Date: 13 May 2016, 13:42, READ:
Interview with Lieutenant Colonel Nick Wilkes, UK Defense Attaché for the South Caucasus
Q. How long will you stay in Azerbaijan? Which meetings are you planning to attend in Baku?
A. This time I am here in Azerbaijan only for a short time – just two days. But the main purpose in coming here is to open a maritime strategic planning course which is being conducted by the British Royal Navy. It is taking place in a new navy base which has a great opportunity. The course is attended by Azerbaijan Naval Forces, State Border Service and State Sea Administration representatives. In addition, I have met this morning with Huseyn Mahmudov, head of the International Military Cooperation Department of Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry. Whenever I come to Baku I always meet with him, because he is the main interlocutor between all the defense attaches and the defense ministry. I had an excellent conversation with him as always we do. We discussed new opportunities for training which will be coming up in the future. I will also later be in a meeting with the deputy chief of the State Border Service of Azerbaijan, Lieutenant General Farhad Taghizade to discuss potential future opportunities for cooperation.
Q. Do the UK and Azerbaijan have any plan to implement joint projects in the defense area?
A. The training that I have just mentioned is a part of a bilateral cooperation program which we put together every year. Major General Huseyn Mahmudov came to London in January 2016, when a program on military cooperation between the two countries was signed. The program involves opportunities not only for Azerbaijani officers and soldiers to come to the UK for training but also for the UK to deliver opportunities in training here in Azerbaijan. But we also have opportunities elsewhere. We have an organization called the British Military Advisory Training Team based in the Czech Republic (BMATT(CZ)). And this organization aims to set up trainings for all PFP nations and there are frequent courses available on which we offer places for Azerbaijani students. I also managed to get some training in the UK to come to Tbilisi, and I always offer places to Azerbaijan to take part in these courses. So we are building cooperation between the UK and Azerbaijan on a regular basis. I would like to add that in June this year a British army formation will make the first visit to Azerbaijan that will help me engage with my countries in order to offer more opportunities for training cooperation.
Q. I think you know about the latest escalation of violence along the contact line between Armenian and Azerbaijani troops. What is the UK government’s position with regard to this conflict? Do you think it is necessary to deploy peacekeepers to Nagorno-Karabakh and in which form should it be done?
A. The UK position regarding the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is very clear. We absolutely support the Minsk process. And we continue to state that a diplomatic solution is the only way to hold off the Nagorno-Karabakh situation. So we urge anybody who we speak to remain committed to the Minsk process. I think again we have to go back to the whole question about the Minsk process. It will not be my position to talk about peacekeepers being emplaced. That is something to be decided through the Minsk process I think first of all, there are many stages to go through, before there would be any idea of any peacekeepers being introduced. There are so many other questions to answer first.
Q. A while ago, there were reports that British "Accuracy International” Company had sold weapons to Armenia. According to the OSCE regulations, member countries are not to sell weapons to either of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict parties. In what way does the British government regulate it?
A. This question has been asked many times. And this has been answered many times by the ministry of defense and foreign affairs. In particular, those weapons are not sold by the UK government or the British company to Armenia. They were sold to another company who are not British. The OSCE arms embargo is very-very important. And the UK is a strong supporter of this process, not just anyone to do with the OSCE arms embargo, any country that the UK sells arms to; it goes through very complicated process. It is not just a decision of the defense ministry or manufacturing company. Anybody of a British company that wants to sell arms has to apply for a license to sell those weapons or military equipment. And there are many criteria that license must meet, not only the approval by the Defense Ministry, but also by the Foreign Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development. So we have three separate government agencies that must agree on a license to sell any weapons.
Q. What is your view of the Azerbaijan-NATO cooperation?
A. Azerbaijan is an excellent contributor and a good partner with NATO. Azerbaijan provides its troops to Afghanistan to join NATO-led operations. And I am also involved with offering cooperation with peacekeeping battalion that Azerbaijan has. We were talking this morning with major general Huseyn Mahmudov about more opportunities to train with the peacekeeping battalion. We know that Azerbaijan wants to assist in ensuring international security, and it's wonderful that any nations that offer troops such as Azerbaijan has, intends to contribute to international security, an issue that we are always concerned about. We want to assist and encourage any cooperation with NATO.
Q. Is there anything you would like to add?
A. I always enjoy coming to Baku. I think the military cooperation between Azerbaijan and the UK is growing. So it is very positive relationship. Unfortunately, I will leave the region in September. I will complete my turn. I have been here for three years. But I have a wonderful representative here in Baku and I know positive relations between the two countries will continue to develop.