Ambassador: Europe failed to understand need for individual approach to Eastern Partnership countries - INTERVIEW

Juris Maklakovs: Latvia, as an EU member, is interested in the successful implementation of TANAP

Interview with Latvian Ambassador to Azerbaijan Juris Maklakovs


Q. How do you assess the current state of relations between Azerbaijan and Latvia?


A. First of all, I would like to thank you for providing an opportunity for me to present my own and my country’s views concerning relations between Azerbaijan and Latvia. My answer will be in two parts, because from my point of view there are political and economical parts of our cooperation. Azerbaijan and Latvia enjoy excellent political cooperation. There have been a number of mutual visits and meetings with the participation of presidents, prime ministers and other ministers of the two countries. Only in 2015, two Latvian ministers – minister of economy and minister of welfare – visited Azerbaijan where they held productive meetings.


With regard to the economic cooperation between Azerbaijan and Latvia, I would like to see better cooperation between the two countries, because I think at present, the volume of the trade turnover between the two countries is not efficient. Prior to my tenure in Azerbaijan, I have worked in Kazakhstan with which Latvia has the high volume of trade turnover.    


Q. Azerbaijan and Latvia enjoy good political relations. But these countries are not strategic partners. Do the countries have intention to raise the relations to a level of strategic partnership?


A. To my mind, there must be political willingness of both sides to discuss the issue of strategic partnership. If the authorities of Azerbaijan and Latvia agree on this issue, a strategic partnership agreement will be signed between the two countries. But as I said there should be some economic interest to sign to this agreement, I mean a strategic agreement between two countries. It is not enough to have political component, there should be also interest in the economic sphere.  


Q. Do the two countries have any plan to find out new directions of cooperation in light of the global economic crisis?


A. Nearly seven months have passed since my arrival in Azerbaijan. During that period of time, I had several meetings with ministers of economy, welfare, culture, sport and agriculture. My conclusion from those meetings is that there are a lot of interesting projects that we can start in the future cooperation between our two countries. I am ready to bring these proposals what I got from my meetings to relevant ministers of Latvia. In the autumn of 2015, we also discussed about the possibility of organizing an intergovernmental committee meeting this spring. I think if we will implement the proposals that I got from your ministers during such committee meetings, we will be very successful also in the economic sector. There are also a lot of opportunities for cooperation in the agricultural sphere as 2015 was the year of agriculture in Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan’s minister of agriculture is also interested in cooperation with Latvia in the agricultural sphere. During my meeting with Azerbaijan’s president, he also underlined the importance of cooperation in the agricultural sphere. But it doesn’t exclude the cooperation in the fields of culture, sports, environment protection, etc. Tourism is also one of the areas that both countries are looking for better cooperation.


There are also opportunities for the development of cooperation between Azerbaijan and Latvia in the education sphere. Currently, about 170 Azerbaijani students are studying in different kinds of universities – state and private universities in Latvia. We are very interested in attracting Azerbaijani students to Latvian universities. As I mentioned, there are a lot of possibilities for cooperation.  


Q. Latvia is an EU country that supports the expansion of Azerbaijan-EU relations. Azerbaijan has recently presented to the EU a new form of cooperation – a strategic partnership document. What are you thinking of it? Could we say that the Eastern Partnership program has already failed?


A. My personal opinion is that the Eastern Partnership program will have its future. This is my short answer. When some body finds some difficulties in implementing something, the first and easiest answer is – the project is doomed to a failure, but what’s difficult is to find ways to implement the project. The Eastern Partnership is very good project, because Europe is in interested in cooperation with all the EaP countries – Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Armenia, Moldova and Ukraine. And what’s difficult is that Europe did not understand in the past that all these countries are different. There is a need for an individual approach to each country. So we cannot compare Azerbaijan with Georgia or Georgia with Moldova. It is fully different countries for their geographical, cultural, economic and political conditions. It’s impossible to work all these countries as a common partner with a common agenda. Therefore, an individual approach is needed. As for a possible strategic partnership between the EU and Azerbaijan, it doesn’t exclude future cooperation within the framework of the Eastern Partnership program. My first and foremost opinion is that we need to adjust the Eastern Partnership program and find better for cooperation.  


Q. What is Latvia’s stance on the Armenian-Azerbaijani Nagorno-Karabakh conflict? What EU countries can do to speed up the negotiations on the conflict’s settlement?


A. I have several times expressed Latvia’s stance on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. I reiterate that Latvia supports the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and we are for a peaceful solution to this conflict. War cannot bring peace and escalation will start anyway. The conflict should be resolved only by peaceful means. We need to make efforts towards the conflict’s settlement. One of the ways to achieve a solution to this conflict is to communicate. If there are not communications between the parties there are no possibilities to solve this conflict. Therefore from my point of view, there must be more possibilities for communication between two parties. The EU can help in organizing such way of communication. Recently, I had discussions with some Azerbaijani MPs. One of the interesting proposals I got there is that there should be ‘people-to-people’ contacts not only contacts at the levels of governments and presidents. During their recent talks in December 2015, the Azerbaijani and Armenian presidents stressed the importance of establishing contacts between NGOs and ordinary people. I think the EU can contribute to arranging such kinds of contacts. To my mind, the Eastern Partnership is one of the platforms where Azerbaijan and Armenia can discuss the conflict’s settlement. It is also very important. Of course we need to involve also big players like Minsk group.


Q. Azerbaijan is an initiator of global energy projects in the region. What is the importance of these projects to EU as well as to Latvia? How could Latvia gain benefits from these projects?


A. Latvia is a part of the EU. All thinks that it’s good for the EU it’s good for Latvia. Of course, there is no direction connection of pipeline between Azerbaijan and Latvia. However both energy issue and energy projects are common goal of the EU countries. You know Europe is very interested in cooperation with Azerbaijan especially in the sphere of energy diversification. Azerbaijan is implementing the TANAP project, and Latvia, as an EU member, is also interested in the successful implementation of this project.


Q. After the sharp drop in oil prices, Azerbaijan is striving to increase its transit opportunities in the region. The Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway project is a part of these goals. What could you say about the prospects of this project? What could it bring to EU countries? 


A. I would like to add that Latvia associates itself with countries that have big transit potential. In Latvia, there are three ports – Latvia-Riga, Liepaja and Ventspils. It means that we are active in the Baltic Sea and we have very well developed system. It means that these ports are facilitating the connection between the Caucasus and the Baltic States. There used to be several projects related to the transit and connection between the Baltic States and Caucasus. One of them is named “Zubr”. And most of Central Asia countries, also Caucasus countries are interested in New Silk Way road. Recently, the prime ministers of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Georgia have held a meeting to express the desire to expand the transit opportunities of their countries. If contacts are established between both regions, it would bring benefit to Azerbaijan and for my country.  


Q. Azerbaijan and Latvia are planning to open direct flights in the near future. Will it be seasonal flights? What both countries have to do in trade relations to make these flights regular?


A. Riga-Baku and Baku-Riga seasonal flights will be launched on 29 May 2016. Such kind of connections must be permanent. Azerbaijan needs to do more in the tourism sector to attract tourists to its beautiful capital Baku with its ancient history. In Baku, there are a lot of interesting places to be visited. However, there are very interesting cities and a lot of historical sites in Azerbaijan. If there is a good advertisement policy for tourism there will be more tourists. After the sharp decline in oil prices, the Azerbaijani government is seeing the tourism sector as one of the opportunities to improve the economic situation. If such projects are implemented there will be regular direct flights from Baku to Riga and from Riga to Baku. Riga receives a lot of tourists every year. As ambassador, I’m working to improve the situation and trying to attract tourists from Latvia to Azerbaijan. Baku will host a tourism fair in early April. During the fair, there will be stands of Jūrmala and Riga. The mayor of Riga is also planning to visit Baku. A number of tourism companies from different countries will be represented in the Baku fair.


Q. Are you planning to arrange official visits from Riga to Baku?


A. As I said, the Riga mayor will visit Azerbaijan. It is very important visit. To my mind, it will be a very important visit in terms of establishing new relations between the two capital cities. As I mentioned, Latvia is interested in expanding cooperation with Azerbaijan in the fields of tourism and education. Riga will host a meeting of the Latvia-Azerbaijan intergovernmental commission by the end of spring. Of course, works are underway on organizing mutual visits at ministerial level. Latvia’s president is also planning to visit Azerbaijan, but unfortunately because of health problems, he gave up his one of the plans to visit the region.  


Every day I’m learning something new in Azerbaijan. I am happy to meet such friendly people here. I really see a possibility for the expansion of cooperation between our countries. If there are some ideas and proposals, I’m always ready to meet with the people of Azerbaijan to discuss and have cooperation.


Baku. Malahat Najafova – APA. 

3.03.2016 13:52 / Hits: 810 / Print
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