Ukrainian Ambassador to Baku, Mr. Vladyslav Kanevskyi, in an exclusive interview with the Azeri Observer Magazine speaks on the place of Azerbaijan in the foreign policy of his country, cooperation in trade, transport, energy, agriculture, education and culture, and mutually beneficial international projects. He also shares his views on the similarities between the two nations as well as the promotion of Ukrainian culture and consolidation of Ukrainian diaspora in Azerbaijan.
BY IRINA SAVVINA
AZERI OBSERVER STAFF WRITER
Question: Could you tell us about the place of Azerbaijan in the foreign policy of the new Ukrainian government?
Answer: Firstly, I would like to stress that Azerbaijan is a strategic partner of Ukraine, and it means that we share special bilateral relations; the Republic of Azerbaijan occupies an important place in Ukrainian foreign policy. Our diplomatic relations have a rich history and have been successful for years. I had the honor to present credentials to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev on the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Ukrainian People’s Republic’s diplomatic mission in Baku. It was both meaningful and symbolic. In the heart of the capital, at Istiglaliyyat street 31, you can find a memorial plaque for the first Ukrainian diplomatic mission (1919-1920). It shows that even many years ago our countries had a clear understanding of mutual importance. The amity, respect and trust between our nations have been increasing since then and have developed into a strategic partnership. Ukraine has always considered Azerbaijan as a reliable partner, a friendly and fraternal country, and sees a number of mutually beneficial initiatives. I am sure that ambitious bilateral projects are bound to happen. We use all the opportunities, political will and focus on practical results in order to implement them.
Q.: How do you assess the economic ties between our countries? A few years ago after the Ukrainian Revolution of Dignity, there was some decline in economic cooperation. Has the situation stabilized?
A.: Friendly and trusting relations between countries and nations, as well as the sustainable development of states is a basis for strong economic ties. Ukraine and Azerbaijan are successfully developing these important components of mutual success. I believe that we have all the necessary conditions for enhancing and deepening cooperation, including trade and economy. It is no secret, that the trade turnover between our countries sharply fell after the illegal occupation of roughly 7% of Ukrainian territory in 2014, 20% of our economic potential has been lost. It happened partly due to the previous prevalence of metallurgical products from Ukrainian Lugansk and Donetsk regions (temporarily uncontrolled by government authorities) in export to Azerbaijan. However, it is worth mentioning, that the bilateral trade has been growing rapidly, and increased by 2.5 times over the past several years. We managed to see a wider picture of the opportunities in cooperation. In addition, we have expanded the range of products of mutual interest.
Despite continued external aggression, Ukraine is getting back on its feet with confidence, and implementing complex transformations and reforms. The Ukrainian economy has been growing steadily over the past 3 years, and the GDP growth in the coming years is forecast to break the previous records, and exceed 3.5% this year and reach 5-7% annually in a five-year period. The new Ukrainian president and his political power enjoyed tremendous public support. It opens up new opportunities to maintain stability, improve the investment climate and strengthen cooperation with foreign countries, including Azerbaijan – our strategic partner and the key economic partner in the South Caucasus. In order to deepen our bilateral economic cooperation, we plan to open this year a Ukrainian Trading House in Baku. It will provide a range of services for the businesses of Ukraine and Azerbaijan, contribute to the growth of trade and investment projects between our countries, and create the necessary conditions for the further opening of trade and logistics centers. I believe, the successful implementation of mutually beneficial projects in energy, engineering, transport, agro industry and chemical industry, will define the economic cooperation between Ukraine and Azerbaijan in the near future. The visits and negotiations at the highest level, as well as interaction at the intergovernmental level, will provide more positivity to its development.
Q.: Tell us about the bilateral cooperation in energy and the prospects of its development.
A.: Azerbaijan is an important player in the global energy market. Therefore, the energy sphere is one of the key areas of bilateral cooperation. I would like to note, that Azerbaijan State Oil Company SOCAR has been supplying more than 90% of our total oil import since 2017. It is a good example of this cooperation. We are interested in further increasing Azerbaijani oil imports. Moreover, it is important for us not only to purchase oil for the domestic market of Ukraine, but also to use the transit capabilities of our country to pump Azerbaijani oil to the third countries. It is worth noting that Azerbaijan, as the owner of the energy carrier, and Ukraine, as a state with an extensive oil transportation grid, could ensure the efficient operation of the transport corridors, supplying Caspian oil to consumers in Central and Eastern Europe. Such projects of Ukraine and Azerbaijan will contribute to the diversification of oil delivery routes to the European Union. Moreover, Ukraine expects to deepen cooperation with Azerbaijan in its gas sphere, in the context of Azerbaijan’s successful implementation of the Southern Gas Corridor (SGC) project, which will deliver Azerbaijani gas to European markets.
Q.: Azerbaijan will provide gas supplies to Europe within the Southern Gas Corridor in 2020. What is Ukraine’s involvement on gas supplies within this project? Through what infrastructure could it be delivered?
A.: Diversification of energy supplies sources and routes, is of course, important for overcoming the monopoly of a single supplier. Ukraine not only supports the implementation of the SGC, but also examines the possible ways of Azerbaijani gas supplies at the next stages of this project. The SGC project is a cross-border gas transportation project that will strengthen the energy security of European countries by delivering Caspian gas. Unlike other pipeline projects, like Nord Stream and Turk Stream, which are designed to change only the routes of gas supplies, SGC will ensure real diversification of gas sources for consumers in the EU. When the Trans Adriatic gas pipeline is launched and Romania joins the SGC project, Ukraine will have an opportunity to receive Azerbaijani gas through the territories of Romania and Bulgaria. I am sure that this approach meets the interests of all the SGC participant countries. Therefore, in the context of the universally important issue of energy supplies, Ukraine, of course, considers the possibility of purchasing additional volumes of gas from SGC pipelines.
Q.: Ukraine has extensive experience in agriculture and livestock farming. Azerbaijan pays great attention to the development of these areas as part of the economy diversification policy. Can Ukrainian experience be useful for Azerbaijan? What joint projects in agriculture and livestock are under implementation?
A.: Agriculture is an important sphere of bilateral cooperation. Thanks to our joint efforts, agricultural products make up the biggest share of Ukrainian exports to Azerbaijan. We focus on the introduction of advanced Ukrainian experience in growing plants, in particular soft wheat, resistant to pests and droughts, as well as feed for livestock. Livestock farming is also an area of interest of our Azerbaijani partners. Recently, our experts have held talks with Azerbaijani companies, working on the development of the new types of mineral fertilizers in order to improve product quality, including livestock farming. Therefore, there is an active joint work scheme, not just between the ministries, but also at the business level, aimed at the development of additional ways and mechanisms to enhance bilateral cooperation, including the introduction of advanced innovative technologies and ensuring high food security in Azerbaijan. Ukraine and Azerbaijan plan to expand cooperation in these areas.
Q.: Azerbaijan is a member of a number of transnational transport projects such as the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway, the Trans-Caspian transport route, etc. Are these projects of interest to Ukraine? Can they be used to transport Ukrainian goods? Which ones?
A.: Due to the transport blockade by Russia, Ukraine actively participates in alternative transport routes, which could deliver Ukrainian goods to the South Caucasian, Middle Eastern and Central Asian countries. In the near future, the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway may become an important element of the integrated railway links not only for Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey, but also for Ukraine. Our country can bring to this project the practical results from the Viking train international intermodal freight logistics project. In this case, the integration of the Viking railway route, which connects Ukraine, Lithuania, Belarus, Moldova, Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey, and the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway, can be considered as a part of the development of the global transport corridor from the European Union to Asia, with participation of Ukraine and Azerbaijan. Ukraine, in cooperation with our partners in the EU, China and Azerbaijan, strived to create a mutually beneficial basis to ensure the diversification of transport links between the EU and China. In order to meet this goal, we jointly develop cargo transportation along the East-West transport corridor, which is of interest to all the participating countries. For Ukraine, this corridor allows the increasing export of our goods and food products above all. Currently, the Cabinet Ministers of Ukraine take measures to speed up liberalization of port charges for all types of transit goods. Our main goal here is to develop a competitive tariff and pricing policy for Ukrainian seaports and convert them in the transit freight transportation of partner countries (Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Turkey) in the system of international transport projects. These transport projects have been the center of attention of our economists for a long time. They will allow the creation of employment, using logistic and infrastructural capabilities, as well as expanding mutually beneficial bilateral economic cooperation between our countries.
Q.: Ukraine is a traditionally popular destination among Azerbaijani tourists, like Azerbaijan is among Ukrainian tourists. Are there measures planned to bring tourism cooperation to an even higher level?
A.: I absolutely agree with you! During my stay in Azerbaijan, I personally witnessed that Ukraine is popular among Azerbaijanis. In turn, Ukraine always tries to make Azerbaijani tourists feel as comfortable as possible. Huge tourism potential of our countries, from the ancient heritage, fascinating traditions, cultural and historical centers and unique natural health resorts arouse mutual interest. Statistics show that the average annual bilateral tourist flow is about 50,000 people, including the business tourists. This is higher than average, therefore the prospects for the tourist exchange growth are very promising. These developments could be achieved through direct or indirect positive promotion of tourist activity by ministries, specialized public organizations and travel agencies. The development of the tourism cooperation between our countries is one of the Embassy’s main priorities. In my opinion, media could greatly contribute to this process. Therefore, the Embassy is actively working to expand the presence of Ukrainian press in Azerbaijan. I believe, that it will be very useful to expand the presence of Azerbaijani media in Ukraine as well. We will be able to demonstrate the tourism potential of our countries in a professional way, which will significantly increase the number of tourists. In addition, the half-million Azerbaijani diaspora in Ukraine lays an important basis for the further development of cooperation in tourism and the strengthening of friendly relations between our countries. It is also obvious that the development of further cooperation in tourism heavily depends on the professional approach of its main players – health resort complexes, hotels and travel agencies. I am speaking about the quality of their services for clients, as well as their interaction for a mutually beneficial cooperation. A number of factors could and should help here, including the state programs for the development of tourism in both countries, development of tourism and information structures, participation of tourism companies in national tourism exhibitions and forums, and experience of separate tourism organizations.
Q.: Many Azerbaijani students study at Ukrainian universities. Could you tell us about the advantages of Ukrainian education?
A.: Azerbaijani youth have always had a high interest in studying at Ukrainian universities. According to the Ukrainian Ministry of Education and Science, over 6,000 Azerbaijani citizens study at Ukrainian universities, which makes Azerbaijan the third country in terms of the number of foreign students in Ukraine. In total, more than 75,000 from 154 countries study in Ukraine. It could be explained by a long history of the Ukrainian high education system and well-known schools of basic and applied sciences. Therefore, Ukrainian education enjoys well-deserved worldly prestige.
Experienced teachers, a wide variety of courses, European quality standards, and developed cooperation with leading foreign universities remain the main factors contributing to the growth of Ukrainian universities’ popularity among foreign students. An important language issue is resolved thanks to educational programs in Ukrainian, English or Russian. The number of educational institutions, which deliver educational programs in line with international standards and issue diplomas of the European standard, is increasing year over year. In future, it allows our young people to work in the European Union without any problems. In addition, Ukraine also develops its scientific potential. Our teachers regularly attend refresher training courses at leading scientific and educational universities in Europe and the USA. We offer exchange programs, grant programs, i.e. we have many scientists and teachers to ensure quality education for both Ukrainian and foreign students. I want to note that the price and quality of our education allows Ukrainian educational institutions to compete with the leading universities of Europe and the CIS. Therefore, they attract foreign students, including Azerbaijani citizens.
Q.: How big is the Ukrainian diaspora in Azerbaijan? Do you have the statistical data on the number of refugees from southeastern Ukraine in Azerbaijan? Does the embassy help them to adapt here?
A.: Currently, more than 20,000 ethnic Ukrainians and several thousand Ukrainian citizens live in Azerbaijan. I do not have exact numbers, as the Embassy is not obliged to register the incoming citizens, as well as those Ukrainians who applied for a residence permit – it is the responsibility of the migration services. The Ukrainian Congress of Azerbaijan and the Ukrainian community (named after I. Franko in the city of Sumqayit in Azerbaijan) actively contributes to the consolidation of people, including in supporting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine and Azerbaijan. The problem of refugees and temporarily displaced persons is relevant for both Ukraine and Azerbaijan, since both our countries have experienced external aggression. We exchange experience in this sphere at the level of relevant ministries and departments. The experience of Azerbaijan is especially valuable for us. The visit of Ukrainian Minister of Temporarily Occupied Territories and IDPs Ukraine, Oksana Koliada, to Baku is scheduled in the beginning of the next year. In addition, there are interesting ideas related to the practical development of cooperation between the Ukrainian and Azerbaijani diasporas. At the recent meeting with the Chairman of the State Committee on Work with Diaspora, Fuad Muradov, we discussed a number of cultural and educational projects as well as the possibility of joint events related, for example, common historical occasions between our countries.
We want more Ukrainians living in Azerbaijan to be involved in the diaspora activities and not only be able to attend national holidays celebrations, but consider the Embassy as an integral platform for informal communication, which generates creative and interesting ideas. It is also very important for us.
For me, the word ‘diaspora’ means people for whom the word “Ukraine” is of special importance, those who are our associates and assistants. That is why the Embassy consistently responds to public initiatives that contribute to the consolidation of Ukrainians, development of bilateral relations with Azerbaijan, strengthening the positive image of Ukraine, as well as meeting the cultural and humanitarian needs of Ukrainians in Azerbaijan. We try to focus on practical results, implement initiatives, which will arouse interest among people, develop and integrate them and bring them enjoyment.
Q.: What activities does the Embassy undertake to promote Ukrainian culture in Azerbaijan?
A.: Together with our Azerbaijani partners, we are implementing various projects: conferences, round tables, exhibitions, which allow us not only to present Ukrainian customs and traditions, but also to create the required conditions for the further development of bilateral relations in the cultural and humanitarian sphere. Just recently, we held a contest among ethnic Ukrainians on the concept of events for the popularization of Ukrainian films in Azerbaijan. Given the high interest in this topic, we plan to hold more similar competitions to attract more Ukrainians to the popularization of Ukrainian culture, and Ukraine as a whole. We also managed to resume the activity of the Ukrainian Sunday school in Baku. In October, I took part in the work of the new Ukrainian cultural and educational center and in the opening of the Sunday school of the Ukrainian community. The events allowed us to present Ukrainian culture in Azerbaijan properly, as well as arouse interest among Azerbaijani citizens in visiting Ukraine, since our people share a common rich history, and have similar spirit and mentality. Now, we are implementing a joint project with the Azerbaijan National Carpet Museum on the creation of the Ukrainian language audio guide, which will allow Ukraine tourists to feel more comfortable while getting acquainted with the rich cultural heritage of the brotherly Azerbaijani people. We plan to continue this project in other major museums of Azerbaijan. Moreover, we plan to organize a huge concert Ukrainian Vechornytsi (Ukrainian evening) at the end of 2019 and Ukrainian Film Days in Baku, the first quarter of 2020.
Q.: You started your tenure in Baku less than a year ago. What is your impression of our country? What are the main differences and similarities between our countries?
A.: I have very positive impressions of Azerbaijan. I travelled to Azerbaijan several times in different years before my appointment as an ambassador. I see a stable, rapidly and sustainably developing state. Azerbaijanis are generous, open and welcoming people, who consider Ukrainians as a brotherly nation. You can hear the same feedback about Azerbaijanis in Ukraine. There are thousands of miles between us, but we feel mutual warmth and sympathy. We have many things in common: both our nations are hardworking, friendly, peaceful and hospitable. We treasure our national traditions, love our land and we are very patriotic. We also have a common pain that makes us stronger, more successful and confident in defending the sovereignty and territorial integrity of our states. During these few months in Azerbaijan, I was able to get acquainted with the regions of the country and was very excited with the rich history, traditions and culture of Azerbaijani people, the natural beauty of the country, its fascinating mountains and the warm sea with character. As for Baku, in my opinion, this city can easily compete with many world capitals. It can surprise and admire, and it is difficult not to fall in love with it. Its distinguishing feature is a combination of high-tech and classical Eastern architecture. It is the top of the line! However, I believe, that the main treasure of Azerbaijan is its people. I am in awe of Azerbaijan and still have a lot to admire. It is a pleasure for me to continue learning about the culture and traditions of this country. Perhaps, I have not understood this country profoundly yet, but I already love it.