Summit in Chisinau reinforces special status of the outpost of the EU in the Caucasus

On June 1, the Summit of the European Political Community will take place, with 47 heads of state and leaders of the EU invited.

Global issues will be discussed regarding the war in Ukraine, the energy security of Europe and the diversification of the Russian energy resources.

The route to China bypassing Russia

Reuters news agency notes that Azerbaijan and Armenia are expected to sign a peace agreement in Chisinau.

Despite the attempts of Moscow and Tehran, which have been reported by the Wall Street Journal, to disrupt the negotiation process, Baku – with the active participation of Brussels and Washington – is making efforts for the sake of normalising the relations with the neighbour and opening regional transportation routes. In particular, it applies to the “Zangezur corridor” project.

With its opening the EU will gain a direct transport route to China bypassing Russia – through Turkey, Azerbaijan, Caspian Sea and Central Asia.

The energy base of the EU and Moldova

Lately, particularly after the full-scale Russian invasion into Ukraine, Azerbaijan has become the main country by means of which the substitution of the Russian resources on the European market is being carried out.

Baku supplies oil and gas to Romania, Croatia, Bulgaria, Czechia, Austria, Germany, Greece, Spain, Ireland, Portugal and Italy. Negotiations are underway with Moldova, Hungary and Albania.

In 2022, the volume of supplies of Azerbaijani gas into the EU reached 12 billion cubic meters, while by 2027 Baku is planning to have doubled that figure.

According to the United Nations Development programme on April 28 this year, in the past two years Moldova (apart from Ukraine) is the country that suffered the most in the energy crisis. In this regard the president of Moldova, Maia Sandu, said: “Russia wants Moldova to have a pro-Russian government and it is blackmailing us with energy resources”.

Speaking of cooperation with Azerbaijan, Sandu noted:“Partnership with Azerbaijan is crucial for Moldova in the context of our will to reach energetic independence. We hope for support and cooperation with Azerbaijan”.

Many other European leaders and international organisations have pointed out the special role of Azerbaijan as of a reliable energy supplier uncontrolled by Russia:

  • The German leader Olaf Scholz “Azerbaijan is a partner that has a growing importance for Germany and the EU, and this country can make an important contribution into the diversification of energy supplies to Germany and Europe.”
  • The European Commission: “Azerbaijan is the key partner of the EU in its efforts to renounce the Russian fossil fuel”.
  • President of Bulgaria, Roumen Radev: “President Aliyev proved that his country is a reliable economic partner. This is confirmed by the fact that Bulgaria has had regular supplies of gas from Azerbaijan  for a year now under the agreement signed 10 years ago, which Azerbaijan has strictly complied with…”
  • The President of the council of ministers of Italy Giorgia Meloni : “We are getting almost 60 per cent of Azerbaijani supplies by TAP through Turkey, Greece and Albania.”
  • EU Commissioner for energy Kadri Simson: “Europe survived this winter [2022] with half-full gas storages, more stable gas prices and a positive prognosis for the next winter. We were able to accomplish this thanks to our reliable partners, such as Azerbaijan.”
  • President of Lithuania Gitanas Nauseda: Azerbaijan is a key partner for Lithuania in the Caucasus region… Lithuania is in favor of a more active cooperation between the EU and Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan is a reliable partner of the EU in the energy sector.”
  • Vice-president of the European Committee on Inter-institutional relations and foresight Maros Sefcovic: “Azerbaijan is a vital energetic partner for the EU”
  • President of Serbia Aleksandar Vucic: “With regard to the production and th export of gas, Azerbaijan is a mighty country, which will be exporting over 35 billion cubic meters of gas in seven to nine years”.

Thanks to the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline, the construction of which was supported by the US and the UK, Azerbaijan has had a route of oil transportation which does not depend on the Kremlin since 2006. The presence of  such an infrastructure is crucial for an independent energy policy of Baku in the interests of the European Union.

For instance, Kazakhstan was not able to satisfy Germany’s request to increase the supplies of oil.

On May 27, the deputy head of the national operator of Kazakhstan on main oil pipeline KazTransOil, Eric Sagyev, announced that the increase in export fully depends on the Russian Federation.

“President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev was able to grow out of Moscow’s control more successfully than almost all other leaders of former Soviet republics,” the Wall Street Journal wrote about a month ago.

The strategic wedge of the EU in Russia-Iran alliance

Being the strategic partner of the EU puts Azerbaijan in between two fires, Russia and Iran, whose military-political alliance opposes Europe and Ukraine.

As early as in February 2023, authoritative publication Forbes reported that Moscow and Tehran posed the main threat to the supplies of Azerbaijani gas into Europe.

“In 2021-2023 Azerbaijan became one of the main alternative suppliers of energy resources from Russia into the EU,” the Romanian version of the Newsweek said. The outlet reported that in an effort to ensure a lever of pressure on Baku, Moscow has been involving Armenian separatists in Karabakh (which even the prime minister of Armenia has recognised as a sovereign territory of Azerbaijan).

Iranians and Russians regard the separatist enclave in Karabakh as a “kill switch” of Azerbaijani supplies into the EU, one of the leading Israeli “think tanks” Begin-Sadat Center noted on May 18 2023.

“Putin is using the Armenians of Karabakh as pawns, like South Ossetians and Abkhazians in Georgia or Russian communities in Ukraine,” the Wall Street Journal said.

One of the largest Ukrainian publications, Focus, noted that “both states resist the pro-Russian separatism: Ukraine in Donbass and Crimea, Azerbaijan – in Karabakh. Ukraine is Europe’s bastion on Moscow’s way of aggressive expansion. Azerbaijan is one of the main suppliers of energy resources to the EU, compensating for the rejection of the Russian gas.”

Reliable friend of Ukraine

Despite having hostile neighbours to the north and south, Azerbaijan is consistently supporting Ukraine.

“Azerbaijan continues to provide humanitarian aid to the people of Ukraine,” Foreign Minister Ceyhun Bayramov said several weeks ago.

In 2022 alone, Azerbaijan provided Ukraine with over 200 000 litres of fuel and more than 900 tons of medication, medical equipment and food supplies.

On May 16, the vice-speaker of the Verkhovna Rada, Elena Kondratyuk, thanked the leaders of the South-Caucasus republic “for their constant support of their sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.

Last week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy thanked Azerbaijan for “its consistent position in supporting the sovereignty of our country [Ukraine]”.

The leading power of the Caucasus

Taking into account the threatening neighbourhood of Russia and Iran, as well as the activity of separatists in Karabakh under the cover of the Russian military presence, Azerbaijan is forced to keep increasing its defence capability. Israel plays a special part in it, with the consent of the US. The military expenses of Azerbaijan in 2022 reached almost $3 billion.

As a consequence, in “2023 military strength ranking” Azerbaijan took the 57th place among 145 countries. Thus, it is the militarily strongest state in the South Caucasus. Azerbaijan leads in the region based on other indicators as well.

The population of Azerbaijan is  10.1 million, of Georgia 3.7 million, Armenia 2.9 million. 

GDP  of Azerbaijan in 2022 grew to $78.7 billion, while in Georgia and Аrmania this figure amounted to $24.6 billion and $22.2 billion, respectively.

Azerbaijan’s planned revenues in 2023 are $18,1 billion, those of Georgia $8.4 billion, of Armenia $6 billion.

Azerbaijan is the only country of the South Caucasus included on the 2022 ranking of the best countries of the world according to US News & World Report.

The quotations and facts above show that Azerbaijan is an irreplaceable strategic partner of the EU in the Caucasus. That is why its participation in the Chisinau summit of the European political community is especially symbolic.

It is significant, therefore, that a possible Azerbaijan-Armenia peace agreement in Chisinau promises the European community new economic and geopolitical dividends.

(Photo of Baku: Khortan)

Igor Chalenko

Igor Chalenko is an Ukrainian political scientist who heads the Centre for Analysis and Strategies, Ukraine.