Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Slovakia to Azerbaijan Milan Lajcak was interviewed by APA Agency
– Mr. Ambassador please share your opinion about the development dynamics of diplomatic relations between Azerbaijan and Slovakia
– Slovakia and Azerbaijan enjoy relatively intensive political dialogue and high-level contacts. There are no serious burdens in our bilateral relations that would hinder the further development of our cooperation in a number of areas.
Both countries have mutually acknowledged that exploring economic cooperation belongs to priorities of our interest. Slovakia perceives Azerbaijan as a country of economic opportunities. Generally, Slovak efforts are currently oriented toward creating a more sustainable basis and building a more systematic approach to our economic cooperation. Pursuing these goals, there are several areas we have started to pay attention to.
The first sphere is to complete the legislative basis between Slovakia and Azerbaijan oriented toward supporting economic activities. Until recently, we had been missing basic economic agreements. I have in mind inter-governmental agreements on economic cooperation, avoidance of double-taxation agreements, and promotion and protection investment agreement.
In October 2021, during the official visit of the Slovak Minister of Foreign and European Affairs H.E. Ivan Korčok, the agreement on economic cooperation was signed and on her basis, the first session of the Intergovernmental Commission for economic cooperation will be held in Baku in June this year. This is an important step to explore the trade and investment potential of our countries because the Commission represents a helpful instrument to clarify the main vectors of economic cooperation and to identify concrete areas of common interest. Another agreement for the support of economic activities is an avoidance double-taxation agreement. We are doing everything to prepare this agreement for signing during an official visit of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan that is planned for June this year. And last but not least is a promotion and protection investment agreement, that is currently going through the final process of preparation- We believe it will be signed no later than the next year.
Talking about economic cooperation I should say that though we would have agreements, in case we are not able to motivate our businessmen to focus on our markets and to become more active in picking up economic opportunities between Slovakia and Azerbaijan, our cooperation will not progress. We should assist business circles of our countries, mostly small and medium enterprises, to get together, to organize business missions for establishing direct B2B contacts. Otherwise, economic opportunities remain only on paper. Slovakia has organized several business missions to Azerbaijan during the last years and another one is coming in June. We are missing business missions from Azerbaijan to Slovakia. In other words, we would welcome a proactive attitude in this area from the Azerbaijan side.
Last but not least, systematic support of businesses, needs painstaking and petty work on the ground. It requires a mutual proactive approach and hard work on both sides to cooperate in identifying as well as opening new trade and investment areas. On this front, we need to synchronize our efforts. In this context, diplomatic missions play an irreplaceable role. Slovakia opened its Embassy in Baku in November 2019 and our activities to promote business between our countries are quite intensive. We are waiting for the opening of the Azerbaijan diplomatic mission in Bratislava. We believe it will be done in June during the official visit of your Minister of Foreign Affairs in Slovakia.
– The Embassy of Slovakia in Azerbaijan was opened on November 28, 2019. What contribution did the opening of the embassy make to the development of bilateral relations? How can you describe the level of cultural, educational, and humanitarian relations between Azerbaijan and Slovakia?
– Slovak Embassy in Baku does a lot of activities for developing our relations in various areas. As to economic activities, as I mentioned before, we focus on identifying concrete opportunities for our companies in Azerbaijan. It requests very detailed and intensive work in addressing your companies, analyzing real potential, studying market needs, and investment conditions, providing consulting services, organizing business missions, etc. Apart from economic activities Slovak Embassy actively approaches your society through numerous cultural events.
This year we celebrate the 30th anniversary of establishing our diplomatic relations. On this occasion we have organized in February the Week of Slovak Animation Films for Baku schools, in May we will organize BIB graphic illustration exhibition that is unique in the world, In September we will hold a reception on our National Day and performances of a very popular folk-art ensemble Lucnica. In autumn we will issue a common Slovak – Azerbaijan Post Stamp to commemorate this important 30th anniversary.
I do also lecture at Baku universities about Slovakia and we are promoting university cooperation. Slovakia provides some governmental scholarships for Azerbaijan students but we very much motivate Azerbaijan students to focus on applying for scholarships for studies in Slovakia through International Visegrad Fund.
And of course, we develop working relations with your institutions for political dialogue in many spheres of common interest. In addition to this, we expect the participation of your representatives at GLOBSEC Bratislava at the end of May which is one of the five biggest security events in the world.
– What is the level of Azerbaijan-Slovakia economic relations? What steps are being taken to increase the number of companies working with Slovakian investment in Azerbaijan? What measures are being taken to increase the volume of trade between our countries?
– The years before the COVID-19 pandemic confirmed successful stories of business cooperation between our countries. For illustration and a better understanding of the scope of our economic potential, I will mention at least some of them.
For instance, the prevailing majority of local Azerbaijan coins “Manat” were delivered by the Slovak company Kremnica Mint. Slovak companies Doprastav and Betamont participated in Baku – Heydar Aliyev International Airport highway and Sumgait highway construction, including signaling devices. Several Air Traffic Control Towers for heliports on crude oil drilling platforms in the Caspian Sea were provided by Slovak company iBross. Nearly 800 containers for Azerbaijan railways were delivered by Vodohospodárske Stavby, and Azerbaijan locomotives were repaired by ŽOS Zvolen + ŽOS Trnava. Chirana Stará Turá delivered numerous medical equipment to your hospitals. Recently in March Slovak company NG Aviation signed a contract with AZANS on software application of digitalization for airways management of Azerbaijan airports. Company Pelta introduced security protection products for AZAL. Another Slovak company Sensoneo will participate in a waste management project in the city of Ganja.
All these successful stories provide good references to build on our further cooperation. We would like to utilize the above business channels and tap into their existing potential to continue with further contracts.
Currently, after the so-called Covid years, our trade volume reached only 53 mil €, not the value we would like to get. But the trend is very promising and trade exchange is growing.
In addition to this, we are putting our efforts to explore new economic opportunities in the field of machinery, mostly automotive components, in software application and management solutions for some Azerbaijan companies, and in promoting agriculture products. We have a lot to offer and will do much more through matchmaking activities in these spheres.
In terms of energy cooperation, Slovakia will participate on 25 April this year in signing the MoU of cooperation in the field of gas together with Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria on one side and Azerbaijan on the other side, the so-called Solidarity Ring. Slovakia supports the supply of Azerbaijani gas to the European market. The Southern Gas Corridor belongs to the priority energy projects of the European Union and we are considering how to be engaged in cooperating in this field. Apart from gas, there are further opportunities for energy cooperation between Slovakia and Azerbaijan in green technologies. They lie mostly in Azerbaijan´s plan of transition to green energy and possible hydrogen transportation. Slovakia has expertise in using geothermal energy and we see opportunities to utilize our potential in Karabakh territories.
– Do Slovak companies work on the restoration of Azerbaijan’s liberated territories?
– Slovakia makes efforts in helping Azerbaijan to return back and revive social-economic life in Karabakh. This is manifested in demining cooperation and also in our efforts to build an intelligent village in Karabakh.
– Slovakia declared that it would send special equipment to Azerbaijan for demining process in Karabakh. Has that equipment been sent?
– As to the demining activities, Slovak company Way Industries signed a contract with ANAMA on demining equipment in 2021. All equipment has been already delivered and there is a promising trend in further cooperation in this field.
As to the intelligent village. Slovakia was the first foreign country that introduced and presented in May 2021 in Baku the integrated concept of building a smart village in Karabakh. Gradually the concept idea has been transferred into a concrete detailed project that was introduced to Azerbaijan's relevant authorities in December the last year. The complexity of this project includes, among others, elements of cooperation with Azerbaijan companies, securing the financing of the project, green energy solutions, and facilities providing long-term employment. The project is highly flexible and can be tailored to Azerbaijan's needs. Many countries are interested in participating in the Karabakh economic revival. We believe our project has strong potential to be successful.
– How interested is Slovakia in the normalization of Azerbaijani-Armenian relations? Does your country participate in this process in any way?
– Among the key and vital interests of the Slovak Republic are the protection of territorial integrity in internationally recognized borders, respect for sovereignty, conflict solutions by peaceful means, and compliance with international conventions, treaties, and international standards. This principle has become even more relevant in light of Russian aggression against Ukraine.
The Slovak Republic supports the principle of territorial integrity of Azerbaijan including Karabakh and appeals for the resolution of disputes by peaceful means.
Regarding the issue of the safety and rights of national minorities, we are of the opinion that every country should make adequate efforts to protect them, so that they consider the country in which they live, as their homeland. However, issues of security and protection of minorities must be developed and resolved within the framework of respect for the principle of territorial integrity, within the framework of the constitution of the given country, and with respect to international norms.
The Slovak Republic offers the opportunity to use our experience in the field of protection of national minorities as well as experience in the so-called security reform process.
– An agreement on cooperation between Azerbaijan and the European Union should be signed. What is the level of Slovakia's support to Azerbaijan in this matter?
– The agreement on cooperation between Azerbaijan and the European Union that has been going through a preparation process already many years. The preparation process on the EU side is in the hands of the European Commission. EU member states, of course, have their say in this process because, in the end, the agreement will have to be ratified by EU member parliaments.
Slovakia is for that area of cooperation covered by agreement should be balanced including economic interests, democratic development, and society needs. We support speeding up the preparation process but not at the expense of the quality of the deal.
– How does Slovakia see the solution to the Ukrainian conflict?
– Brutal aggression of Russia against Ukraine has undermined the whole European security architecture. Russia has shown no respect for internationally recognized borders and even put under question the existence of Ukraine nation. That is for us absolutely unacceptable.
If other countries would behave like Russia, questioning the right of existence of neighbors, thinking that they can do whatever they want, and using military force taking as much territory as they want from weaker neighbors, how would our world look like?
We strongly condemn Russian aggression and support Ukrajine on all fronts – economically, militarily, politically, providing Ukrajine with humanitarian aid, refugees help, etc. And we also appreciate the assistance that Azerbaijan provides to Ukraine too.
We see the solution to the conflict when Russia stops its aggression against Ukraine, withdraws from all occupied Ukraine territories, and when Russia will be held accountable for this aggression.