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Azerbaijan and Belarus Take Bilateral Relations to a Whole New Level

photo; president.az
20 May 2024

President of the Republic of Belarus (RB) Alexander Lukashenko was on a state visit to Azerbaijan from May 15 to 17. His extensive talks with president of the Republic of Azerbaijan (RA) Ilham Aliyev, first one-on-one and afterwards in an extended format, marked a qualitative evolution of the friendly relations between Baku and Minsk. The parties are determined to further strengthen and deepen bilateral cooperation and view their common future as highly promising.

The Special Nature of Azerbaijan-Belarusian Relations

The Caspian Sea region, with an overall friendly attitude towards Minsk and a promising market for the promotion of Belarusian exports of goods and services, has taken special prominence in the foreign policy of Belarus. Among the Caspian region states, Azerbaijan stands out as a long-time economic and political partner of Belarus [1]. It would be no exaggeration to say that this relationship is founded on personal friendship between Ilham Aliyev and Alexander Lukashenko, their mutual understanding and trust.

«Today, we are welcoming a dear guest, our great friend Alexander Grigoryevich Lukashenko, who is paying a state visit to Azerbaijan. The talks held both in a one-on-one and in the extended format clearly demonstrate again that our countries are good friends», president Ilham Aliyev said [2]. He described the Baku-Minsk partnership as trust-based and creative, and of great value to him. He also pointed out that the partnership between the two countries is built upon mutual respect, friendship and cooperation.

According to I. Aliyev, the two leaders had a thorough conversation on many items on the bilateral agenda as well as on matters of regional and international importance. The heads of state confirmed the strategic nature of relations between the two countries. In turn, Alexander Lukashenko described them in the following way: «There were no closed topics, everything is open in our relations. So what kind of relations do we have? They are most friendly and close. We communicate like brothers, we have the same view of the world and understand where it is moving». 

The president of Belarus has visited Azerbaijan several times: in May 2007, June 2010, November 2013, June 2015, November 2016, and April 2021. This time however the visit takes place in an unusual environment, when the entire system of international relations is undergoing substantial transformations which modify the existing world order. But these processes do not affect the allied ties between Baku and Minsk which are not susceptible to political climate or external influences.

It should be noted that A. Lukashenko and I. Aliyev are self-sufficient and strong political figures, both with great charisma, very high confidence rating and popular support; even though they have held their posts for a long time, this ensures stability of the political system, economy and finance, while enabling both Belarus and Azerbaijan to develop in a sustainable and balanced manner.

The official Minsk has always supported Azerbaijans territorial integrity and has proposed multiple initiatives to reach an equitable solution to the Karabakh conflict. All of them, however, met with stubborn resistance on the part of Yerevan, which proved to be totally impossible to negotiate with. Then, after the Second Karabakh War, when the prime-minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan made several attempts to provoke CSTO to take action against Baku, it was Alexander Lukashenko who spoke up forcefully to put Armenia in its place. Now that Azerbaijan has fully restored its territorial integrity and sovereignty, the Belarusian president, as an important part of his agenda, visited Karabakh and Shusha, the cultural capital of Azerbaijan, which have been liberated from the Armenian occupation.

According to Ilham Aliyev, during the talks the parties analyzed in detail the development of bilateral relations in recent years, noted the dynamic progress of these relations and defined ways of further interaction. In particular, they agreed that by the time of next meeting of the Intergovernmental Commission, to be held in Minsk in the near future, specific steps and deadlines for their implementation will be defined, as well as persons and agencies responsible for implementation.

«I am sure that in the future, not too distant, we will see new frontiers of our relations, new enterprises, new jobs, as well as new areas of cooperation», president of Azerbaijan said.

Following official talks the two leaders signed a set of agreements covering different areas from agriculture to tourism and investment [3].

Trade and Economic Prospects

Trade and economic relations between Minsk and Baku produce good results, according to Andrei Ravkov, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Belarus in Azerbaijan [4]. To date, Baku and Minsk have more than 120 bilateral contracts and agreements in different areas.

Azerbaijans first trading house outside the country was inaugurated in the capital of Belarus in May, 2017. In turn, Azerbaijan hosts a growing chain of specialty stores under the Belorussky (Belarusian) brand. There are currently six of them, all located in Baku, although the Belarusian partner intends to expand their geographic presence in future.

Companies from Azerbaijan trade actively at the Belarusian Universal Commodity Exchange (BUCE). Particularly, between January and April, 2024, the volume of Azerbaijani companies transactions at BUCE totaled $38 mln, a 14.5-fold increase from the same period of 2023. Annual business forums bringing together hundreds of Belarusian and Azerbaijani companies are now traditional.

Over the past decade only, trade between Azerbaijan and Belarus quintupled. In 2023 the volume of bilateral trade exceeded $400 mln. The partners have set themselves the target of $500 mln a year, eventually to reach $1 bn a year.

Belarus exports a wide range of products to Azerbaijan including machinery, transformers, cables and other electrical goods, sawn timber, dairy and meat products, pharmaceuticals, oils, fertilizer, cosmetics, industrial wood, and chemicals.

Azerbaijans exports to Belarus are dominated by vegetables, fruits and nuts, canned fruits and berries, olive oil, alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, petroleum products and chemicals. With Belarus facing sanctions from the West, Azerbaijan managed to significantly increase its fruit and vegetable exports to the Belarusian market.

So it can be seen that food trade between Belarus and Azerbaijan is developing dynamically, making a significant contribution to food security of both countries [5].

Minsk and Baku have the resources to bring their economic partnership to a new level, Belarusian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Petrishenko said during his meeting with Prime Minister Ali Asadov of Azerbaijan on May 14. He stated that Belarus is working hard to further and diversify trade and economic cooperation on mutually beneficial terms. Petrishenko pointed out that the two economies are not in competition but complement each other in many respects [6].

Agriculture prioritized

Trade and economic relations between Azerbaijan and Belarus will be furthered by more extensive collaboration in the field of agriculture, the sector which is assigned special priority by both partners.

It is important to note that, as part of the effort to develop non-oil sectors of its national economy, Azerbaijan places great emphasis on the growth of agribusiness and processing industry. The agrarian reform that is underway provides incentives for agricultural development. To this end the government is implementing meaningful support measures. In developing its agribusiness sector, Azerbaijan aims not only to meet the domestic market demand but also to export agricultural products.

Belarus is known as an important producer and exporter of farm products and agricultural machinery. Agriculture generates around 20% of the countrys export volume. In this respect, cooperation between Baku and Minsk looks very promising as RB has a substantial technology capacity for agricultural and agro-industrial production.

Belarus consistently participates in large Caspian region forums such as the Caspian Agro international agricultural exhibition and the InterFood Azerbaijan international food industry exhibition, which the city of Baku has been hosting for years. During the Caspian Agro 2024 exhibition Belarusian companies are reported to have signed contracts totally worth $54 mln.

This year both events coincided with the Belarusian presidents stay in the country. On May 16 the two heads of state visited the Baku Expo Center to personally view the exhibitions.

Some 40 Belarusian companies brought their products to InterFood Azerbaijan, including the large ones such as the Gomselmash plant, Brestmyasmolprom conglomerate, Slutsk cheese factory, Minsk dairy factory as  well as the Grodno, Vaukavysk and Mogilev meat processing plants.

Two companies Gomselmash and the Minsk Automobile Plant (MAZ) were displaying their products in the outdoor exhibition area of the Belarus pavilion. Notably, both of them play a key role in the national machine-building industry: MAZ is Eastern Europes leading manufacturer of passenger, public-service and special-purpose vehicles and trailers, while Gomselmash is a prominent supplier of agricultural machinery, its combine harvesters exported to multiple countries.

Agricultural machinery from Belarus is of high demand in Azerbaijan, favored by large agribusinesses as well as private farmers due to its reliability, ease of maintenance and affordability. Today, up to 80% of tractors sold in Azerbaijan are of Belarusian make.

Apart from agricultural machinery, Belarus supplies Azerbaijan with fertilizers, chemicals for plant treatment and veterinary drugs.

During Alexander Lukashenkos state visit the parties outlined ambitious new plans in the agricultural sector. Belarus is prepared to supply pedigree cattle to fill Azerbaijans demand for milk and meat.

Significantly, Belarus is a major fertilizer producer and exporter and can contribute to the development of Azerbaijans agribusinesses by making fertilizer more available [7]. Baku and Minsk agreed on joint production of multiple-nutrient fertilizer. «We need to produce compound, blended fertilizer and start from the domestic market, so that Azerbaijan does not ask for fertilizer somewhere else, but produces them here. We have relevant technologies, we are ready to do it and supply the whole region, which is enormous   Iran, Pakistan, India. They consume huge amounts of mineral fertilizer. We will offer a compound product», president Alexander Lukashenko said.

In fact the idea is to build an Azerbaijani-Belarusian agricultural and food alliance that will be focused on exporting agribusiness products to supply the markets of Russia and China as well as Arab states.

Industrial Cooperation

Enhancing industrial cooperation is of special priority for Baku and Minsk. The flagship project implemented jointly by Belarus and Azerbaijan is the Ganja automobile plant, which operates in close coordination with the Belarusian partners MTZ, MAZ and Amkodor assembling variant models of Belarus tractors, MAZ and KAMAZ trucks, a variety of trailers, excavators and other types of machinery and equipment.

Since 2007 the Ganja plant has assembled around 15 thousand Belarus tractors of different models with mounted equipment, and over 4 thousand automobiles of Belarusian brands. Assembly lines for electric buses and grain harvesters have been launched.

The bilateral industrial cooperation program includes plans to expand the product range at the Ganja automobile plant to include joint production of electric buses and grain harvesters.

In addition, Baku and Minsk are planning to develop new cooperation projects. Agreements were reached to start joint production of MAZ-branded vehicles, firefighting machinery and elevator equipment. Going forward Belarus will also be prepared to launch the production of railway rolling stock, both platforms and tank cars, in Azerbaijan.

Minsk also approaches the Azerbaijan party with a proposal to set up joint pharmaceutical production facilities. «We are ready to start supplying medicines that you need even tomorrow, launch joint production of medicines and veterinary drugs here», Alexander Lukashenko said.

Restoration of Liberated Territories

Azerbaijan is interested to learn from Belarusian experience in the organization of rural communities and is inviting companies from the Republic of Belarus to participate in restoration of peaceful civilian life in the liberated territories. «I would like to say again that I have invited Belarusian companies to actively participate in the reconstruction of the Karabakh and East Zangezur regions. The scale of work we are carrying out and will carry out is enormous», president Ilham Aliyev pointed out. He also noted that a key priority for the government of Azerbaijan is to enable former refugees to quickly return to their homes, which will be built anew, and to make well-paid job available to them.

Minsk, on its part, is prepared to assist in addressing those important social objectives. «We are ready to build an agro-township based on the Belarusian experience, with the entire infrastructure, and create jobs on the lands that you have liberated, especially on agricultural lands», the leader of Belarus said. He then explained that his idea was to build a meat-and-milk production facility and to provide organizational assistance in setting up new farms.

Belarus can also help with residential construction in Karabakh and East Zangezur. It should be noted that Belarusian construction companies have worked in Azerbaijan before: in 2013 and 2014 they built a number of projects in the Ismailli district. At the current stage, Belarusian specialists provide consulting services under the national rehabilitation program for Karabakh. During president Lukashenkos previous visit to Azerbaijan in April 2021, the parties agreed to bring in Belarusian companies to perform urban and rural design and 3D modeling, and also to involve specialists from Belarus in transport infrastructure restoration.

Targeted supplies of Belarusian electrobuses can be the countrys contribution to the development of the liberated territories of Azerbaijan [8].

It is noteworthy that after the talks in Baku the Belarusian leader arrived in Karabakh: Alexander Lukashenkos presidential plane landed at the Fuzuli international airport where he was personally welcomed by Ilham Aliyev.

The Fuzuli international airport, referred to as the air gateway to Karabakh, was commissioned in very short time (less than a year after the Second Karabakh War ended) on October 26, 2021. The airport is built to the latest standards and can serve any type of modern aircraft. The runway is 3,000 meters long and 60 meters wide.

A. Lukashenko and I. Aliyev visited the devastated areas of Fuzuli city. Emin Huseynov, Presidents special envoy in the Aghdam, Fuzuli and Khojavand districts, informed the president of Belarus of the destruction and acts of vandalism committed by Armenia during its occupation of the Fuzuli district over three decades; he also provided an update on the progress and future developments outlined in the city master plan.

According to the master plan, the citys administrative area is projected to cover 1,943 hectares, as its population is expected to reach 50,000 by 2040. Fuzuli will be rebuilt in conformity with modern standards and national architectural traditions. It will become one of the largest cities in the previously occupied territories.

A «smart city» concept framework has been proposed to enhance traditional networks and services through digital solutions, contributing to the citys sustainable development and the well-being of businesses and residents.

In order to ensure modern and comfortable living in Fuzuli, the plan envisages construction of low-rise and mid-rise residential buildings, detached houses with backyards, educational, healthcare, cultural and industrial facilities and recreation areas. The first three residential compounds are currently under construction, comprising a total of 2,462 apartments designed to meet modern urban standards. 

According to the Fuzuli city master plan, about 22.5 hectares will be allocated for the Central Park with recreation areas, botanical gardens, a forest zone, picnic sites and athletic grounds.

After that A. Lukashenko and I. Aliyev visited the city of Shusha, arriving there by the newly built «Victory Road» highway. The heads of state viewed the first residential compound currently under construction. Aydin Karimov, Presidents special envoy in the Shusha district, told the two heads of state that, under the «Great Return» relocation program, 111 four- and five-storey residential buildings will be erected by the end of 2026. The design will be based on a traditional architectural composition with elements of the characteristic Shusha style.

A. Lukanhesko and I. Aliyev visited some Shusha landmarks which have already been restored (almost all of the citys 196 monuments were destroyed and desecrated by Armenians during the years of occupation). There is much more to do, given the enormous cultural losses. Meanwhile, work is underway to rehabilitate and clean natural springs all of them remained in a bad condition under occupation.

The two presidents also toured the «Heydar Aliyev and Karabakh» exhibition at the Shusha Creativity Center, recently restored by the Heydar Aliyev Foundation. Assistant to the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Anar Alakbarov informed the heads of state about the Center and the exhibition.

He also reported that the Creativity Center was inaugurated on May 10, 2023 after completion of reconstruction work by the Heydar Aliyev Foundation. The building is listed among architectural monuments of national significance.

The «Heydar Aliyev and Karabakh» exhibition displays unique photographs, documents and videos that highlight the merits of the National Leader of the Azerbaijan nation in the areas of social, economic, political and cultural development of Karabakh. The exhibition also includes photographic records of Heydar Aliyevs visits to Karabakh and of the meetings and events he held there.

Military-Technical Cooperation

Military-technical cooperation (MTC) plays a special role in Azerbaijani-Belarus relationships, Baku being one of Minsks key partners in this area. Moreover, a specific agreement has been signed between the State Military-Industrial Committee of the Republic of Belarus and the Ministry of Defense Industry of the Republic of Azerbaijan.

Military-technical cooperation between the two countries has been underway on a large scale since 2006. Although most of the relevant information is classified, some data is in public domain. In particular, according to UN reports, between 2002 and 2012 Belarus supplied to Azerbaijan 153 -72 tanks, 120 towed artillery systems D-30, 12 self-propelled artillery mounts 2C7 Pion, 60 BTR-70 armored personnel carriers, and 11 Sukhoi-25 ground attack aircraft. The Belarusian military-industrial complex upgraded Azerbaijans C-125M Pechora, 9K33M3 Osa-AKM, and the Buk-MB surface-to-air missile systems.

The 2018 purchase by Azerbaijan of the recently developed Polonez multiple launch rocket system (MLRS) is considered to be the key deal between Minsk and Baku. In terms of firepower it comes close to tactical missile systems and has a range of up to 300 km [9]. It was the Polonez systems deployed at the units level of the Detached Combined-Arms Army, stationed in the Naxcivan Autonomous Republic, that became a powerful deterrent against the plans of Armenian military and political leadership to carry out missile strikes targeting Baku and critical infrastructure of Azerbaijan during the Second Karabakh War. The threat of a retaliatory strike with Polonez missiles from Azerbaijan cooled down Yerevans militaristic vigor forcing it to give up its initial plans.  

Experts believe that over the last twenty years Azerbaijan has remained a leading importer of different types of weapons from Belarus: number one in the purchase of tanks and artillery, number two in the purchase of armored vehicles, and number three in the purchase of combat aircraft.

In October, 2020 president of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev gave an interview to the French Le Figaro newspaper where he named Belarus as one of the «principal suppliers» of weapons and military equipment for the Azerbaijani army, alongside Russia, Turkey and Israel. Experts have estimated Bakus total Belarusian arms purchase at above $1 bn [9].

Speaking at the ADEX International Defense Exhibition, president Aliyev said that military equipment imported from Belarus is produced to superior standards and is distinguished by high quality and reliability.

The importance for Minsk of military-technical cooperation with Baku is evidenced by the appointments the official Minsk made when forming the diplomatic corps to work in Azerbaijan. The person in question is Andrei Ravkov who is now the ambassador of Belarus in Azerbaijan. Prior to his current appointment he headed the Ministry of Defense and was State Secretary of the Security Council of Belarus. It is also symbolic that Lieutenant General Viktor Khrenin, Ravkovs successor in the MOD position, made his first official trip abroad visiting Azerbaijan.

The two heads of state also discussed security issues in different parts of the world. In this connection the president of Belarus pointed out that in the troubled region of Southern Caucasus, «a very powerful and normal leader in the person of Azerbaijan has emerged». «You are already responsible for the situation in the Caucasus as a whole, and we have great hopes for that. This is an additional burden for you, although you have enough problems of your own, but nevertheless, you are not going anywhere. Time has chosen you, as we say, and you are responsible for the Caucasus region as a leader», Alexander Lukashenko said addressing Ilham Aliyev.

Intercultural and Sister City Relationships

Baku and Minsk also place great emphasis on development of intercultural communication. There are officially registered Azerbaijani diaspora communities in Belarus that participate in national culture festivals. Centers of Azerbaijani language and culture have been set up at the Maksim Tank Belarusian State Pedagogical University and the Minsk State Linguistic University [10]. A Belarusian language and culture center is operating at the Baku Slavic University. The book «Azerbaijani Warriors Heroes of the Belarus Land» published in 2022 tells the life stories of Azerbaijani soldiers and officers who participated in the liberation of the Belarus Soviet Socialist Republic in the ranks of the Red Army during the Great Patriotic War, including double Hero of the Soviet Union Azi Aslanov, Heroes of the Soviet Union Aslan Vezirov and Najafgulu Rafiyev. A monument to the great Azerbaijani poet Nizami Ganjavi was erected in Minsk in the same year.

Belarus natives were among the combatants defending territorial integrity of the Republic of Azerbaijan. One of them was major Anatoly Davidovich who gave his life for this cause and was named National Hero of Azerbaijan posthumously. A street in Ganja was named after Anatoly Davidovich, and a commemorative plaque was installed there in 2015.

The Republic of Azerbaijan and the Republic of Belarus are consistently developing sister city relations and partnerships which are already connecting ten regions in both countries. The ties are especially close between Gomel and Ganja, Mogilev and Sumgait, Grodno and the Gabala district. Within the framework of Alexander Lukashenkos official visit a memorandum was signed to establish sister city relations between the capital cities of Baku and Minsk.

Conclusion

It should be noted that Belarus and Azerbaijan have accumulated substantial experience in mutually beneficial bilateral cooperation in many areas. This can be attributed to close, trust-based personal relationship of presidents I. Aliyev and A. Lukashenko, as well as to the fact that both nations retain and value their decades-long common history as USSR republics and use this joint experience to the benefit of their new, sovereign history. Encountering the aggressive sanctions policy of the collective West and attempted trade, economic and technological blockade, Minsk views its partnership with Baku as highly valuable. On its part, the Republic of Belarus has a great technological and industrial potential, and has much to share with Azerbaijan, which has come under political pressure from France, USA and EU.

Forward-thinking and pragmatism, strategic goal-setting and uncompromising stand in defending national interests, concern about well-being of the people these are precisely the qualities that a politician must have nowadays to sustain as a leader. It is gratifying that president of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev and president of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko possess these qualities to the full extent. This is what enables the two countries to bring their cooperation to an entirely new strategic level.

1. Key Interests of Belarus in the Caspian Region: Increasing Exports of Goods and Services. Caspian Institute of Strategic Studies, 23.05.2022. https://caspian.institute/product/shpakovskij-aleksandr/klyuchevye-interesy-belarusi-v-kaspijskom-regione-narashchivanie-ehksporta-tovarov-i-uslug-38027.shtml

2. Ilham Aliyev and Alexander Lukashenko Made Press Statements. The official website of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, 16.05.2024. https://president.az/ru/articles/view/65863

3. Reality and Prospects: What Will Azerbaijan Gain from Economic Partnership with Belarus. SPUTNIK Azerbaijan, 17.05.2024. https://az.sputniknews.ru/20240517/realii-i-perspektivy-chto-dast-azerbaydzhanu-ekonomicheskoe-partnerstvo-s-belarusyu-464690839.html

4. Ravkov: Results from Cooperation between Belarus and Azerbaijan are Really Impressive. BELTA, 15.05.2024. https://www.belta.by/society/view/ravkov-rezultativnost-vzaimodejstvija-belarusi-i-azerbajdzhana-dejstvitelno-vpechatljaet-634465-2024

5. Trade between Belarus and Azerbaijan a Meaningful Contribution to Food Security. ZVIAZDA, 16.05.2024. https://zviazda.by/ru/news/20240516/1715842906-torgovlya-belarusi-i-azerbaydzhana-vnosit-sushchestvennyy-vklad-v

6. Petrishenko: Belarus and Azerbaijan Have Resources to Bring their Economic Partnership to a New Level. BELTA, 15.05.2024. https://www.belta.by/economics/view/petrishenko-u-belarusi-i-azerbajdzhana-est-resursy-dlja-vyvoda-ekonomicheskogo-partnerstva-na-novyj-634387-2024/

7. Belarusian Specialists Ready to Build «Smart Cities» in Azerbaijan, Ambassador Says. SPUTNIK Belarus, 02.07.2021. https://sputnik.by/20210702/belorusskie-spetsialisty-gotovy-stroit-v-azerbaydzhane-umnye-goroda--posol-1053088623.html

8. Reality and Prospects: What Will Azerbaijan Gain from Economic Partnership with Belarus. SPUTNIK Azerbaijan, 17.05.2024. ttps://az.sputniknews.ru/20240517/realii-i-perspektivy-chto-dast-azerbaydzhanu-ekonomicheskoe-partnerstvo-s-belarusyu-464690839.html

9. Belarusian Military Industrial Sector Supplying the Armed Forces of Azerbaijan. Caspian Institute of Strategic Studies, 20.07.2022. https://caspian.institute/product/shpakovskij-aleksandr/belorusskij-vpk-dlya-vooruzhennyh-sil-azerbajdzhana-38229.shtml

10. Azerbaijan Belarus: Milestones of a Great Journey and Equally Great Prospects. Caliber.Az, 16.05. 2024. https://caliber.az/post/240971/

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Caspian Institute for Strategic Studies
Reports

Azerbaijan and Belarus Take Bilateral Relations to a Whole New Level

photo; president.az
20 2024

President of the Republic of Belarus (RB) Alexander Lukashenko was on a state visit to Azerbaijan from May 15 to 17. His extensive talks with president of the Republic of Azerbaijan (RA) Ilham Aliyev, first one-on-one and afterwards in an extended format, marked a qualitative evolution of the friendly relations between Baku and Minsk. The parties are determined to further strengthen and deepen bilateral cooperation and view their common future as highly promising.

The Special Nature of Azerbaijan-Belarusian Relations

The Caspian Sea region, with an overall friendly attitude towards Minsk and a promising market for the promotion of Belarusian exports of goods and services, has taken special prominence in the foreign policy of Belarus. Among the Caspian region states, Azerbaijan stands out as a long-time economic and political partner of Belarus [1]. It would be no exaggeration to say that this relationship is founded on personal friendship between Ilham Aliyev and Alexander Lukashenko, their mutual understanding and trust.

«Today, we are welcoming a dear guest, our great friend Alexander Grigoryevich Lukashenko, who is paying a state visit to Azerbaijan. The talks held both in a one-on-one and in the extended format clearly demonstrate again that our countries are good friends», president Ilham Aliyev said [2]. He described the Baku-Minsk partnership as trust-based and creative, and of great value to him. He also pointed out that the partnership between the two countries is built upon mutual respect, friendship and cooperation.

According to I. Aliyev, the two leaders had a thorough conversation on many items on the bilateral agenda as well as on matters of regional and international importance. The heads of state confirmed the strategic nature of relations between the two countries. In turn, Alexander Lukashenko described them in the following way: «There were no closed topics, everything is open in our relations. So what kind of relations do we have? They are most friendly and close. We communicate like brothers, we have the same view of the world and understand where it is moving». 

The president of Belarus has visited Azerbaijan several times: in May 2007, June 2010, November 2013, June 2015, November 2016, and April 2021. This time however the visit takes place in an unusual environment, when the entire system of international relations is undergoing substantial transformations which modify the existing world order. But these processes do not affect the allied ties between Baku and Minsk which are not susceptible to political climate or external influences.

It should be noted that A. Lukashenko and I. Aliyev are self-sufficient and strong political figures, both with great charisma, very high confidence rating and popular support; even though they have held their posts for a long time, this ensures stability of the political system, economy and finance, while enabling both Belarus and Azerbaijan to develop in a sustainable and balanced manner.

The official Minsk has always supported Azerbaijans territorial integrity and has proposed multiple initiatives to reach an equitable solution to the Karabakh conflict. All of them, however, met with stubborn resistance on the part of Yerevan, which proved to be totally impossible to negotiate with. Then, after the Second Karabakh War, when the prime-minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan made several attempts to provoke CSTO to take action against Baku, it was Alexander Lukashenko who spoke up forcefully to put Armenia in its place. Now that Azerbaijan has fully restored its territorial integrity and sovereignty, the Belarusian president, as an important part of his agenda, visited Karabakh and Shusha, the cultural capital of Azerbaijan, which have been liberated from the Armenian occupation.

According to Ilham Aliyev, during the talks the parties analyzed in detail the development of bilateral relations in recent years, noted the dynamic progress of these relations and defined ways of further interaction. In particular, they agreed that by the time of next meeting of the Intergovernmental Commission, to be held in Minsk in the near future, specific steps and deadlines for their implementation will be defined, as well as persons and agencies responsible for implementation.

«I am sure that in the future, not too distant, we will see new frontiers of our relations, new enterprises, new jobs, as well as new areas of cooperation», president of Azerbaijan said.

Following official talks the two leaders signed a set of agreements covering different areas from agriculture to tourism and investment [3].

Trade and Economic Prospects

Trade and economic relations between Minsk and Baku produce good results, according to Andrei Ravkov, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Belarus in Azerbaijan [4]. To date, Baku and Minsk have more than 120 bilateral contracts and agreements in different areas.

Azerbaijans first trading house outside the country was inaugurated in the capital of Belarus in May, 2017. In turn, Azerbaijan hosts a growing chain of specialty stores under the Belorussky (Belarusian) brand. There are currently six of them, all located in Baku, although the Belarusian partner intends to expand their geographic presence in future.

Companies from Azerbaijan trade actively at the Belarusian Universal Commodity Exchange (BUCE). Particularly, between January and April, 2024, the volume of Azerbaijani companies transactions at BUCE totaled $38 mln, a 14.5-fold increase from the same period of 2023. Annual business forums bringing together hundreds of Belarusian and Azerbaijani companies are now traditional.

Over the past decade only, trade between Azerbaijan and Belarus quintupled. In 2023 the volume of bilateral trade exceeded $400 mln. The partners have set themselves the target of $500 mln a year, eventually to reach $1 bn a year.

Belarus exports a wide range of products to Azerbaijan including machinery, transformers, cables and other electrical goods, sawn timber, dairy and meat products, pharmaceuticals, oils, fertilizer, cosmetics, industrial wood, and chemicals.

Azerbaijans exports to Belarus are dominated by vegetables, fruits and nuts, canned fruits and berries, olive oil, alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, petroleum products and chemicals. With Belarus facing sanctions from the West, Azerbaijan managed to significantly increase its fruit and vegetable exports to the Belarusian market.

So it can be seen that food trade between Belarus and Azerbaijan is developing dynamically, making a significant contribution to food security of both countries [5].

Minsk and Baku have the resources to bring their economic partnership to a new level, Belarusian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Petrishenko said during his meeting with Prime Minister Ali Asadov of Azerbaijan on May 14. He stated that Belarus is working hard to further and diversify trade and economic cooperation on mutually beneficial terms. Petrishenko pointed out that the two economies are not in competition but complement each other in many respects [6].

Agriculture prioritized

Trade and economic relations between Azerbaijan and Belarus will be furthered by more extensive collaboration in the field of agriculture, the sector which is assigned special priority by both partners.

It is important to note that, as part of the effort to develop non-oil sectors of its national economy, Azerbaijan places great emphasis on the growth of agribusiness and processing industry. The agrarian reform that is underway provides incentives for agricultural development. To this end the government is implementing meaningful support measures. In developing its agribusiness sector, Azerbaijan aims not only to meet the domestic market demand but also to export agricultural products.

Belarus is known as an important producer and exporter of farm products and agricultural machinery. Agriculture generates around 20% of the countrys export volume. In this respect, cooperation between Baku and Minsk looks very promising as RB has a substantial technology capacity for agricultural and agro-industrial production.

Belarus consistently participates in large Caspian region forums such as the Caspian Agro international agricultural exhibition and the InterFood Azerbaijan international food industry exhibition, which the city of Baku has been hosting for years. During the Caspian Agro 2024 exhibition Belarusian companies are reported to have signed contracts totally worth $54 mln.

This year both events coincided with the Belarusian presidents stay in the country. On May 16 the two heads of state visited the Baku Expo Center to personally view the exhibitions.

Some 40 Belarusian companies brought their products to InterFood Azerbaijan, including the large ones such as the Gomselmash plant, Brestmyasmolprom conglomerate, Slutsk cheese factory, Minsk dairy factory as  well as the Grodno, Vaukavysk and Mogilev meat processing plants.

Two companies Gomselmash and the Minsk Automobile Plant (MAZ) were displaying their products in the outdoor exhibition area of the Belarus pavilion. Notably, both of them play a key role in the national machine-building industry: MAZ is Eastern Europes leading manufacturer of passenger, public-service and special-purpose vehicles and trailers, while Gomselmash is a prominent supplier of agricultural machinery, its combine harvesters exported to multiple countries.

Agricultural machinery from Belarus is of high demand in Azerbaijan, favored by large agribusinesses as well as private farmers due to its reliability, ease of maintenance and affordability. Today, up to 80% of tractors sold in Azerbaijan are of Belarusian make.

Apart from agricultural machinery, Belarus supplies Azerbaijan with fertilizers, chemicals for plant treatment and veterinary drugs.

During Alexander Lukashenkos state visit the parties outlined ambitious new plans in the agricultural sector. Belarus is prepared to supply pedigree cattle to fill Azerbaijans demand for milk and meat.

Significantly, Belarus is a major fertilizer producer and exporter and can contribute to the development of Azerbaijans agribusinesses by making fertilizer more available [7]. Baku and Minsk agreed on joint production of multiple-nutrient fertilizer. «We need to produce compound, blended fertilizer and start from the domestic market, so that Azerbaijan does not ask for fertilizer somewhere else, but produces them here. We have relevant technologies, we are ready to do it and supply the whole region, which is enormous   Iran, Pakistan, India. They consume huge amounts of mineral fertilizer. We will offer a compound product», president Alexander Lukashenko said.

In fact the idea is to build an Azerbaijani-Belarusian agricultural and food alliance that will be focused on exporting agribusiness products to supply the markets of Russia and China as well as Arab states.

Industrial Cooperation

Enhancing industrial cooperation is of special priority for Baku and Minsk. The flagship project implemented jointly by Belarus and Azerbaijan is the Ganja automobile plant, which operates in close coordination with the Belarusian partners MTZ, MAZ and Amkodor assembling variant models of Belarus tractors, MAZ and KAMAZ trucks, a variety of trailers, excavators and other types of machinery and equipment.

Since 2007 the Ganja plant has assembled around 15 thousand Belarus tractors of different models with mounted equipment, and over 4 thousand automobiles of Belarusian brands. Assembly lines for electric buses and grain harvesters have been launched.

The bilateral industrial cooperation program includes plans to expand the product range at the Ganja automobile plant to include joint production of electric buses and grain harvesters.

In addition, Baku and Minsk are planning to develop new cooperation projects. Agreements were reached to start joint production of MAZ-branded vehicles, firefighting machinery and elevator equipment. Going forward Belarus will also be prepared to launch the production of railway rolling stock, both platforms and tank cars, in Azerbaijan.

Minsk also approaches the Azerbaijan party with a proposal to set up joint pharmaceutical production facilities. «We are ready to start supplying medicines that you need even tomorrow, launch joint production of medicines and veterinary drugs here», Alexander Lukashenko said.

Restoration of Liberated Territories

Azerbaijan is interested to learn from Belarusian experience in the organization of rural communities and is inviting companies from the Republic of Belarus to participate in restoration of peaceful civilian life in the liberated territories. «I would like to say again that I have invited Belarusian companies to actively participate in the reconstruction of the Karabakh and East Zangezur regions. The scale of work we are carrying out and will carry out is enormous», president Ilham Aliyev pointed out. He also noted that a key priority for the government of Azerbaijan is to enable former refugees to quickly return to their homes, which will be built anew, and to make well-paid job available to them.

Minsk, on its part, is prepared to assist in addressing those important social objectives. «We are ready to build an agro-township based on the Belarusian experience, with the entire infrastructure, and create jobs on the lands that you have liberated, especially on agricultural lands», the leader of Belarus said. He then explained that his idea was to build a meat-and-milk production facility and to provide organizational assistance in setting up new farms.

Belarus can also help with residential construction in Karabakh and East Zangezur. It should be noted that Belarusian construction companies have worked in Azerbaijan before: in 2013 and 2014 they built a number of projects in the Ismailli district. At the current stage, Belarusian specialists provide consulting services under the national rehabilitation program for Karabakh. During president Lukashenkos previous visit to Azerbaijan in April 2021, the parties agreed to bring in Belarusian companies to perform urban and rural design and 3D modeling, and also to involve specialists from Belarus in transport infrastructure restoration.

Targeted supplies of Belarusian electrobuses can be the countrys contribution to the development of the liberated territories of Azerbaijan [8].

It is noteworthy that after the talks in Baku the Belarusian leader arrived in Karabakh: Alexander Lukashenkos presidential plane landed at the Fuzuli international airport where he was personally welcomed by Ilham Aliyev.

The Fuzuli international airport, referred to as the air gateway to Karabakh, was commissioned in very short time (less than a year after the Second Karabakh War ended) on October 26, 2021. The airport is built to the latest standards and can serve any type of modern aircraft. The runway is 3,000 meters long and 60 meters wide.

A. Lukashenko and I. Aliyev visited the devastated areas of Fuzuli city. Emin Huseynov, Presidents special envoy in the Aghdam, Fuzuli and Khojavand districts, informed the president of Belarus of the destruction and acts of vandalism committed by Armenia during its occupation of the Fuzuli district over three decades; he also provided an update on the progress and future developments outlined in the city master plan.

According to the master plan, the citys administrative area is projected to cover 1,943 hectares, as its population is expected to reach 50,000 by 2040. Fuzuli will be rebuilt in conformity with modern standards and national architectural traditions. It will become one of the largest cities in the previously occupied territories.

A «smart city» concept framework has been proposed to enhance traditional networks and services through digital solutions, contributing to the citys sustainable development and the well-being of businesses and residents.

In order to ensure modern and comfortable living in Fuzuli, the plan envisages construction of low-rise and mid-rise residential buildings, detached houses with backyards, educational, healthcare, cultural and industrial facilities and recreation areas. The first three residential compounds are currently under construction, comprising a total of 2,462 apartments designed to meet modern urban standards. 

According to the Fuzuli city master plan, about 22.5 hectares will be allocated for the Central Park with recreation areas, botanical gardens, a forest zone, picnic sites and athletic grounds.

After that A. Lukashenko and I. Aliyev visited the city of Shusha, arriving there by the newly built «Victory Road» highway. The heads of state viewed the first residential compound currently under construction. Aydin Karimov, Presidents special envoy in the Shusha district, told the two heads of state that, under the «Great Return» relocation program, 111 four- and five-storey residential buildings will be erected by the end of 2026. The design will be based on a traditional architectural composition with elements of the characteristic Shusha style.

A. Lukanhesko and I. Aliyev visited some Shusha landmarks which have already been restored (almost all of the citys 196 monuments were destroyed and desecrated by Armenians during the years of occupation). There is much more to do, given the enormous cultural losses. Meanwhile, work is underway to rehabilitate and clean natural springs all of them remained in a bad condition under occupation.

The two presidents also toured the «Heydar Aliyev and Karabakh» exhibition at the Shusha Creativity Center, recently restored by the Heydar Aliyev Foundation. Assistant to the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Anar Alakbarov informed the heads of state about the Center and the exhibition.

He also reported that the Creativity Center was inaugurated on May 10, 2023 after completion of reconstruction work by the Heydar Aliyev Foundation. The building is listed among architectural monuments of national significance.

The «Heydar Aliyev and Karabakh» exhibition displays unique photographs, documents and videos that highlight the merits of the National Leader of the Azerbaijan nation in the areas of social, economic, political and cultural development of Karabakh. The exhibition also includes photographic records of Heydar Aliyevs visits to Karabakh and of the meetings and events he held there.

Military-Technical Cooperation

Military-technical cooperation (MTC) plays a special role in Azerbaijani-Belarus relationships, Baku being one of Minsks key partners in this area. Moreover, a specific agreement has been signed between the State Military-Industrial Committee of the Republic of Belarus and the Ministry of Defense Industry of the Republic of Azerbaijan.

Military-technical cooperation between the two countries has been underway on a large scale since 2006. Although most of the relevant information is classified, some data is in public domain. In particular, according to UN reports, between 2002 and 2012 Belarus supplied to Azerbaijan 153 -72 tanks, 120 towed artillery systems D-30, 12 self-propelled artillery mounts 2C7 Pion, 60 BTR-70 armored personnel carriers, and 11 Sukhoi-25 ground attack aircraft. The Belarusian military-industrial complex upgraded Azerbaijans C-125M Pechora, 9K33M3 Osa-AKM, and the Buk-MB surface-to-air missile systems.

The 2018 purchase by Azerbaijan of the recently developed Polonez multiple launch rocket system (MLRS) is considered to be the key deal between Minsk and Baku. In terms of firepower it comes close to tactical missile systems and has a range of up to 300 km [9]. It was the Polonez systems deployed at the units level of the Detached Combined-Arms Army, stationed in the Naxcivan Autonomous Republic, that became a powerful deterrent against the plans of Armenian military and political leadership to carry out missile strikes targeting Baku and critical infrastructure of Azerbaijan during the Second Karabakh War. The threat of a retaliatory strike with Polonez missiles from Azerbaijan cooled down Yerevans militaristic vigor forcing it to give up its initial plans.  

Experts believe that over the last twenty years Azerbaijan has remained a leading importer of different types of weapons from Belarus: number one in the purchase of tanks and artillery, number two in the purchase of armored vehicles, and number three in the purchase of combat aircraft.

In October, 2020 president of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev gave an interview to the French Le Figaro newspaper where he named Belarus as one of the «principal suppliers» of weapons and military equipment for the Azerbaijani army, alongside Russia, Turkey and Israel. Experts have estimated Bakus total Belarusian arms purchase at above $1 bn [9].

Speaking at the ADEX International Defense Exhibition, president Aliyev said that military equipment imported from Belarus is produced to superior standards and is distinguished by high quality and reliability.

The importance for Minsk of military-technical cooperation with Baku is evidenced by the appointments the official Minsk made when forming the diplomatic corps to work in Azerbaijan. The person in question is Andrei Ravkov who is now the ambassador of Belarus in Azerbaijan. Prior to his current appointment he headed the Ministry of Defense and was State Secretary of the Security Council of Belarus. It is also symbolic that Lieutenant General Viktor Khrenin, Ravkovs successor in the MOD position, made his first official trip abroad visiting Azerbaijan.

The two heads of state also discussed security issues in different parts of the world. In this connection the president of Belarus pointed out that in the troubled region of Southern Caucasus, «a very powerful and normal leader in the person of Azerbaijan has emerged». «You are already responsible for the situation in the Caucasus as a whole, and we have great hopes for that. This is an additional burden for you, although you have enough problems of your own, but nevertheless, you are not going anywhere. Time has chosen you, as we say, and you are responsible for the Caucasus region as a leader», Alexander Lukashenko said addressing Ilham Aliyev.

Intercultural and Sister City Relationships

Baku and Minsk also place great emphasis on development of intercultural communication. There are officially registered Azerbaijani diaspora communities in Belarus that participate in national culture festivals. Centers of Azerbaijani language and culture have been set up at the Maksim Tank Belarusian State Pedagogical University and the Minsk State Linguistic University [10]. A Belarusian language and culture center is operating at the Baku Slavic University. The book «Azerbaijani Warriors Heroes of the Belarus Land» published in 2022 tells the life stories of Azerbaijani soldiers and officers who participated in the liberation of the Belarus Soviet Socialist Republic in the ranks of the Red Army during the Great Patriotic War, including double Hero of the Soviet Union Azi Aslanov, Heroes of the Soviet Union Aslan Vezirov and Najafgulu Rafiyev. A monument to the great Azerbaijani poet Nizami Ganjavi was erected in Minsk in the same year.

Belarus natives were among the combatants defending territorial integrity of the Republic of Azerbaijan. One of them was major Anatoly Davidovich who gave his life for this cause and was named National Hero of Azerbaijan posthumously. A street in Ganja was named after Anatoly Davidovich, and a commemorative plaque was installed there in 2015.

The Republic of Azerbaijan and the Republic of Belarus are consistently developing sister city relations and partnerships which are already connecting ten regions in both countries. The ties are especially close between Gomel and Ganja, Mogilev and Sumgait, Grodno and the Gabala district. Within the framework of Alexander Lukashenkos official visit a memorandum was signed to establish sister city relations between the capital cities of Baku and Minsk.

Conclusion

It should be noted that Belarus and Azerbaijan have accumulated substantial experience in mutually beneficial bilateral cooperation in many areas. This can be attributed to close, trust-based personal relationship of presidents I. Aliyev and A. Lukashenko, as well as to the fact that both nations retain and value their decades-long common history as USSR republics and use this joint experience to the benefit of their new, sovereign history. Encountering the aggressive sanctions policy of the collective West and attempted trade, economic and technological blockade, Minsk views its partnership with Baku as highly valuable. On its part, the Republic of Belarus has a great technological and industrial potential, and has much to share with Azerbaijan, which has come under political pressure from France, USA and EU.

Forward-thinking and pragmatism, strategic goal-setting and uncompromising stand in defending national interests, concern about well-being of the people these are precisely the qualities that a politician must have nowadays to sustain as a leader. It is gratifying that president of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev and president of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko possess these qualities to the full extent. This is what enables the two countries to bring their cooperation to an entirely new strategic level.

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2. Ilham Aliyev and Alexander Lukashenko Made Press Statements. The official website of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, 16.05.2024. https://president.az/ru/articles/view/65863

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7. Belarusian Specialists Ready to Build «Smart Cities» in Azerbaijan, Ambassador Says. SPUTNIK Belarus, 02.07.2021. https://sputnik.by/20210702/belorusskie-spetsialisty-gotovy-stroit-v-azerbaydzhane-umnye-goroda--posol-1053088623.html

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