German Ambassador: As soon as South Caucasus enjoys certain economic prosperity, political dependencies on big neighbors can be diminished-INTERVIEW

German Ambassador to Azerbaijan Wolfgang Manig

© APA | German Ambassador to Azerbaijan Wolfgang Manig

# 10 June 2022 16:40 (UTC +04:00)

Interview of German Ambassador to Azerbaijan Wolfgang Manig to APA

It has already been three years that Mr. Manig, you are in Baku as Head of the diplomatic mission of Germany to Azerbaijan. During these years there have been ups and downs in relations between the two countries. I would like to ask about the current state of the relationship between both. Are you satisfied with that?

Yes, it is a very good question. Although the situation looks sometimes complex it is, I would not say, complicated. We have a very close relationship between Azerbaijan and Germany. And it has already been three decades that we enjoy this very close cooperation and very cordial relationship. Maybe it is a bit surprising if I say this: in 2021 during the German election campaign and after the second war in Karabakh, it seemed to be that the relationship had soured. Germany was sometimes sidelined, people outside had got the impression that the relationship between the two governments is not very good. But if you analyze it we have always had the same interests. But only the positions were different. I would say, today if I look back to 2019 when I started here and now in 2022, exactly three years passed. During this time, we always had the same interests: we wanted to strengthen our relationship; we had the same interest to achieve peace and stability in the region and reconciliation among the peoples living in the region. But we have different views on how to achieve it. Thus, the positions we had to discuss but in principle, we agreed on the objectives - the German government and Azerbaijani government always agreed that we have to overcome tension in the region, we have to overcome this old war and this antagonism between Azerbaijan and Armenia, we had to overcome the question how both countries deal with the national minorities. In Armenia, there are not any but here we have a big Armenian minority, some of them living in the Eastern parts of Azerbaijan, others are living in the area which was called the former "Autonomous Oblast of Nagorno-Karabakh" and the question is how to find a good way to live together. Last year, the positions on this issue differed. 2021 had also been the year of our election campaign and Azerbaijan was seen by some German media as a scapegoat for some irregularities concerning German deputies some years ago who had special relations with Azerbaijan. Back in Azerbaijan, the German government was blamed to carry out a campaign against Azerbaijan. But nevertheless, in main principles, we always agreed. In conclusion, I can say after these three years that I am very satisfied now not only our interests but also our positions are much closer to each other. We both support the EU accompanied - not imposed - process of approximation, of talking about peace and reconciliation. We talk about connectivity issues, we talk about humanitarian issues, and we talk about border delimitation. All these things are accompanied by the EU, Germany as one of the important member states of the EU supports this wholeheartedly and we are very happy that we now also agree on the way how to achieve the implementation of common interests.

You touched upon the common interest in peace and reconciliation in the South Caucasus, between Armenia and Azerbaijan. As we know, the process in this direction has already started, high-level meetings are held, and dialogue is going on. But it seems like there are two tracks - the Brussel process and the Moscow process...

Last week we had a video call with the experts of the International Crisis Group (ICG). I highly appreciate ICG for its contribution to the opinion-forming process in our countries. And there, we also discussed the same question. The experts of ICG said that we must not leave Russia out of the process. Russia is a neighbor and here in an area that is not yet under Azerbaijani sovereignty, we have Russian armed forces. Some call them peacekeepers. Armenia heavily depends economically but also on security policy is concerned on Russia. Thus, we cannot keep them out. On the other hand, I think there are huge differences between the two processes. The processes are not parallel; they are not of the same value to the parties concerned. From my talks with the Azerbaijani colleagues, and this is also the experience of my counterpart in Yerevan with the Armenian government, we learned that the governments here and in Yerevan actively explain what they have discussed bilaterally when they are called to Moscow. This always gives an impression that Russia tries to take the lead in the process. Russia makes proposals, presents texts, and actively tries to manage. Compared with this way how to handle the process, the Azerbaijani government tells that the meetings in Brussels are felt as really bilateral talks, talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan. And Charles Michel, Toivo Klaar, and also the whole structure of the EU, both the Commission and also External Action Service accompany this process but they are not seen as the masters. Brussels provides a platform, and offers assistance for the implementation of the decisions, for example, modern border management without landmines, but with electronic devices, or for the economic prosperity of the region. There is the European Economic Advisory Council which gives advice, and offers real support. It is not a Brussels-led process; it is a process of two governments on a level playing field, who do not need a third party that interposes its own ideas. Therefore, I guess, it is a big difference between Brussels and Moscow. But of course, we welcome all efforts which lead to progress.

After these territories that were captured by Armenia in the 1990s returned to Azerbaijan, the country has already started a huge-scale construction process in this region. And the government of Azerbaijan announced that this region is open to investment by foreign companies, in particular in the rebuilding process of Karabakh. So, are there German companies working there or any interest expressed by them to join?

I see the whole region which returned to Azerbaijan after the second Karabakh war as a part of Azerbaijan. Therefore, the same rules and conditions apply to economic engagement and investment. And as all we know, there are still some obstacles to investment in this country. My government cannot force our companies, they are private companies, and each engagement is a private decision. The companies will not do business for political reasons but they will do it when they see the chance to get a return on their investment. We know that the lack of skilled workers and a not yet satisfying legal environment is an obstacle for a German company to invest in. It does not matter whether an investment is planned in Baku, Ganja, or in Jabrayil, Fuzuli or Shusha, or wherever. This is the first issue.

The second issue: In the last months, we observed a certain change in German companies' approach to Azerbaijan as a whole. There are contacts; some talks have already been finished between German companies and Azerbaijani companies on investments. We have learned that there will be a big investment in the aluminum sector. The recent developments confirmed my impression that German companies today assess the investment climate in Azerbaijan more positively. They are active in looking for investment opportunities here. These changes may have also to do with the energy challenges in Europe. Energy today is very expensive and less affordable. I cannot exclude, however, that apart from the energy sector, acceptable framework conditions may stimulate German economic activities in Agdam industrial park or in other areas, including the returned territories. And we must not forget that German companies are already established here. Some are joint ventures, formally being Azerbaijani companies with German shareholders. For instance, the construction of the Airport in Fuzuli, and the road construction in the returned territories involved a partly German-owned company, known under the name "AzVirt". I guess there are also others. I met them at the last Baku oil and gas forum.

There are also companies from Turkey or Italy which are very close to German partners. The foreign companies buy equipment in Germany. Therefore, you see very often German equipment here used and imported by companies from third countries.

Azerbaijani government often organizes trips for diplomatic missions to the Karabakh region. Last year there was the first trip for diplomats to Shusha, but for certain reasons, you could not attend. But you recently visited Shusha. So, it is always said that Shusha has a different place in the heart and mind of Azerbaijani society. What is your impression after this visit, its potential?

Shusha is a very unique city, the situation is really awesome. It can play an important role in culture, for tourism. But it has a long way to go. I talked to the people who are in charge of the reconstruction, for the modernization of the city. I had seen the plans; the city will develop in the next decades. The city will have 20 to 25 thousand inhabitants. Certainly, it will be a challenge to create a proper economic base. In Shusha, you cannot establish a big industry. Therefore, the assets of the city which are culture, science, and education, should be put the focus. We discussed whether one day a partnership could be established between Shusha and a similar city with a similar history in Germany. The ideal partner could be the city of Weimar, where the German heroes in literature had lived and worked.

Weimar is also a small city and it has also been a former residential city of a Duke like Shusha. Due to these similarities, we thought about a peaceful future in order to develop the culture as a very solid economic base. Our capital Berlin is a good example. Berlin's big industry disappeared after unification because it only survived by heavy subsidies. After the expiration of the subsidies, many companies closed. But today, Berlin is one of the cultural centers of Europe. The former Governing Mayor of Berlin often visited Berlin’s twin city, Los Angeles. People thought he goes there for partying. But he did not, he had talks with the entertainment industry and made Berlin attractive for music, movies, and other cultural industries from California invited them to move to Berlin and to be active in Berlin. Culture increased start-ups and today, culture is one of the cornerstones of Berlin’s economy. Shusha also can use its assets and can establish a solid economic base, based on culture, science, and education. Also for Germany, it may be interesting to find in Shusha and its beautiful surroundings a destination for cultural, touristic, and similar activities. But this will take a lot of time, the government knows that construction is not an easy task, and until IDPs and others can really return to the area, many more things are required, among them demining as the biggest challenge.

We are working actively on the demining process in the framework of the EU but also bilaterally we will dedicate our share. The German Federal budget was approved last week by the Bundestag (second chamber of parliament) and this week by the Bundesrat (first chamber). It provides a certain amount of money for demining in Azerbaijan. But it may be certainly easier for us to support Azerbaijan in the future with a bigger amount if Azerbaijan sends a signal that she is ready not to use mines and cluster ammunition in the future. There are two conventions called the “Oslo Convention” on cluster ammunition and the “Ottawa Convention” on land mines. My government invites Azerbaijan urgently to accede to both conventions. This will be regarded as a convincing contribution by Azerbaijan to facilitate the return of IDPs to the places of their origin.

Germany is criticized because of the deportation of some Azerbaijani asylum seekers who faced challenges here after being deported to Azerbaijan. Why were these people deported and do you have contact with them?

This Embassy has contacted both with lawyers of these people and also with German authorities involved in the cases. However, we do not know yet what did happen to the persons affected in Germany prior to their readmission.

According to German law, there are two distinct procedures: one is the asylum process. The request for asylum is checked thoroughly by the Federal Agency for Migration and Refugees BAMF and its branch offices. Very often the embassy is requested by BAMF to validate the facts presented by the asylum seekers. Then BAMF decides. In the case of refusal, the applicant can make an appeal and eventually even go to court. In the case that the court upholds the decision of BAMF, the government is obliged to ask the asylum seeker to leave Germany. In the cases you have mentioned, I do not know yet the reasons for the refusal of the asylum request and we neither know, whether the applicants and their lawyers had made an appeal nor which reasons had led to the final refusal of asylum. The Embassy has sent these questions to the Federal Foreign Office in Berlin.

The second procedure is the deportation order. Again, the refused asylum seeker can file an appeal against this order. Then the administration and eventually the court has to decide whether there is an obstacle for the plaintiff to go back or to being forced to be deported to the country of origin. This second procedure does not have anything to do with the reasons for the asylum request; it is also applicable for persons who had been convicted by a German court for having committed a crime. If the court cannot find any reasons to stay in Germany, the deportation will be executed. This Embassy is not yet informed whether the deportation orders of the before-mentioned cases were subject to appeal, which arguments had been presented and why the courts finally confirmed the deportations as legal.

The German government reacted immediately after the first cases became known in autumn 2021. At that time we did not know at all the background. But we asked the government of Azerbaijan: "The cases made known to us look inappropriate. Please check and tell us: what are the reasons for investigations and arrests?” Thus, Germany took immediate action without delay. These talks are continuing, we are in contact with the lawyers and the relatives of the people affected. But of course, these are individual cases and we will not discuss it in public. Sensitive human rights cases should always be discussed behind closed doors.

Germany has always been recognized as one of the less militarized countries in Europe. The country is known as civil power. In the budget, the military field has benefited less so far, but now the German government decided to increase military spending...

German history is behind this turn of our policy. The Federal Republic of Germany had been always very careful to use military power in foreign policy. Germany, of course, was one of the beneficiary countries of the fall of the wall and fall of the "Iron Curtain". We suffered as a frontline state during the Cold War when Germany was a heavily armed country. Many war scenarios of a possible confrontation between East and West played in the then two parts of divided Germany. Thus, we were very happy that after 1990 there was an opportunity to reduce the number of soldiers and military equipment on German soil. If you follow all the debates on so-called NATO promises towards Russia on NATO’s the unification process in Germany, later during when Poland, the other states in Central and Eastern Europe and the Baltics joined the Alliance, then you could get the impression that Russia eventually accepted the fact that every state has the right to join an alliance by its own discretion. With the Russian aggression against Ukraine, however, we had to rethink. And also to rethink the idea that you can bring change to peace and democracy to countries by intensifying trade and exchange. It obviously did not work that way. There was a huge expectation that globalization and trade may also change the political climate in China and Russia. So, we had to replace our conviction that trade will make weapons unnecessary. After thirty years of active disarmament policy and after even more decades of the unpleasant memories of uncomfortable feelings hosting big military structures on your soil, it is not a matter of a few days to replace. And since no government can act without the general consent of the population, particularly not in issues of security and survival, it is necessary to explain and discuss. In the last decades, there had been a general consensus in Germany that security is not based on weapons. Instead, Germany followed the concept of so-called “broader security”, including development, climate protection and many more. If you leave your neighbors in poverty, you will create instability – as we have seen in the Northern part of Africa. Climate change also is also a security issue. Suddenly, after Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, Germany was confronted with the necessity to develop a security policy based again more on military power. The question remains whether it is really necessary and how far we go. The Federal Parliament, the Bundestag, decided last Friday on the budget. The Federal Armed Forces will get a special budget of 100 billion Euros. Germany has experience in this type of financing; also German unity had been financed by such a special budget. Now the 100 billion Euros are exclusively reserved for the armed forces. Development, climate protection, civil protection and other and other important issues creating resilience are financed by the regular budget. It was not an easy process. But in principle, Germany has decided to react to the new realities in Central and Eastern Europe. In my view, the reaction was right.

France and German leaders frequently call Vladimir Putin and because of that, they are criticized. Still, Germany believes in the power of dialogue with Russia after all happenings in Ukraine?

Russia is a fact. We are all neighbors. We can close our eyes but they do not disappear. We also have to make up our minds, Western countries, NATO, and Eastern European countries - had all discussed that we do not have an interest that Russia disappearing from the map. After this war, we have to deal with the Russians and we have to stand by to rebuild Russia. Therefore, it is necessary to continue at least a dialogue even if it is a dialogue in difficult times. If you break up all contacts, it may be very difficult to know what your counterpart thinks or may think. In the South Caucasus region, too, dialogue with neighbors is crucial and must continue in order to avoid situations of silence. Dialogue can provide signals, about whether a situation may change and if so, then you will need a partner to discuss the new development. Otherwise, you may be happy today to say "we do not like you, we do not play with you", but it will not help you tomorrow. We do not want to see a new fence between East and West. Even in the coldest times of the Cold War, at least some contact between Moscow and Washington, NATO, and Warsaw Treaty Organization existed. Keep on observing your adversary. Discuss once in a while with him even if you know you cannot change his politics immediately.

Countries sending military support, and heavy military weapons to Ukraine. The German government promised to help in this matter, but the Ukrainian government says that still no military support received, and they are tired of waiting for this delivery... What is the reason for that, and why is it delayed?

Germany has also promised and is prepared to send radar equipment which can protect whole cities, very modern equipment. It remains the question of availability, due to the arms reduction policy of the last decades they are not easily at hand. This is one hand. On the other hand, Ukrainian soldiers have to be trained to make the best use of modern weapons. It is easier for the former members of the Warsaw Treaty Organization to deliver weapons of Soviet origin that are still on stock than for countries like Germany with their high-tech equipment meeting NATO standards. Furthermore, weapons alone do not help. They have to be maintained, thus requiring the whole infrastructure.

There is the idea to deliver equipment from Poland, Slovakia, and other former Warsaw Pact countries to Ukraine in return for getting new equipment from Germany. This procedure is also in the interest of NATO concerning the standardization of equipment in all NATO member states. With this procedure, the issue of training and maintenance remains unresolved. It is a question of availability how far and how fast we can do it. The issue had been discussed in NATO – but of course not discussed in the open market. NATO and its member states do their utmost not to be more involved in this conflict. In my opinion, the economic repercussions of the war, the sanction politics, and the consequences which we also feel make it obvious that we are already involved in this conflict to a certain degree, which is acceptable: There is war in Europe, in our Europe - unthinkable a few years, even a few months ago. And we are affected – the war is at our doorstep and not on the Moon. But our governments are obliged to limit the involvement and avoid a direct confrontation between NATO countries and Russia. Our governments have also promised to protect our population. However, they are also obliged to defend our values. We are trying to do both. Germany supports Ukraine not only by weapons. Germans, not only the government, are very generous. More than 400,000 Ukrainian refugees had been registered in Germany. It is not the state providing shelter for these people, it is the German population. And also my family hosted a Ukrainian family of five – parents with three children - in our house in Berlin. We organized the schooling for the children and a job for the parents. Many people in Germany do this. The German government has always supported Ukraine even before the war, providing financial assistance. This assistance is continuing, so far since the war started amounting to 370 million euros. We are showing practical solidarity, we also want to stand in for our values. On the other hand, we do not want to do something which may prevent us to show this solidarity because we are forced to fight a war, a military confrontation. Such a situation has to be avoided, and therefore, it is discussed in NATO. One of the results of this discussion shows that we have to evaluate each delivery of very heavy weapons. We are ready to provide protection systems for huge cities. Americans are discussing the delivery of long-range rockets and very modern equipment. Each support also requires considerations of availability in a foreseeable timeframe and of the necessary infrastructure. There is in fact a lot of activity and I guess the criticism was based more on the way of communication of these highly sensitive deliberations. In the German case, I also have to remind you of our past. Due to our post-World-War-2-tradition, we avoided posing as a military power because we always have to take into account the reaction of our European neighbors. On one hand, they ask for German leadership, on the other hand, as soon as leadership is offered, the word of the German dictate is heard. It does not help even if we act together with our French partners: in the EU, the German-French tandem is requested for progress but it should not be too powerful. This may explain why Germans discuss arms delivery and military posture more carefully than other partners inside and outside the EU and NATO.

My last question, you are preparing to leave Azerbaijan with what impressions on this South Caucasus country?

When I was busy with the Southern Caucasus in the early 1990s right after the independence, the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan on Nagorno Karabakh was hot.

After thirty years, it is very satisfying for me to see this old Azerbaijani-Armenian antagonism has a real opportunity to be finished - also due to the circumstances in Europe. And I would like to encourage not only the governments in Azerbaijan and Armenia but also the societies of the two countries to come closer to each other. Together with my French friend and colleague, we put an exchange of young Azerbaijanis and Armenians on track with the assistance of the French-German Youth Office. The young people will meet in Europe, in Strasbourg, and in Berlin. I really pray that the contact of young people in the region, including Georgians, can be intensified in order to create an area of stability and prosperity. And as soon as this region enjoys certain economic prosperity, also political dependencies on big neighbors can be diminished. These neighbors will not go away, Iran, Turkey, and Russia are to stay here. But as a region, resilience can be stronger than a single state. Already today, Southern Caucasus has allies in Europe. I am very happy to learn that both the people and the government of Azerbaijan talk about the “European destiny” of the country. Compared with the early 1990s, it is very satisfying to have got the impression that there is something moving in the right direction. We hope and I hope also personally, that also the societies become more resilient and more self-confident. I am sure, a self-confident society will also be reflected in self-confident authorities. In Azerbaijan, I observe an antagonism between the society on one hand and the state on the other. In my view, both sides are afraid of each other. The Azerbaijani society still has difficulties to define what it expects from the state. Likewise, the government seems also not sure what to expect from society. I would like to see Azerbaijan have a more relaxed relationship between the state and society. No government can govern without the people's general consent. A good way to create consent is dialogue. Dialogue very also has direct and immediate effects. A practical example: A police leader will rather protect than dissolve a demonstration with his policemen, if the organizer of the demonstration had been in contact with the authorities, discussed the location and the topics of the demonstration, and is physically present – and not prevented to leave his apartment before the demonstration starts. Thus, the responsibility lies on both sides.

My wish for the future is that Azerbaijan develops itself into an open, more relaxed society with more relaxed authorities. The window of opportunity is open: Azerbaijan is already a strategic partner, a member of the Eastern Partnership of the EU. This fact also gives an answer to the question of why Germany does not conclude a strategic partnership with Azerbaijan. We are already partners in EaP. We share some institutions, we have dialogues. Azerbaijan is no longer a so-called “third country”. With Eastern Partnership as our common space, also mutual expectations emerge, which may differ from those expected from “third countries”. In this sense, we have indeed “double standards” – but by joining the Eastern Partnership, Azerbaijan has already achieved a lot. It may take some time to implement a high level of common values. I am confident that Azerbaijan has a bright future, offering perspectives for its people and becoming an anchor of peace, and democracy, and playing an important role as our close partner – in the good tradition of an over 200-year-old German-Azerbaijani friendship.