Azerbaijan is increasingly attracting the attention of players not only on a regional scale, but also on a global one. And this is not just about the notorious “Karabakh conflict” and Armenia-Azerbaijan relations, where the global centers of power are now trying to gain a substantial political fortune for themselves, ignoring, by and large, the interests of both Azerbaijan and Armenia and regional stability in general, but also about the increased role of Azerbaijan as an energy, transport and logistics hub, influencing politics along with economy. Hence, the life of the republic, on the one hand, becomes more complicated, as too many eyes, interests and appetites are focused on it, and on the other hand, this holds the promise, unwelcome for many, of Azerbaijan becoming a serious player not only on the regional level, but also in quite a large arena outside of it.
Kazakhstan, a leading Central Asian state, along with Uzbekistan, with “tricky” neighbors, rich subsoil resources, favorable geography in terms of transport and logistics, as well as a reasonably high sovereign status, is in a somewhat similar position. This is the country where President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev went on an official visit, which, we emphasize, took place almost immediately after his visit to another Central Asian country, Tajikistan, and negotiations with Prime Minister of Georgia Irakli Garibashvili in Gabala. And even without delving too deeply into the issue of Aliyev’s busy negotiation schedule in recent days, it is clear that all these meetings are interlinked in one way or another.
So, Kazakhstan. Following the talks in Astana, Presidents Ilham Aliyev and Kassym-Jomart Tokayev signed a Joint Statement and a “Protocol on establishment of the Supreme Interstate Council of the Republic of Azerbaijan and the Republic of Kazakhstan”. Several memorandums of understanding and cooperation in, so to speak, non-sensational areas were also signed during the visit. The 13-paragraph Joint Statement of the Presidents and their press statements give more food for thought.
In particular, the statement affirms that relations between the Republic of Azerbaijan and the Republic of Kazakhstan are based on “common history, language, culture and traditions, close political, economic, cultural and humanitarian ties, and meet the fundamental interests of the fraternal peoples of both states.” So, the parties will continue to develop and strengthen strategic partnership and allied relations on the basis of strong support of sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of each other; together promote peaceful initiatives, coordinate actions within the UN and its institutions and, especially, organizations of Islamic cooperation and Turkic states, as well as OSCE, CIS, other organizations of which they are members.
The Presidents instructed the governments of Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan to explore new opportunities for strengthening trade and economic ties and creating favorable conditions for implementing joint investment projects in various sectors of the economy. The parties affirmed the necessity of implementing joint efforts aimed at protecting the Caspian Sea, mitigating the dynamics of its shallowing, as well as protecting biodiversity; further cooperation of the region’s countries in effectively addressing issues in the transport and transit sphere, which meets common interests and is among the priorities of national transport strategies: “The most important issue here is the Trans-Caspian Middle East-West corridor.” In this respect Baku and Astana highly appreciate the adoption of the Road Map on the simultaneous removal of bottlenecks and on the development of the “Middle Corridor” for 2022-2027 at the Ministerial Meeting on Trans-Caspian Connectivity in Aktau on 25 November 2022; support the implementation of the Digital Silk Way project; and will contribute to the speedy completion of work on the joint construction of fiber-optic communication lines across the Caspian Sea bed linking Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan.
The statement also notes the importance of expanding cooperation in the field of digital development; strengthening cooperation in the fuel and energy sector, including transportation of energy resources. Satisfaction with the beginning of supplies of Kazakh oil through the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline and further work on harmonizing the terms for increasing the volume of Kazakh oil supplies through the territory of Azerbaijan is emphasized.
Note that despite the geographical proximity, trade and economic relations between Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, diplomatic relations between which were established in summer 1992, are not very active. Last year, trade turnover between the countries fell short of $500 million, although it showed an increase compared with the previous year. Investment activity of the parties at bilateral level is hardly impressive as well, but about 900 companies with Azerbaijani capital are registered in Kazakhstan, and about 150 companies with Kazakhstani capital operate in Azerbaijan.
But some “hibernation” in the context of the development of mutually beneficial cooperation between Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan has ended: the war in Ukraine has forced Kazakhstan and other states in the region to reorient the deliveries of their products, which used to go mainly through the now-sanctioned Russia, to Azerbaijan. In fact, Tokayev began negotiations with Baku last year in order to at least initially pump through Azerbaijan 10% of the oil intended for export. Then the parties agreed to deliver 1,5 million tons of oil annually to Sangachal terminal for its subsequent transportation via Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline (Türkiye). And this year there are plans to use the Aktau-Baku route to transport up to 3.5 million tons of oil. Though Aktau port’s potential is not great, but by injecting fairly substantial investments into it the volume of oil going to Baku could be increased up to 20 million tons. At the same time, it is necessary to build at least two sea terminals in the Caspian Sea, to put together a modern tanker fleet, etc.
In short, Azerbaijan is indispensable in increasing Kazakhstan’s oil exports to Türkiye and further to Europe, i.e. bypassing Russia via the trans-Caspian route. It should be added that this is not only the matter of raw materials, but the transportation of non-resource goods of a wide range to the Azerbaijani market. Thus, changes in the geopolitical situation (feasible and realistic distancing from Russia) contributed to the increased demand for cargo transportation through Azerbaijan (recall Aliyev’s visit to Tajikistan, partly driven by the problem of extraction and transportation of natural resources), and the visit of the Prime Minister of Georgia to the Republic of Azerbaijan.
Following the talks with Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili, Aliyev confirmed that Baku and Tbilisi are successfully working on the implementation of the Middle Corridor development project, in particular the extension of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars (Türkiye) railway, to be completed next year. Furthermore, a new port is being built in Georgia. Consequently, the freight traffic in the Middle Corridor, i.e. the Trans-Caspian international transport route running through China, Kazakhstan, the Caspian Sea area, Azerbaijan and Georgia to Türkiye to Europe, will significantly increase. Aliyev also reiterated the important role of Georgia and Azerbaijan in ensuring energy security in Europe, and said that this year, exports of natural gas from Azerbaijan through the territory of Georgia would amount to 24.5 billion cubic meters (part of it for Türkiye). However, by 2027, Azerbaijan will deliver 20 billion cubic meters of gas to the European market alone. It is worth mentioning that the functions of the Middle Corridor expand through the installation of a power cable across the Black Sea bed to transport green energy to Europe. In other words, Azerbaijan plays a leading role here as well.
But what will all these projects and undertakings, from Tokayev’s intention, which he stated in Astana, to diversify the deliveries of Kazakh oil and to increase their volume through Azerbaijan (the first batch has already been sent), to involve for this purpose the Baku-Supsa (Georgia) oil pipeline and the properly functioning Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline to other ongoing and promising projects, be worth if once ridiculed and now extremely relevant slogan “Peace to the world!” is under tremendous threat, and there is no world to have peace in? After all, local conflicts are no longer such, but have taken on a planetary dimension.
As Tokayev said in Astana, he and Aliyev made sure they were on the same page on regional and international issues. What exactly, in this context, concerns them most of all, no one but the two leaders can know for certain. In the meantime, the President of Kazakhstan said that “Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan … adhere to similar positions on many topical international and regional issues” and that Astana “traditionally stands for the diplomatic settlement of relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia, and welcomes the efforts to conclude a peace treaty as soon as possible.” Aliyev confirmed that work on the latter is not progressing as smoothly as we would like, but Baku aims to normalize relations with Yerevan, because “relations between neighbors should be normal, even despite the hardest history of thirty years of occupation and the suffering experienced by the Azerbaijani people and the ruins we now have to restore.” “In general,” Tokayev concluded, “we have a common understanding of the need to continue mutual support and take joint action to strengthen regional stability and security in the region.”
It would appear that Aliyev discussed security and efforts to preserve it, war and peace, internal stability, external threats and strengthening sovereignty with Rahmon and Garibashvili in the last few days as well, since the conditions for stability of Central Asian and South Caucasian states are largely similar, as are the challenges they face. One cannot help recalling Brzezinski’s prophetic words: “He who controls Eurasia controls the world”. It is for this “control” that a fierce struggle is now taking place. There are many contenders. And Central Asia and the South Caucasus are exactly in the center of the Eurasian branching: Europe and Asia, the West and the East: a big and coveted morsel, snatching which could mean hitting a fantastic jackpot.
Conclusion: we must stick together, and not only within Turkic, linguistic or ethnic classifications, for financial and economic benefits, but also in order to prevent these rich and unique regions from being forced to play by someone else’s rules. Otherwise, all the transport and logistics ventures, hydrocarbon and other riches will be owned not by their original masters, but by those who will win the battle for Eurasia.
Translated from Minval.az