An exclusive interview with Rusif Huseynov, Co-founder and editor-in-chief Topchubashov Center
What can You note as the results of the 10-year-work of the EU program Eastern Partnership?
During and within the Eastern Partnership framework, the European Union introduced bilateral political and economic agreements with EaP member-states. These agreements open more trade and investment opportunities. According to the recent information, the number of companies from DCFTA countries exporting to the EU has remarkably increased since 2015: Georgia by 35%, Moldova by 40% and Ukraine by 26%, while volumes of trade have also risen: 28% with Azerbaijan, 16% with Belarus and 12% with Armenia. This progress has made the 6 EaP countries altogether the EU`s 10th trading partner.
Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova have received visa-free regimes with the EU, while Azerbaijan and Armenia have concluded facilitation and readmission agreements.
Youth is supported by EU programmes, most notably by Erasmus+, which means over 80,000 exchanges by 2020.
Moreover, efforts on facilitating transport and communication linkages, as well as energy efficiency have been poured. The EU`s TEN-T extension envisages 4,800-km new and repaired roads and railways by 2030, while 2 million scholars and students from 700 research and educational institutions are now part of a high-capacity broadband Internet network.
The bilateral relations between the EU and each of EaP program can be discussed as a separate issue.
By summarizing all what is said above, we can resolutely claim that the EaP has been overall successful.
At the same time, we have to clearly understand that the lack of hard power elements in the program makes it quite vulnerable for external pressures, namely from the east. No matter how much the European bureaucrats claim about the non-geopolitical nature of the EaP framework, it is part of geopolitics and fuel geopolitical confrontation as it is directly challenging Russian understanding of Near Abroad.
Are there any specific features in the relations between Azerbaijan and NATO today?
Without setting a NATO membership as its priority unlike the neighboring Georgia, Azerbaijan has nevertheless maintained pragmatic ties with the alliance. In fact, the year 2019 marks the 25thanniversary of Azerbaijan-NATO relations.
In May, a press release by Azerbaijan`s Foreign Ministry on the occasion of the anniversary, named this partnership “one of the important directions” of Azerbaijan’s foreign and security policy. Simultaneously, the country`s Defense Ministry, too, named the Partnership for Peace (PfP) program “one of the most successful engagements” between Azerbaijan and the North Atlantic Alliance.
The NATO side also praised Azerbaijan`s contribution to various NATO endeavors. While Lt Gen Jan Broeks, Director General of NATO’s International Military Staff expressedthe Alliance’s gratitude for Azerbaijan’s continued support to the NATO-led Resolute Support Mission, while Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg emphasizedthe importance of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars in the success of the mission.
Currently, Azerbaijani service members are active in the Resolute Support Mission, by providing security at Kabul International Airport as well as checking passengers and cargo. Moreover, Azerbaijan, as a bridge between Europe and Asia, has been serving as a transit corridor for coalition forces to/from Afghanistan.
This unique geostrategic location, as well as the Azerbaijani government`s balancing policy and non-bloc status has introduced Baku also as a venue for a series of meetings between top military officials from Russia and NATO / United States. Most recently, Baku hosted a meeting between the Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation Army General Valery Gerasimov and NATO Supreme Allied Commander in Europe General Tod Wolters.
How would You describe the modern politics of Azerbaijan in the Caspian Sea region?
Even prior to the 2019 meeting in Aktau, where the five littoral nations reached a historic convention on the division of the Caspian Sea, Azerbaijan had been very active in the trans-Caspian activities. Especially with regard to linking Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan to Azerbaijan`s westward oil- and gas pipelines.
The trans-Caspian linkage has become again actual with the expansion the Chinese-led One Belt One Road initiative. The Azerbaijani side, trying to be one of the popular bridges within this framework, has been promoting a trans-Caspian international transport route.
The test train on Ukraine-Georgia-Azerbaijan-Kazakhstan-China route arrived in the Alat ferry terminal, Azerbaijan in 2016.
According to some estimates, this transport route is supposed to serve 300,000-400,000 containers by 2020.