Azerbaijan and Belarus

An interview with H.E. Mr. Nikolai Patskevich
Ambassador of the Republic of Belarus to the Republic of Azerbaijan

March 28, 2011
Baku, Azerbaijan

Azerbaijan in the World: In your opinion, what forms the basis of relations between Belarus and Azerbaijan?

Ambassador Patskevich: It is obvious that the capstone which lies at the foundation of Belorussian-Azerbaijani ties is the friendly, mutually respectful character of relations between the heads of Belarus and Azerbaijan, Aleksandr Lukashenko and Ilham Aliyev.  I am convinced that to a large extent thanks to their positive efforts, the existing interaction between our countries has successfully developed into a truly fraternal and trusting relationship.

One also needs to take note of several other objective factors involved.  This is the way in which the economies of our countries fit together, with each stimulating the continuing growth of the other and of bilateral trade and productive cooperation, as well as a commonality of approaches on key issues of the contemporary world, and the similarity of social policies which the leaderships of Belarus and Azerbaijan are conducting.  No doubts, we are also unified by our Soviet past however we evaluate it today.

AIW: How have Azerbaijani-Belorussian relations developed in the post-Soviet period?  How would you rate the level of these relations at present?

Amb. Patskevich: The collapse of the Soviet Union led to a breakdown in the economic and human ties among the former republics of the USSR.  This was unfortunately also the case for Belarus and Azerbaijan.  One must openly admit that the inertia of centrifugal forces in “the wild nineties” to a definite degree distanced our countries from one another.  That trend was compounded by serious internal problems to the solution of which we focused our attention, as well as by geographic distance.  Nor should one ignore geopolitical aspects.  It is no secret that the newly independent states actively were drawn into the orbit of influence of the stronger players in the world arena.  The “iron curtain” which existed in Soviet times played a role in this regard and its fall generated a natural desire of people to see and find out about another world.

Having passed through the far from simple historical stage of “growing up,” our states received the chance to develop their relations on the basis of their own national priorities and mutually acceptable compromises.

The first practical steps of Minsk and Baku in developing a dialogue dates back to August 2001, when the first governmental delegation of the Republic of Belarus was dispatched to Azerbaijan.  In 2004, there occurred an exchange of visits by governmental delegations.  At that same time the inter-governmental Belarus-Azerbaijan commission for trade and economic cooperation was established which has made a significant contribution to the development of relations between our countries.

2006 became a signal year for Belorussian-Azerbaijani partnership.  Diplomatic representations of the two countries were opened in the capitals of the other at the level of embassies, which underscored the interest of the sides in an effective and dynamic format of bilateral cooperation.

In October 2006, President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev made his first official visit to the Republic of Belarus, an event which marked the beginning of intensive dialogue at the highest level and the establishment of special relations between the heads of our states.  In May 2007, President of Belarus Aleksandr Lukashenko paid an official visit to Baku.  In 2009-2010, the second round of visits by the chiefs of state of our two countries took place.

These two rounds of visits led to the adoption of a number of principle decisions on the development of bilateral relations.  The specific directions of work have been defined, ones that found expression in the agreements signed by the two chiefs of state concerning friendship and cooperation and long-term social-economic cooperation, as well as the joint declarations of the two presidents.  Since that time, there have been more than 60 international agreements signed by Belarus and Azerbaijan.

The number of visits at the ministerial level between the two countries has increased significantly.  Annually, only via the Belorussian Embassy in Azerbaijan more than 100 various delegations arrive in Baku.  Such visits have been reflected across the entire spectrum of bilateral relations.            

Indicative as well is the growth of trade, which in 2002 stood at 6.7 million US dollars and had already crossed the psychological barrier of 100 million by 2008.  During the two first months of the present year, the extent of bilateral trade exceeded 300 million US dollars.  All this allows one to say that relations between Belarus and Azerbaijan are on the rise, and there is every reason to think that all the necessary conditions are in place for further growth.

AIW: What is the status of Azerbaijani-Belorussian cooperation in the energy sphere?

Amb. Patskevich: Energy both for Belarus and for Azerbaijan is a key, life-supporting system, a basic element which guarantees the integrity and effectiveness of work for all branches and subjects of the economy; and relations between our two countries in this sphere are conducted in a mutually profitable way.  In April 2011, the processing of Azerbaijani oil is going to begin at the Mozyr Oil Processing Factory in Belarus.  This has now become possible thanks to the fact that the Odessa-Brody pipeline began its operation in a reverse mode.  As provided by the contract between the Belarus Oil Company and Azerbaijan’s SOCAR, up to four million tons o Azerbaijani oil will be delivered to Belarus in 2011.  This oil will first be delivered to the Yuzhny Port and then be taken via the Odessa-Brody pipeline to Mozyr.  Supplies from Azerbaijan will be realized simultaneously with supplies of oil from Venezuela.  This allows for swap agreements between Azerbaijan and Venezuela to the benefit of both given transport costs.

AIW:  What are the main directions of cooperation between Belarus and Azerbaijan, in addition to energy?

Amb. Patskevich: The start of supplies of Azerbaijani oil to Belarus in 2011 undoubtedly is an important stage of Belorussian-Azerbaijani cooperation.  At the same time, the tasks which the presidents of the two countries have put for the development of a strategic partnership in the two economies include a large number of other mutually profitable directions of cooperation, many of which are already being realized over the course of the last five years or more.  And it is no accident that today this task involves increasing trade to more than one billion US dollars a year in the near term.

Sales by Azerbaijan to Belarus of machine tools, the products of the petroleum chemical complex, and agricultural goods (including fruits, vegetables, juices, grapes, pharmaceuticals and tobacco) are dynamically increasing.  In 2010 alone, Azerbaijani exports to Belarus grew more than 1.5 times.

Also actively developing is the Belorussian component of this mutually profitable cooperation.  More than 300 Belorussian enterprises, including more than 40 Belarusian producers representing practically all branches of the economy, are represented in Azerbaijan.
Work is continuing on the broadening of the list of mutually profitable projects of productive cooperation.  One can now find in Azerbaijan Belarusian tractors, trucks, optical equipment and elevators.  Today with pride we speak about such breakthrough projects of bilateral cooperation as the production of Belorussian tractors and cars at the Ganja automobile factory, something President Aliyev has spoken about.

Belarusians are ready to share with our Azerbaijani friends all out experience and technology which our economy now possess in such branches as automobile construction, agricultural machinery construction, petroleum chemical industry, electronic and electrical machinery, food, forest and wood processing industries and the agro-industrial complex.  Cooperation is broadening in the services sphere as well.  Agreements have been reached concerning the training of Azerbaijani students in Belorussian universities, regular flights between Baku and Minsk, the opening of a direct railway route between the two cities beginning in June this year, and the development of large-scale projects in information technology at the two national Academies of Science.

Thus, one can point to the active development of Belorussian-Azerbaijani cooperation in practically all branches of the economy.
AIW: What is the status of Azerbaijani-Belorussian cooperation in the social and cultural sphere?

Amb. Patskevich: The high-level visits which have taken place and received wide coverage in the Belorussian and Azerbaijani press have given a powerful impulse to the development of cultural and humanitarian ties.  While becoming acquainted with the rich historical heritage of Belarus and Azerbaijan and contemporary achievements in the areas of culture, science and education, we are discovering each other anew and these discoveries are beautiful.

The last year was marked by an essential activization of bilateral cooperation in the humanitarian sphere.  The signal event was the opening of the Center of Belorussian Language and Culture at the Baku Slavic University.  This took place with the participation of President Lukashenko in the course of his visit to Azerbaijan and generated enormous interest in Belarus among Azerbaijani society.  In its turn, at the end of2010, an analogous Center of Azerbaijani Language was opened in the Belorussian Pedagogical University.

A significant contribution to the development of ties in the area of culture, education and science is made by the Azerbaijan-Belarus Society of Friendship and Cooperation headed by the respected academician Arif Mehdiyev.  Since its creation in October 2009, the society has organized about 20 activities in various areas.  For the second year in a row, there has been a successful exhibit of miniature books produced by Zarifa Salakhova and dedicated to the visit of the President of the Belorussian state to Azerbaijan.

I am very glad about the establishment of close ties between people of the theater of our two countries.  In Azerbaijan, during the past year took place a premier of a musical show based on the Tales of Hoffman directed by Belarus’ N. Basheva.  And the Belorussian viewer in turn has seen the Azerbaijani comedy “Arshin mal alan.”  As directed by Hafiz Guliyev, this became an important event in the cultural life of the Belorussian capital.  I hope that similarly fruitful will be the cooperation between the Kupala National Theater of Belarus and the Azerbaijani Drama Theater.  Corresponding agreements were reached in the last year.

Arts collectives, members of the creative intelligentsia, and sportsmen of both countries take the most active part in various cultural activities which are carried out in Belarus and in Azerbaijan.  In 2010, representatives of Azerbaijan participated in the Slavic Bazaar in Vitebsk, and Belarusians in the Second Baku International Competition of Children’s Drawings.  Belorussian pupils successfully appeared in the 44th International Mendeleyev Chemistry Olympiad which took place in Baku last year.  

The growing interest of Belarusians in Azerbaijan generated a noticeable increase in the activity of representatives of the Belorussian mass media in the Azerbaijani direction.  Traditional have become visits by creative groups of the Belorussian State Television and Radio Company which has visited Azerbaijan for the eighth time this year.  In addition to numerous articles on social and political themes and interviews with leading Azerbaijanis, Belorussian journalists made documentary films about the history of Christianity in Azerbaijani and about historical-architectural monuments of the Lagich village in the Ismayilly district.  I am convinced that the more we learn about one another, the broader the horizons of our cooperation will get.

AIW: In your opinion, what should be the next steps in the relationship between Azerbaijan and Belarus?

Amb.Patskevich: We have achieved a considerably high level in our bilateral relations, and now it is important to foster this development by supporting dialogue at all levels and broadening the spectrum of our mutual activity.

There are many directions of cooperation where mutual interest is obvious but a practical realization for various reasons has not been achieved, although real steps have been taken.  There are good prospects in my view for cooperation in investment.  The favorable conjunction of world prices for energy and the far-sighted policy of the leadership of Azerbaijan which has prevented the onset of the Dutch Disease have made possible the growth of the investment potential of the country.  Belarus can be a space for Azerbaijani capital investments.

A favorable investment climate exists in Belarus.  In the “Doing Business 2011” report, Belarus ranks 68th in terms of the simplification of the conditions for conducting business and has joined the top three countries which have most actively carried out reforms in the sphere of regulating entrepreneurial activity over the last five years.  Already today, projects for the construction in Belarus by Azerbaijani businessmen of trade and logistical centers, restaurants, tea factories, and other plants are being worked out.

Belarus in its turn is ready for a breakout year in the creation of joint production enterprises.  In particular, the Belorussian side has proposed the joint production of quality Belorussian combines for the Azerbaijani Agricultural Ministry.  Some joint production is already taking place at the Ganja automobile factory.

I also think that there is significant potential for the development of cooperation between the youth organizations of our countries.  An inter-governmental agreement between Belarus and Azerbaijan on youth policy has been signed.  Using this document as a base, it is possible to establish mutually profitable ties between the youth wings of the Yeni Azerbaijan Party and the Belorussian Republic Union of Youth, which today unites in its ranks about 480,000 young people and is the largest youth organization in Belarus.

Tourism is another area waiting to take off.  Here, it seems to me, the greatest interest of the two sides involves the medical component.  Belorussian sanatoria and pensions attract foreigners with their moderate prices for high quality service.  Hospitable and highly qualified personnel, specialized programs of cure, picturesque nature, mineral sources, and the possibility to become acquainted with the unique monuments of Belorussian history is an incomplete list of the attractions which leads visitors to come back again and again.  Belarusians in turn are interested in the Azerbaijani curative resort of Naftalan.  And, of course, beautiful Baku, if given the necessary information support, could become a desired tourist destination for residents of Belarus.  Direct air connections assist this process, and we must use them more effectively.

Cooperation in information technologies looks to be a much-promising area as well.  The first Belorussian-Azerbaijani business forum in the area of information and communications technologies which took place last year demonstrated this.  The first results are already in evidence: joint products of Belorussian and Azerbaijani IT companies are already being introduced into the banking sector of Azerbaijan.  

Thus, the field of activity is enormous, and it inspires us in our daily work.

AIW: Considering your own diplomatic experience, what advice could you give to young Azerbaijani diplomats who are only beginning their own diplomatic career?

Amb. Patskevich: One recalls Talleyrand’s observation that a young diplomat should begin his career by “dressing all in gray, keeping in the shadow, and not showing initiative.”  To be sure, this is a universal formula for the careerist, but for an individual who sincerely wants to push forward the national interests of his country abroad, and that is how I see a real diplomat, I would advise taking exactly the opposite track.  Of course, I am not calling for such people to dress in carnival-colored outfits and overwhelm those around them.  In that regard, generally accepted standards exist and these should not be forgotten.  But to show oneself as anything but indifferent and to attract others to oneself—this is how an individual should make a career as a diplomat.

When interacting with representatives of other countries, remember that it is possible you will be the only representative of your country with whom your interlocutor will encounter in his lifetime, and precisely this conversation will shape his view of your country.