An exclusive interview with Rusif Huseynov, сo-founder and director of Topchubashov Center (Baku).
How are Azerbaijan’s relations with the EU and NATO developing today?
Unlike Georgia and Ukraine, Azerbaijan has never demonstrated any westward aspirations. Based on its balanced foreign policy, its authorities is more interested in cooperating with either the EU and NATO, by keeping some distance.
Although Azerbaijan has been part of the initiatives such as the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) and the Eastern Partnership, Baku has not deepened its relations with Brussels: while Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine reached the Association Agreements with the EU, negotiations on a similar framework are currently underway between Azerbaijan and the supranational organization. Azerbaijani nationals cannot also enjoy the EU`s visa waiver unlike the citizens of Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.
Instead, Azerbaijan focuses more on energy projects with EU countries. Moreover, the European Union is Azerbaijan's first trading partner representing 37.12% (4.730 billion USD) of Azerbaijan's total trade. The EU is Azerbaijan’s biggest export and import market with a 45.87% and 27.89% share in Azerbaijan's total exports and imports respectively (The information is retrieved from Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry).
In military sphere, three countries in the South Caucasus have chosen completely different paths in foreign policy, including military relations. With Armenia being a member of Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization and Georgia aspiring to join NATO, Azerbaijan has instead opted to develop bilateral relations with Turkey.
Sharing almost the same language and religion and functioning under the motto “One nation, two states”, Azerbaijan and Turkey have been enjoying extraordinary ties. In the military sphere, these two countries reached a rather unusual agreement in 2010: almost no other NATO member-state, except for the United States, has given far reaching security guarantees to a non-NATO state.
Most notable development in Azerbaijan-NATO relations was the decision of the latter to increase its number of military personnel within peacekeeping troops in Afghanistan in January 2018.
How do You assess the situation in the Caspian region?
Those who follow the regional developments may remember the historic Aktau meeting that was held in August 2018. The event produced a Convention which took the five Caspian states – Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia, Turkmenistan – 20 years of negotiations. As a legal framework was an important step for sharing the world’s biggest inland body of water.
The Aktau Convention set a special regime in the Caspian, dividing it into 15-mile sovereign waters and another 10 miles for fishing zones where each country has sovereign and exceptional rights. Beyond those zones are there common waters. The state line issue which will finalize national sectors is put aside to be determined with a separate agreement.
Another provision from the Convention would especially be considered as a gain by Russian and Iranian diplomats is the military presence of non-Caspian actors is forbidden in the basin.
The document also recognizes the right of the coastal states to build cables and pipelines through the seabed: the routes of such lines shall be coordinated by the coastal states whose sectors will be used in this regard. This key provision will enable to extend the Caucasus-centered transport and energy corridor toward Central Asia.
Most recent developments in this direction are the processes of ratification of the Convention in Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan in the winter of 2018-2019.
In Your opinion, is it possible for Azerbaijan to appear in such integration structures as the Eurasian Economic Union and the CSTO?
For years Azerbaijan has been conducting what is known as balanced foreign policy. Unlike pro-Western Georgia and pro-Russian Armenia, Azerbaijan had never seriously considered membership in any political or military bloc in order not to lose its sovereignty and/or bind itself with any obligations. The country`s huge oil and gas revenues had enabled the authorities to carry out more or less independent foreign policy.
However, last year pro-government politicians hinted about Azerbaijan`s possible membership of the CSTO. Having generated some discussion in the public, those who circulated these speculations might have wanted to check societal perceptions of such a move.
In general, moving Azerbaijan into the Eurasian Economic Union and the CSTO may seem impossible not only due to Azerbaijan`s adherence to politics of balancing and lack of economic or pragmatic benefits those institutions could bring, but also because of Armenia`s membership in them. Azerbaijani society would not understand how the country can be in the same economic or military association.
Another interesting nuance is related to President Ilham Aliyev`s latest interview to local Real TV. He stated that Azerbaijan`s foreign politics is driven by national interests, dismissing the so-called balanced foreign policy. A normal, routine presidential statement at the first glance, it may, however, signal some shifts in Azerbaijan`s overall politics.