmates, the Armenians who probably no longer live in Azerbaijan, come? This is what I am asking. I don't want to go into history now.

Mehriban Aliyeva: Of course, Margarita, they can come.

Margarita Simonyan: So they must apply to the Embassy, and they can come.

Timur Vaynshteyn, General Producer of NTV: Margarita, we have talked about this topic, and I even said: I studied at a school literally 150 meters from the school where Mehriban Aliyeva studied – at school number 160. There were also 45 people of entirely different nationalities in our class. We didn't know it then, but then we began to find out what nationality people were. I know a specific Armenian schoolmate who visited Baku several years ago, having applied to the Embassy at that time. All this was official. It is clear that there are cases we can probably hear about. There are cases that, unfortunately, are written about on social networks. But in broader terms - I recently visited my school. Everything is lovely there. I even met teachers working there before me – even though I graduated from school more than 30 years ago. And, of course, one of the surprising things that I noticed is that the school continues to work in Russian.

You discussed this with Vladimir Vladimirovich yesterday. There are already more than 300 such schools in Azerbaijan, 340 schools, and about 20 higher educational institutions where the teaching is conducted in Russian, including branches of well-known Russian universities. And it seems that when we talk about Russia's relations with different countries today, this is one of the essential issues of the alliance per se. Because in many countries, which, unfortunately, quite severely cut off the possibility of studying in Russian and communicating in Russian in those 1990s, we see rather complicated relations with Russia today. I am talking about the countries of the former Soviet Union. Do you think this trend will be continued in general?

President Ilham Aliyev: This is a part of the state policy. But before answering your question, I would like to describe a situation, so to speak, related to what we have been talking about. These days, perhaps even today, two members of Azerbaijan's parliament are in Yerevan attending a meeting of the Euronest. For them to go there, we received guarantees from the Committee or the Ministry of State Security – I don't know exactly how they are called in Armenia – for their safety. As soon as some people found out they were there; unrest began in Armenia. You can now see that on social networks, the unrest does not seem to subside. I have been informed today that ten people were detained, the protesters who pose a threat to our MPs.

Moreover, in the venue where lunch was supposed to be hosted for those attending this meeting – and there are not only our citizens there, of course, there are members of the European Parliament, the Eastern Partnership countries – the restaurant owners, refused to serve Azerbaijanis and accused the Armenian prime minister of toeing Aliyev's line who said that the Azerbaijanis would be traveling to Yerevan. Yes, I did say that. I also said we would be traveling there not on tanks but attending events. I am saying this to show that if they had gone there on their own, without proper coordination and all the security measures, it is not difficult to imagine what kind of lynching would have been carried out on them and how it would all have ended. I am sure that they would have been publicly beheaded at the very least. So we are also taking measures. This topic, by the way, was discussed during the visits of the head of the Russian Foreign Ministry, Sergey Viktorovich Lavrov.

Then I tried to explain that we cannot allow some excesses to happen and then be accused of someone attacking someone else, throwing a stone at someone. So we must treat this issue responsibly. If all this is adequately organized and coordinated, there are no restrictions. Moreover, of course, what Mehriban has said is the absolute truth. The wounds of the war have not healed. If our wounds did not heal for 30 years, then, of course, they have not healed with the Armenian people now, after the defeat in the second war. This also needs to be understood. We do not live in some kind of vacuum. We live among people and must approach this responsibly. And the steps that we are taking, including myself, by stating, unlike the Armenian leadership, that we must mend ties are precisely aimed at ensuring that such issues do not arise and become commonplace. The Germans and citizens of the USSR probably didn't start visiting each other a year after World War II either. It also needed some time, perhaps. Because imagine the Germans coming to Moscow during the occupation of, say, Ukraine or Belarus or Smolensk. What would they have done to them? So this analogy is absolutely valid. That is just returning to the same topic.

As for teaching in Russian, yes, this is a conscious policy. First of all, we are doing this for ourselves, of course, so that those who want to study in Russian – both Azerbaijanis and non-Azerbaijanis – have such an opportunity. The demand for studying in the Russian sector, as we call it, is high in schools, and, as I said, both Azerbaijanis and non-Azerbaijanis study – more than 140,000 children and more than 15,000 Azerbaijani citizens study at universities in the Russian department. For comparison, let me say that in Armenia, either by law or by another ordinance, it is completely forbidden for children of Armenian nationality to study in non-Armenian schools. And as far as I know, there are only one or two Russian schools in Armenia, and they are for the military. That is regarding the question of who is who. So the Declaration signed yesterday, of course, contains a clause on humanitarian cooperation, and this cooperation is mutual. Before I visited Moscow, I was given a memo about a department in the Azerbaijani language in Russia. There are about 80 schools. We welcome this very much that Azerbaijanis who are Russian citizens and those who work here, their children could also study in their language. In other words, this is a mutual process, which is entirely in the spirit of cooperation, and I think, as Timur said, in comparison with other countries of the post-Soviet space, this is an example of how this should be treated. This applies not only to education but also to the attitude towards the Russian language in general. In Azerbaijan, there is a state university where the students study the Russian language - the Slavic University. The teachers of the Russian language and other Slavic languages are also trained there.

Before the pandemic, representatives of the creative intelligentsia performed in Baku almost every week – performances, concerts. So we have lived in such an interaction, as Timur knows perfectly well, for many years. And it is crucial that at a time when we are not part of the same state, and the new generation has already emerged, we have managed to preserve this and will do everything to preserve it for the future.

Pavel Gusev, Editor-in-Chief of "Moskovsky Komsomolets" newspaper: Turkey is very popular among Russians as a destination for recreation. Does Azerbaijan think of overtaking Turkey in this respect? Because the food in Azerbaijan, the alcoholic drinks are even better, the sea is not bad, fruits and everything else, the tea is exquisite. It seems that Azerbaijan could move Turkey to the side quite a bit.

President Ilham Aliyev: No, of course, not. I think this is unlikely. First of all, the tourism industry in Turkey is one of the best, if not the finest in the world, and, of course, the climate. In other words, it is entirely pointless for us to compete purely in terms of climatic capabilities. Of course, I think we provide a completely different segment. We provide a segment for those who come to feel at home. People go to Turkey to see the sights, swim in the sea, and ski. All of that is also available in Azerbaijan, but the Russians visit Azerbaijan more to feel at home. Before the pandemic, by the way, in 2019, we had a million Russian tourists, and they travel primarily because they feel comfortable in Azerbaijan. They feel at home, in their own environment, including the language environment.

Of course, everything you have said about is also available; however, if all of this were there, but there wasn't this atmosphere, then they would probably not have come. We observed an increase of literally 15-20 percent annually, but the pandemic brought it all down. Last year though, the growth went back to 15 percent. So I think we need to be more active in Russia, not only in Moscow, to showcase possibilities. In other words, recreation in Azerbaijan is very diverse, and I think anyone can find an exciting activity for themselves. We just need to present it well. Of course, our weak point is the weak tourism industry. But there are probably objective reasons here too, because this area is relatively new for us, and the issues of personnel training and service play an essential role here. But now, for example, there are a hundred flights a week between Russian and Azerbaijani cities, which is a good indicator. I want to take this opportunity to invite you all either as a group or…

Mikhail Gusman: In April, when everything blooms – TASS has such an experience – we will altogether land in Baku.

Konstantin Remchukov, Editor-in-Chief of "Nezavisimaya Gazeta": While in Europe, I happened to tune in to the ATV channel, as far as I can understand, and watched the news every day for two weeks. It turned out that this was Azerbaijani news. And I have never had such voluminous information about your cooperation with the Turks: every day, a regional airport or bus station opens, and people talk about it. Considering the dynamism of Turkiye's role as a regional power, as well as its overlapping or coinciding interests with Russia, sometimes conflicting too, as we saw at such moments as in Syria, in the supply of military drones to Ukraine, I would like to ask you to characterize the relationship between Azerbaijan and Turkiye as partners in this part of the world. Thank you.

President Ilham Aliyev: Our relations are also allied. Last year, on 15 June, President Erdogan and I signed a declaration in the city of Shusha liberated from occupation – the Declaration on Allied Relations. This was also a formalization of our relationship because we had allied relations between Azerbaijan and Turkiye for years. Turkiye was the first country to recognize Azerbaijan as an independent state. And from the very first steps as an independent state, we felt moral support from Turkiye.

In recent years, during the presidency of President Erdogan and mine – these periods coincide to a large extent – we have significantly increased the efficiency of our cooperation. For example, Azerbaijan has invested $19 billion in the Turkish economy, and Turkiye has invested $13 billion in Azerbaijan. There are many infrastructure projects that Turkish companies are implementing as contractors. Naturally, there is cultural affinity, linguistic affinity, ethnic affinity. This is very important. This is the foundation that has allowed us the opportunity to raise these relations to an unprecedented level – although we do know that ethnic kinship, including linguistic, is not always a guarantee of close relations, unfortunately. In our case, however, this was possible thanks to the right policy, I think, thanks to the equal relations maintained for many years. Of course, Turkiye was the country that provided Azerbaijan with political and moral support from the very first days of the Second Karabakh War. Also, with this political and moral support, Turkiye unequivocally restrained some circles in some countries from unfriendly actions towards Azerbaijan. We appreciate that very much. From the first day, from the first hours of the Second Karabakh War, President Erdogan made a statement and then repeatedly made statements supporting Azerbaijan. It is not surprising that Turkish companies now play the most critical role in restoring Karabakh and East Zangezur. They are helping us a lot.

I must also say that we are carrying out all the restoration work exclusively at our own expense. We have not taken a single manat, ruble or dollar from anyone, either as a loan or as some kind of gratuitous assistance. We do everything at our own expense, but we use Turkish companies extensively as contractors. By the way, I must say that 14 Russian companies have also asked us for an opportunity to work in the liberated territories. What was signed yesterday, if you look from our point of view, is, in essence, a historic achievement because Azerbaijan has allied relations with two great countries, two neighbors. I don't think any other country can boast of this. Not to mention that one of them is a NATO member and the other a de facto leader of the CSTO. It is an achievement, and it is probably no secret to anyone that a trilateral format of cooperation is already being shaped de facto. It has not been formalized yet; there have not been meetings of foreign ministers, let alone presidents yet, but it is already being formed. It is being formed based on shared interests, pragmatism and similarity. It is not a secret for anyone which similarities of management systems and values we are committed to. For example, we are delighted that there are very trusting relations between President Erdogan and President Putin. Both of them talk about it publicly. So I think the day is probably not far off when we formalize these relations. Moreover, since Azerbaijan is an ally of Russia and Turkiye, the next step seems to suggest itself. This is not our business, but we, for our part, have always worked to bring the interests of the two countries closer together.

Oleg Dobrodeyev, General Director of the All-Russia State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company: Ilham Heydar oglu, here is what I would like to ask you. One of the most difficult memories I have from the time when I was in Baku in the early 1990s is the presence of hundreds of thousands of refugees, almost the entire city, the entire city center. You remember that, of course. My question is this. More than 30 years have passed. It is clear that this is incredible pain, a tragedy, but you rightly said that the most challenging thing is going through each person. How actively are they returning now?

President Ilham Aliyev: So far, there is nowhere to return because everything is destroyed – this is one. And secondly, everything is mined. In a year and three months after the war, we already have more than 200 people killed or crippled by mines. In the first months after the end of the war, despite the calls of Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, Prime Minister Pashinyan stubbornly said that they did not have maps of minefields, which was not valid. We knew that there were such maps of minefields. A few months later, they admitted that, yes, such maps do exist. However, they refused to hand them over to us, essentially flagrantly violating international humanitarian law and dooming those people, the refugees you are talking about, to death because people have been waiting 30 years. It is impossible to hold everyone back. It is also impossible to set up checkpoints on every road because there are workarounds; people go nonetheless trying to find at least the ruins of their houses and die. In the end, these maps of minefields were handed over to us, but their accuracy is 25 percent. So they are essentially unusable. This is the main problem why we can't take people back there now. But we are currently implementing a pilot project, which will probably be completed in one of the villages of Zangilan district in a few months. The first about 200 families will return there this spring. For comparison, we need to restore a territory the size of Lebanon, and there is nothing there. In other words, everything has been destroyed. There is nothing left of the city of Aghdam, which was home to 30,000-40,000 people – only ruins. The stones were taken away and sold. Tombstones were smashed, taken away and sold. In other words, this is vandalism on an unprecedented scale that is entirely incomprehensible. And all this was hushed up from the international community. Unfortunately, the OSCE Minsk Group, which has repeatedly visited the occupied territories, preferred not to notice this.

So we have a tremendous job ahead of us – water, electricity, gas, roads, mines, houses. We have started. Last year, we allocated $1.3 billion and the same amount this year for restoration. The pilot project is underway, but it will take time. In parallel with this, I must say that we actively built houses for refugees during the years of occupation, and about 5,000 families, which is about 30,000 people, were settled every year. So 70 percent of them live decently. We have built houses in Baku, Sumgayit, Gandja and many other cities. But 30 percent still live in unsuitable buildings, dormitories, kindergartens, and harsh conditions. Therefore, first of all, it will be this category of people who will be returned. We have already developed master plans for the construction of the city of Aghdam, the city of Fuzuli, the city of Shusha, and other cities, which will also be approved soon.

Everything will be done according to plan, and there will be sporadic efforts. The concept of green energy will be taken as the basis. The entire Karabakh and East Zangazur will be a zone of green energy and the concept of "smart cities" and "smart villages." These people have been waiting for a very long time, so they must live in the best conditions possible in Azerbaijan. I can't cite specific dates. I can't do that even in meetings with them because I can't misguide them. But we are doing everything – on a daily and hourly basis – to speed up this process. Of course, we need help, especially demining, not even financial, but technical support. We are physically unable to cope with it. We have a Demining Agency, we have several battalions in the Ministry of Defense, and there is a group within the Ministry of Emergency Situations. But just physically, this is not enough because it is a prolonged process. Therefore, we have asked international organizations for assistance, but, unfortunately, a year and three months have passed, and there is no answer.

Konstantin Ernst, General Director of Channel One: The Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations, has extensive demining experience. They take big contracts in Africa and have extensive experience.

President Ilham Aliyev: They did participate as a matter of assistance, free of charge, primarily in training, because what we need most now is to train as many specialists as possible capable of doing this work. Unfortunately, there are also victims among those clearing the mines.

This is the main problem. And, of course, those who went missing because after the Second Karabakh War, we have found more than 1,700 bodies of Armenian servicemen in the liberated territories, and we have returned them all. 3,890 Azerbaijanis, including around 200 children, have been still missing since the First Karabakh War. We have asked the Armenian side to show us places of mass graves, but there is no answer yet. I don't know why. They probably understand that there will simply be evidence of war crimes. Nevertheless, we are demanding that, and, by the way, the European Union has also spoken on this issue, so that information on mass grave sites are provided to us, because it is quite likely that all this is there, in Karabakh, in the territories we have liberated.

Yevgeny Bekasov, Editor-in-Chief of "Rossiya-24" TV channel: Ilham Heydar oglu, I have a short question. Now, as you all know, the price of gas in the spot market is rising. Is Azerbaijan ready to increase supplies to the European market, and by how much?

President Ilham Aliyev: we do get such requests from senior representatives of the European Commission, taking into account the current situation, but the fact is that all the gas volumes we began to supply to Europe – we started doing this a little over a year ago when The Trans-Adriatic gas pipeline was built – were contracted for a long time, four to five years ago. You know very well that gas is a commodity you first need to sell and then produce, so we do not have it physically. In other words, we did not foresee that we might need additional volumes. Our largest consumer is Turkiye, then comes Italy, then Georgia, Greece, Bulgaria. In total, last year we exported 19 billion cubic meters, and this year there will be more. The surplus can probably be sold on the spot market.

With regard to long-term contracts, we need to make additional investments for this to happen, of course. If we are talking about large volumes, then we need to make investments in the expansion of the Trans-Adriatic gas pipeline because it was designed for our volume of gas. All this involves significant costs and guarantees, of course. Several countries have already approached us, but this cannot be done quickly as they probably understand themselves. Sales on the spot market can be insignificant, but there is, of course, the potential for increasing such volumes. In a few years, we will be producing gas from at least two new fields, one of them next year, and this gas can, of course, be sold on the foreign market.

But I have to say that the most attractive partner for us is Turkiye. First of all, because we are allies, I think that the level of interaction between Turkiye and Azerbaijan is the highest one can ever imagine. Secondly, the needs of the Turkish market are growing. Russia is a major supplier, and the market itself is growing because the process of gasification in Turkiye is underway. But if reasonable conditions are offered, of course, we can consider any other option. Work is in progress in Europe to build interconnectors between different countries focused on gas through Turkiye, whether Russian, Azerbaijani or any other gas. In this direction, I think that active cooperation between Russia and Azerbaijan is also possible in terms of coordinating our efforts so that we clearly understand, as they say, the volumes we can sell. In other words, so as not to create problems for each other, because the high gas price is both in our interests and Russia's interests. Therefore, we are not discussing the competition here; the volumes are not comparable, but even small volumes can sometimes make a difference in the gas market. To avoid this, we are ready and are working with the Russian side in this direction.

Journalist: We have already agreed on a trip to Azerbaijan in April at the suggestion of Pavel Nikolaevich.

Mikhail Gusman: TASS is traditionally involved in the organization of such visits.

President Ilham Aliyev: Of course, if there is interest, I would also like you to visit the territories that we have liberated. Now, the second group of international travelers is going there, asking for assistance. So we are not inviting them, they want to come themselves, and there is a group of international travelers called Nomad Mania. This is a picture you probably won't see anywhere else, and it really is. When Mehriban and I were there for the first time right after the war, it was a difficult test, the hardest. Because it is incomparable to anything else, let me say again that we did not imagine the scale of the destruction. We had an idea, certain suspicions, we also saw something through binoculars, but we had no idea how massive it was.

Mikhail Gusman: Ilham Heydar oglu, I know firsthand how Azerbaijan fought against COVID and the WHO gave you a high assessment. What is the situation like now?

President Ilham Aliyev: I think if Mehriban answers, it will be more qualified because she is doing this for us.

First Vice-President Mehriban Aliyeva: Based on the situation now, we can say that the last wave in Azerbaijan is declining. But if you are interested, I can tell you a little about our experience. The situation that all countries were facing, including Azerbaijan, was extraordinary, and the challenge was quite big. And today, more than two years on, we have some experience, and I can share it.

When it all started, in February-March 2020, there were different theories, as you all probably remember. Some believed in it, some understood, others did not understand, there was denial. At the end of February, we had a clear understanding that something dire was happening, and it required the adoption of extraordinary and immediate measures. And I think one of the main reasons the further work went well is that we managed to create a very professional headquarters, a team quickly. Moreover, it was clear that we could not be content with only medical workers because a wide range of issues was involved. So a group of government members and experts, young scientists, especially mathematicians, was established because it was clear even then that it would be necessary to do calculations and make predictions. Thank you, Mr. President – he immediately began listening to the recommendations. So at the first stage, we quickly decided to close the borders. It was March. This, of course, helped to some extent, but then the further development of events showed that, of course, there were several relatively strong and strict quarantine regimes. What was also important to do quickly, and this team did it, was to look at our weaknesses in the healthcare sector, of course, because the main challenge would be a collapse of the healthcare system. Somewhere in April, we knew what we were lacking. In a short time, we purchased ten and then two more – 12 modular hospitals, which were quickly delivered to the country and assembled. A year later, having already experienced the first year, we understood what kind of equipment and what kind of hospitals we needed. For example, in the second year of the pandemic, we already ordered modular hospitals with solely intensive care beds because it became clear that there would be no problems with ordinary beds. However, there might be one with intensive care.

One of the aspects, probably the main ones, is that this team was efficient. It is working to this day. I can say that the forecasts they have provided up to now have materialized by 90-95 percent. So we anticipated every wave. The error could have been by a week – when we would have a surge, when there would be a decline and when there would be a plateau. This helped a lot because it made it possible for the government to calculate the correct timeframe, if necessary, to take some emergency and quarantine measures. In parallel with this, the medical equipment and medicines that were needed were purchased. By the end of the first year – even by the middle of it – it became clear that we were talking about vaccination. Here, too, our colleagues managed to establish the right contacts quickly. I can say that, if I am not mistaken, the first vaccination in the world was in the United States in December 2020. We started vaccination on 18 January 2021. So the vaccines were delivered to the country relatively quickly. These were Chinese vaccines and the Russian vaccines at the next stage. We also received European vaccines through COVAX. So there was a selection with vaccines to choose from.

The decision was that, naturally, vaccination would be voluntary, free of charge, and there would be a choice. And here, of course, the second aspect is essential. If we consider our experience successful, as Mikhail said, a critical aspect is proper communication with society because the situation was new for our people and terrifying in many ways. There was also a denial; there were all sorts of conspiracy theories, as elsewhere. It was pretty helpful for us that we immediately understood that the messages from the headquarters must be absolutely clear. We must calibrate them so that we do not change them later. Because in such a situation, it was imperative to say something and then act upon it. Here too, I am grateful to the President because he addressed the people, addressed the public and communicated these messages. And the fact that the people trust the President has played a role here, of course. This COVID situation confirmed yet again how important it is to have this trust because what people heard from the President was perceived as an unambiguous truth. Of course, there were skeptics; there were skeptical people, there was a small number of anti-vaxxers. But in general, we managed to avoid fundamental contradictions or unrest, let's put it that way. Our people started to get vaccinated. And they did that in a quite disciplined manner.

To date, about 70 percent of people over 18 have received two jabs. It is mainly people over 18 years of age who are vaccinated. For children, vaccination is only at the parents' discretion. There is no mandatory vaccination, and the Ministry of Health announces that this is only at the parents' discretion. Therefore, perhaps combining these two measures has helped us move along the most optimal scenario. Although there was and still is this situation, there is this cautious optimism that omicron is perhaps the epidemic's end. At the same time, there are other theories that new variants of the virus may also appear, much more dangerous and much more deadly. But, in general, analyzing the path we have traveled, I consider these two components to be crucial perhaps: the prompt establishment of a very efficient team of the right people, and I want to emphasize that it is made up not only of doctors, and secondly, we believe that we provided very calibrated and accurate messages to our society. And somehow, it worked. The topic is such that I want to take this opportunity to wish everyone good health because these two years have been challenging for everyone, of course. Unfortunately, although some are more successful than others, people are dying, and they are dying in our country too. I hope that we are getting close to the end of this story.

Mikhail Gusman: Mrs. Aliyeva, it is essential to say that Mr. President addressed the people via television, and those above 18 followed you on social networks. For objectivity, they also contacted you through social networks regularly.

First Vice-President Mehriban Aliyeva: It is very important because I even remember that over these two years, there were various events held by the President that had nothing to do with the pandemic or healthcare, but every time I asked him to communicate a critical thesis, I was preparing at that moment. So I asked Mr. President to do that in one form or another – because I know that people were listening, that people believe. And it really worked. This helped a lot.

President Ilham Aliyev: By the way, we are one of a handful of countries at the international level that both helps and actively oppose "vaccine nationalism." I have repeatedly said in my speeches from international platforms and cited figures that the level of vaccination among developing countries is dozens of times lower than in developed countries. Moreover, some developed countries had purchased and are still purchasing the vaccines, especially in the first period when there was a shortage of these vaccines, and it was not easy to get them. Mehriban has said that we started in January, but it was not easy because very few countries had them at all back then. We were among the first in the region. And it was as a matter of assistance to developing countries we initiated a summit of the Non-Aligned Movement, which we chair. Then, on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, we initiated a Special Session of the UN General Assembly, and it was held at the initiative of Azerbaijan.

Relevant resolutions were adopted, condemning the countries that do not help others and only think of themselves and buy much more vaccines than they need. I do not want to name these countries now. We have these statistics. If we look at the global picture, the developed countries – the European countries- of course – have fully provided for themselves, while many third-world countries do not even keep such statistics. How many people have died, how many have recovered. They are simply left to their own devices. We have provided financial and humanitarian assistance to about 80 countries. We have helped many countries with vaccines – both Chinese and AstraZeneca – and continue to provide them. We have allocated 10 million dollars of voluntary donations to WHO for vaccination, primarily in the Non-Aligned Movement countries. In its public assessments, the WHO has described Azerbaijan as an exemplary country in its performance on the national level and abroad. Therefore, this international format is also significant.

I know that Russia has been very actively helping others. By the way, Russia has also helped us with PCR tests. A team of doctors was sent to Azerbaijan, and the "Sputnik V" vaccines were delivered. We know that sometimes there are shortages of Sputnik in Russia itself, but 220,000 doses have already been allocated. Of course, compared to how many doses we have already used, which is 12 million, this is a small number, but it is a gesture of friendship nonetheless. We took it that way.

Mikhail Gusman: Ilham Heydar oglu, you mentioned the Non-Aligned Movement. It was popular in the 1960s, and you said that Azerbaijan is chairing it now. Is there a tendency towards the emergence of the Non-Aligned Movement on the world stage as a new factor? Is it due to Azerbaijan's chairmanship? In principle, is it a new force in the modern world? How relevant is it?

President Ilham Aliyev: I think it is in demand. And we are treating this mission very responsibly. Of course, I do not want to compare us to anyone, but you also noted that it lost its dynamism at a particular stage. Perhaps it was due to the change of generations. After all, the origins of the Non-Aligned Movement were established by Tito, Nasser ...

Mikhail Gusman: Bandaranaike…

President Ilham Aliyev: Of course, and when these figures left the political arena, a certain vacuum probably set in. Also, such a polarization of the international community has probably played a role in the fact that it began to fade somehow gradually. We are a relatively new member. We were elected a little over ten years ago, and just a few years later, we saw confidence placed in us and were unanimously elected as chair. A total of 120 countries voted, including ourselves.

Of course, it is not for us to judge how successful our mission has been. But the fact that our chairmanship has been extended by another year, also unanimously, shows that we are fulfilling our functions. At the summit in Baku, when we assumed the chairmanship, I said that we would defend international law, justice and protect the interests of member countries. And this is precisely what we are doing. We restored international law and justice in 2020, and we are defending the interests of member countries to the best of our ability, as I said, through humanitarian and financial assistance and the articulation of essential theses on the global stage. I believe that there is potential for specific steps towards the institutionalization of the Movement. Because it is not an organization, it is a movement. There are internal contradictions between some countries. After all, it is still the second-largest body in the world after the UN. But the role of Azerbaijan as a conscientious member and leader has already been recognized, and, let me say again, the fact that all member countries of the Movement supported us twice despite the severe contradictions between many of them speaks precisely of the non-confrontational course of our foreign policy.

On the contrary, it is aimed at cooperation and assistance whenever possible. We are working in this direction. There is a niche, and we can fill it very effectively.

Mikhail Petrov, Editor-in-Chief of TASS: Ilham Heydar oglu, if you would allow me, I would like to return to where we started today's meeting. It so happened that you became the first leader of a foreign state who communicated with President Putin after the recognition of the Donetsk republics by Russia. Obviously, we all heard the President's statement, the Russian President's televised address. However, you know the situation from within after negotiations with Putin; you are in constant contact with your Ukrainian colleague, your Turkish colleague, who is also involved in this issue in one way or another. What is your forecast, given your vast knowledge and experience? It is clear that this is not a bilateral Russian-Ukrainian situation. This situation concerns the entire world. How do you foresee further developments? How long will this take? How severe will the consequences be for the region and the whole world? Of course, I am not asking you to disclose the classified information mentioned at the talks. Nevertheless, what is your personal assessment?

President Ilham Aliyev: You know, it would be very irresponsible of me to make a forecast, because I always adhere to the principle that one must operate with facts, assess the situation that has developed and, of course, in the area that concerns us, do everything in our power to ensure that this situation develops as favorably as possible for Azerbaijan. Honestly, it is difficult for me to forecast even the relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia and how they will evolve because developments are still relatively recent. And our statements and focus on establishing peace are not perceived by the Armenian leadership yet, at least in the public space. Therefore, I think it is challenging not only for me but even for those directly involved in this process to predict how the situation in the world will develop, taking into account the events that have recently taken place. It is tough to foresee everything and the actions of all the key players. Even when the Second Karabakh War broke out, we could not foresee everything with our political, military, and economic potential. War is an unpredictable thing. Of course, we were moving forward within the framework of approved plans and did not go astray, but in that flow, of course, there were various zigzags. The same can be said about the situation between Russia and Ukraine. Everything is so fresh that so far, we only see statements from the leading capitals, of course, diametrically opposite. And I find it difficult to say how the situation will develop. And what will the sanctions against Russia look like? After all, the West is yet to announce them. Some hints are there. I hear that they do not want to announce sanctions as if considering that this could be a deterrent – their non-announcement, while the announcement, as it were, will untie the hands, from their point of view. But again, this is the analysis I have made, just like you, watching what is happening on Russian television, Turkish television, and British television, as far as my linguistic abilities permit. I do not have more information than you regarding analogies and analysis of the situation because we work very closely with Russia, and our relations with Ukraine are developing. I can guess something, but I am sure that even, as I said, those who are directly involved will not be able to predict everything. To do this, you need to know the plans. To do this, one needs to know the plans of the Russian leadership, the plans of the Ukrainian leadership, the possibilities. We can foresee the reaction of the West when it turns into a practical plane – from statements to actions. As long as none of this is there, it is challenging to predict, but it is clear that this is the beginning of a long process. It is also clear that when making this decision, the President of the Russian Federation probably also proceeded from the fact that this is a lengthy process. With its potential, geography and opportunities, I believe that Russia is resistant to all kinds of sanctions. This is my personal opinion, and it is confirmed by the sanctions that have been imposed on Russia. In essence, they may even have helped Russian producers to reduce their dependence on imports to some extent. In other words, I am unequivocally convinced that the path of sanctions is counterproductive. Of course, it will certainly damage the Russian economy. And when President Putin made this decision, he probably calculated all this. But this will also harm those who will impose these sanctions, undoubtedly because it is difficult to find another promising market for export, especially high-tech products. This is the most I can say. And I would like to conclude this topic perhaps with such routine phrases we had heard for 30 years: "Everything must be resolved peacefully." We heard this for 30 years, tried for 30 years, but nothing happened. Therefore, we would like everything to be resolved peacefully, but this is not always possible in life, unfortunately.

Mikhail Gusman: Ilham Heydar oglu, can I ask one technical question? Traditionally, as you know, these meetings are held in an off-the-record format. But today, we are sort of semi-off the record. Since the TASS Editor-in-Chief asked the last question, can we allow our colleagues to use our conversation in their practical activities, as it were?

President Ilham Aliyev: Yes, of course. I am responsible for absolutely every word I have said.

Mikhail Gusman: Can this be used in the public domain?

President Ilham Aliyev: Definitely.

Mikhail Gusman: I want to ask Mr. President. Let's consult each other, colleagues.

President Ilham Aliyev: I can tell you about my practice. All my communications with representatives of different categories of Azerbaijani society and representatives of the media – both Azerbaijani and foreign – are open. I mean that I have nothing to hide. I say what I think, I am responsible for my words, and I think nothing was said here today that any of us could be ashamed of. On the contrary, I think that we have clarified many important issues. I formulate the position of Azerbaijan quite clearly on all issues, and what I say to my colleagues behind closed doors, I also say publicly to one degree or another. Therefore, in this case, I am in favor of publicity. And you?

Sergei Mikhaylov: In this case, we are removing the off-the-record format.

Mikhail Gusman: Thank you for this exception. It does not mean that we will do the same next time, with the next guest, and I am warning you in advance.

President Ilham Aliyev: Fine, you are establishing traditions.

Mikhail Gusman: Not everyone is as open with us as you, Ilham Heydar oglu, not everyone.

President Ilham Aliyev: I don't know. You invite responsible people, heads of state. I don't think they told you one thing, but then something else in public.

Mikhail Gusman: Some even know our questions. It happens that way too.

President Ilham Aliyev: No, I am ready to answer any question. Again, I don't have any closed topics concerning foreign policy, given, among other things, the sensitivity of the situation, as you noted. Therefore, I think this is the right way because it excludes any ambiguous interpretation and misinterpretation. I can give you the best interpretation of my position myself, and I do that. It would be strange if we met and then people in Azerbaijan thought and wondered what they were talking about behind closed doors.

Sergei Mikhaylov: We recently watched a series of your interviews with the whole world.

President Ilham Aliyev: Yes.

Sergei Mikhaylov: About the well-known events. We were closely following all that.

President Ilham Aliyev: I think there were more interviews than in all the years of my presidency.

Sergei Mikhaylov: More than in the entire presidency.

President Ilham Aliyev: I was sometimes criticized in Azerbaijan for rarely giving interviews. I simply think that I speak quite extensively on various theses and various occasions. And I thought that everything I wanted to share I said in my speeches. But war is a unique situation, so I had to.

Sergei Mikhaylov: During that period, there was an unprecedented number.

President Ilham Aliyev: By the way, thank you, TASS, for providing an opportunity to convey our position through you.

Mikhail Gusman: Here sits your interviewer.

President Ilham Aliyev: Yes, I know. It was very important. Because, as you know, from the very beginning of our independence, we were faced with a certain information vacuum. More than that, if it were just a vacuum, it would be half the trouble. We were faced with an incorrect interpretation of our activities. We still feel it not only, let's say, in Western countries, but also in other countries of the world – misinterpretation sometimes due to a lack of knowledge, sometimes due to prejudice, due to what we are doing domestically and what we are doing in the international arena. Therefore, one of the main problems for us until recently was to communicate the truth about the Karabakh conflict to the international community, to the world public, because the political structures knew everything perfectly well. But the situation of neither peace nor war suited them. There were useless negotiations; the Minsk Group kept coming and going for 30 years. By the way, this year, they will celebrate the anniversary of their establishment in 1992. That is why we had to convey the truth about what happened in Karabakh to the broad public, to those in the expert community who shape the public mood. Precisely the truth, not the way it was presented for many years, unfortunately. And this was done during the war. We succeeded. Many are saying that we won the information war. But we didn't wage it. We simply got the opportunity because the world's attention was focused on this war. We got the opportunity to speak the truth.

And in contrast to the Armenian side, we told the truth to our people and the public. So I am grateful to you and other Russian media for creating this opportunity. Special thanks to Dmitry Konstantinovich for providing the opportunity to be on the air together with Pashinyan and, as they say, to communicate our position to Russian viewers and many Western ones. However, let me say that almost all the Western media I spoke to were biased towards Azerbaijan, and the questions contained more accusations, even assertions, rather than a desire to find out something. Nevertheless, it made it possible to drive a wedge even in this space. I think that the world quickly accepted the new realities because it was clear who was right, who was the victim of occupation, who was fighting on their land and who was the occupier. For this, I am grateful to you and your colleagues. And I should also note that, in general, the Russian media were neutral. Except for certain rough edges and some personal moments, I think neutrality was completely preserved in general. For that, too, I am grateful because it wasn't always the case before.

Mikhail Gusman: Thank you very much.

President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you.

Mikhail Gusman: We have a gift for you. The colleagues should know. Everyone knows that Ilham Heydar oglu recently celebrated his anniversary. It is a complete archive of the President of Azerbaijan on tapes and the TASS photo chronicle. There are more than 32,000 items and about 400 photos here, and it is the whole archive for the entire presidency.

President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you. I don't have such an archive.

The head of state also presented a keepsake to TASS.