Caught Between the Great Powers: Azerbaijan
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the peculiar Republic of Azerbaijan has risen out of Russia’s shadow and has increasingly been entering the world stage. This oil-rich state finds itself adhering to the stereotypes of oil states. As the most prosperous country in the Caucasus, it also fosters the corresponding corruption and oppression. The current president of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev likes to think of democratic standards as a rather loose and thick concept. His expertise lies in business and building his substantial personal wealth.
However the political situation, the country is becoming more important and with oil reserves quickly diminishing, this post-Soviet treasure is one of the great powers’ new targets. Both Russia and the European Union enthusiastically involve themselves with cosy diplomatic chit-chat in attempt to cash in a oil- worry free future. Nevertheless, Azerbaijan finds itself walking on a very precarious line between two of the main players on the world stage. So far, its approach has been to not fully commit to neither the EU or Russia but rather keep relations vital with low-commitment alliances.
With respect to the EU, Azerbaijan is one of the members of the EU’s Eastern Partnership but until now the only member that decided not to definitely align itself with the EU. Former president Heydar Aliyev signed the Contract of the Century” with a consortium of Western energy companies.The last twenty years Azerbaijan has stepped increasingly in the direction of Euro-Atlantic institutions, but has nevertheless never showed any ambition to join either NATO or the EU. Its main focus is for its capital city to acquire Western expertise on modernization in the fields of education, energy, science and technology and vocational training.
Especially since the annexation of Crimea, there is a deep resentment towards Moscow and most people have absolutely no interest in becoming a part of Putin’s new Soviet Union.
A thorn in EU-Azerbaijan relations is that the EU takes a very ambiguous position in recognizing the territorial integrity of the country. Azerbaijan wants the EU to take a more credible and consistent stance and recognize territorial integrity the same way it does with all other countries of the Eastern partnership.
Russia on the other hand, is also pressuring Azerbaijan to tighten ties with Vladimir Putin’s new fixation to ‘rebuild the Soviet Union’. Moscow has been strongly encouraging Baku to join the EaU, which of course makes it less easy for Azerbaijan to also strengthen relations with the EU. In recent weeks Moscow has significantly increased its diplomatic activity with a number of visits to Baku, including from Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who arrived the day after Barroso left.
The problem for Azerbaijan is that it does not want to lose its independence in pursuing foreign and economic policies. Further complicating rapprochement towards Russia comes from Azerbaijani society (although their real influence can probably be marginalized). Especially since the annexation of Crimea, there is a deep resentment towards Moscow and most people have absolutely no interest in becoming a part of Putin’s new Soviet Union.
History tends to repeat itself, and the rules of world politics are hard to change. Azerbaijan clearly finds itself sandwiched between two great powers, following the example of many countries before it. The importance of oil and gas has never been underestimated and therefore a new battle of resources might slowly be rising up to the forefront.