Azerbaijan pursues a well-considered foreign economic policy, fostering international energy cooperation with a range of stakeholders, including immediate regional neighbors and European countries.
President Ilham Aliyev’s balanced state policy has enabled the establishment of equitable bilateral and partnership-based relations with countries both within and beyond the region, without compromising one nation’s interests over another’s. Russia remains a key strategic partner for Azerbaijan, and deepening this strategic partnership continues to be a priority in Azerbaijan’s foreign policy. Equality, good neighborliness, and mutual respect for interests are foundational principles in these relations. Azerbaijan’s foreign policy is aimed at developing bilateral relations with neighboring states based on principles of good neighborliness and non-interference in internal affairs, aligning completely with Russia’s interests.
Relations between Azerbaijan and Russia are based on a robust mutual understanding and friendship, which have strengthened over time. Recent years have seen a rapid development in relations, with mutual state visits significantly boosting cooperation. The political will and joint efforts of both presidents have provided a solid platform for interaction in all areas.
Diplomatic relations between Russia and Azerbaijan were officially established on April 4, 1992. The cornerstone of bilateral relations is the Treaty on Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Security, signed on July 3, 1997. This document laid the foundation for many other international agreements that enhance the interaction between the two nations. Further development of these relations was formalized in the Declaration of Friendship and Strategic Partnership, signed on July 3, 2008. On February 22, 2022, in Moscow, a declaration of allied interaction was signed, supplementing existing Russian-Azerbaijani agreements and solidifying the allied status between Azerbaijan and Russia.
Economic Aspects of Bilateral Cooperation
As of today, Azerbaijan and Russia have signed 245 documents in various fields, but the cornerstone of relations remains trade and economic cooperation. Under President Ilham Aliyev’s tenure, trade and economic cooperation with Russia have been progressively increasing. Azerbaijan is Russia’s main trading partner among the non-EAEU former USSR countries. Currently, there are over 900 companies with Russian capital operating in Azerbaijan, including about 300 with 100% Russian capital.
Azerbaijan’s GDP has grown almost 11-fold during President Ilham Aliyev’s rule, a record pace among former USSR republics. From January to November 2023, Azerbaijan’s GDP amounted to $64.8 billion (110.2 billion manats), with about $4 billion, or 9% of total trade, accounted for by trade with Russia, making it the third-largest trading partner of the republic after Italy and Turkey. Data from the State Customs Committee of Azerbaijan shows a significant increase in trade turnover between Russia and Azerbaijan in 2023. The total volume of bilateral trade was $3 billion 952 million 67,090 thousand, 21% higher compared to 2022. Azerbaijani exports to Russia increased by 26.1%, reaching $1 billion 83 million 642,630 thousand, accounting for 3.44% of total Azerbaijani exports. On the other hand, imports of Russian goods into Azerbaijan also increased by 19.3%, amounting to $2 billion 868 million 424,460 thousand and occupying 18.4% of Azerbaijan’s total import volume. Azerbaijan’s trade balance with Russia in 2023 was negative, amounting to $1 billion 784 million 781,830 thousand. This means that Azerbaijan imports more goods from Russia than it exports. However, the overall volume of trade continues to grow, indicating stable economic ties between the two countries.
An important factor in the socio-political and humanitarian relations between Azerbaijan and Russia is the preservation and development of the Russian language and culture in the republic. Russian language and culture are highly respected in Azerbaijan. The country has about 340 Russian-language schools – more than in neighboring Armenia and Georgia. Over the past five years, the number of students in Russian-language schools in Azerbaijan has increased from 90,000 to 150,000. Every tenth student receives education in Russian in state schools. In Baku, the Baku Slavic University operates as one of the largest centers for studying the Russian language. The Baku branch of Lomonosov Moscow State University, one of the world’s leading educational institutions, is also located in Azerbaijan. In September 2015, the branch of the First Moscow State Medical University named after I.M. Sechenov was opened in Baku.
The Russian diaspora in Azerbaijan is the largest in the South Caucasus, numbering almost 71,000 ethnic Russians. The largest organization of the Russian diaspora is the Russian Community of the Republic of Azerbaijan, which has been operating since 1993 and focuses on working directly with the Russian population of the republic. In addition, organizations such as the Association of Teachers of Russian-speaking Educational Institutions of Azerbaijan, the Center of Slavic Cultures, the Association of Russian Youth of Azerbaijan, the International Center of Russian-speaking Youth, and the popular Samad Vurgun Russian Drama Theatre operate in the country. All conditions have been created in the country for Russians, like other peoples, to fully integrate into the socio-economic, political, and cultural life of Azerbaijan.
Aspiration for Partnership
During Ilham Aliyev’s presidency, Azerbaijan has significantly reduced security risks. Baku successfully and with minimal losses regained control over its historical territory – the Karabakh region, which for decades remained the main pain point of Azerbaijani society. Under the president’s leadership, the republic effectively emerged from the military and diplomatic deadlock formed around the region in the early 1990s. In November 2020, with the active mediation of Russian President Vladimir Putin, an agreement was reached to cease fire after the 44-day war that began in late September.
On February 22, 2022, President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev and President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin signed the “Declaration on Mutual Cooperation between the Republic of Azerbaijan and the Russian Federation” in Moscow. The Declaration, consisting of 43 points, pays special attention to building relations based on mutual cooperation, alliance, respect for each other’s independence and state sovereignty, territorial integrity and inviolability of state borders, as well as mutual respect for the principles of non-interference in each other’s internal affairs. According to Ilham Aliyev, this declaration takes Moscow-Baku relations to a new, allied level. “We have been working towards this day diligently and for a long time, building up the potential of cooperation, building relationships based on sincerity, good neighborliness, pragmatism, and taking into account mutual interests,” the Azerbaijani leader noted. Importantly, the Moscow Declaration sets a new agenda not only in the South Caucasus region but also beyond its borders, as the allied level of Azerbaijani-Russian relations will have a beneficial impact on the international political situation.
On September 19, 2023, Azerbaijan began a military operation in Karabakh, one of the goals of which was the dissolution of all illegal bodies of the so-called “Nagorno-Karabakh Republic”. On September 20, with the mediation of Russian peacekeepers, an agreement was reached to cease fire. Among the terms of the ceasefire was, in particular, the disarmament of Armenian illegal formations. “The issue of the status of Karabakh is no longer on the table, it has been resolved. And this is not just our decision, it is the decision of the current Armenian leadership,” Russian President Vladimir Putin emphasized in his speech at the Eastern Economic Forum (EEF) in September 2023. According to him, “this concerns not only the results of the recent conflict but also the fact that the Armenian leadership has effectively recognized Azerbaijan’s sovereignty over Karabakh”.
The idea of a consultative regional platform in the “3+3” format, proposed by Turkey and Azerbaijan, received a positive response from Russia and Iran. The first meeting in this format took place in Moscow on December 10, 2021, at the level of deputy foreign ministers of Russia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Turkey, as well as with the participation of the Director General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Iran. Russia, by organizing the first session of the “3+3” platform, confirmed its active role in maintaining peace and stability in the South Caucasus region. The second meeting was held on October 23, 2023, in Tehran at the ministerial level, where a joint communique was adopted. The participants of the format agreed that the countries of the region should play a leading role in jointly solving intra-regional problems and intend to increase their participation in shaping the future of the region. In this sense, it is natural for the countries to oppose interference in the internal affairs of the region by external players. The third meeting is scheduled to be held in Turkey in 2024.
Interaction in Transport and Logistics Projects
One of the most promising projects is the work on the international transport corridor “North-South”, within which Russia, Azerbaijan, and Iran are collaborating. The total length of the corridor will exceed 7,000 km, with a significant part of the “North-South” corridor passing through the territories of Russia and Azerbaijan. In early September 2022, Azerbaijan, Russia, and Iran signed a Declaration in Baku on the development of the “North-South” transport corridor. Azerbaijan is making serious efforts to modernize its infrastructure, especially in the context of projects aimed at developing transport communications. Special attention is paid to the restoration and improvement of the country’s railway infrastructure. The increase in transportation volumes along the “North-South” MTC in January-May 2023 by 41.8% indicates the success of this project.
The opening of a new highway from Baku to Guba in October 2023, attended by President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan, the completion of reconstruction work at the international checkpoint “Yarag-Kazmalyar” on December 29, 2023, and the opening of a bridge and a border crossing point across the Astarachay River on the border with Iran on December 30 are significant events of strategic importance for the “North-South” project. The road from Baku to Guba, 129 km long with four lanes, will significantly facilitate the transit of goods and contribute to the development of transportation. The “Yarag-Kazmalyar” border crossing point has eleven lanes, increasing its capacity to 1,400 vehicles per day. The border crossing point across the Astarachay River can handle a minimum of 1,000 freight vehicles per day and provides for 500 entries and 500 exits on seven lanes each for departure and arrival.
The prospects of creating a single logistics operator within the “North-South” project for freight transportation will strengthen and enhance cooperation between Azerbaijan, Russia, and Iran, as well as enable more efficient logistics management, the removal of bureaucratic barriers, and the expansion of the transport corridor’s potential. For Russia, it is very important today to have access to various markets, and the “North-South” MTC plays an important role in this context. The route passing through Azerbaijan gives a new dimension to the relations between the countries, and its development can contribute to strengthening cooperation and mutually beneficial development of the entire region.
The achievements during President Ilham Aliyev’s tenure are a testament to Azerbaijan’s resolute commitment to developing mutually beneficial bilateral relations with its regional neighbors. Azerbaijan attaches special importance to regional cooperation as a crucial element in maintaining peace and stability. In this endeavor, the country pays particular attention to developing multifaceted and friendly ties, especially with Russia. The Russian Federation has played a very important role in ending the war between Azerbaijan and Armenia and transitioning the conflict from a hot phase to a politico-diplomatic sphere. The trilateral statement signed in November 2020 with the active participation of Russian President Vladimir Putin settled this long-standing conflict. Azerbaijan values the friendly, neighborly relations that have developed between the countries, and the signing of the Declaration on Allied Interaction is a very good illustration of how Azerbaijan and Russia have built up the potential for mutual cooperation over the years.
Nurad Mamedov is advisor at the Center for Analysis of International Relations.
Translated from russiancouncil.ru