Multipolarity and Connectivity
Azerbaijan and the Turkic-Speaking Countries of Central Asia – Deepening Interaction

Currently, significant changes are taking place in the foreign policy of Azerbaijan, writes Niyazi Niyazov, head of the Department of International Relations in the Post-Soviet Space of St. Petersburg State University.

For a long time, Azerbaijani foreign policy was mainly directed at creating favourable conditions to resolve the Karabakh problem and to restore the territorial integrity of the country. Currently, Azerbaijan begins to solve qualitatively different problems. First, it is attracting investments to restore the regions of Karabakh, second, deepening mutually beneficial cooperation with geographically close states, and third, increasing the country’s role in world politics.

A major role in solving these problems will be played by further deepening interaction with the Turkic-speaking states of Central Asia — Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan — both on a bilateral and multilateral basis.

Azerbaijan’s foreign policy towards the Central Asian states began to take shape after gaining independence. Factors contributing to the rapprochement were as follows: a common past, including being part of the Russian Empire and the USSR; linguistic proximity (with the exception of Tajikistan), religious identity, the general view of the elites of these countries on the nature of world politics, the special relationship of these states with Russia, as well as their growing interaction with Turkey and China. At the same time, Baku tried to build its connections primarily through bilateral relations. This is partly due to the fact that Azerbaijan believed that the activities of international organisations and structures designed to solve problems of international security and socio-economic development were inefficient.

One of the advantages of bilateral cooperation is that it is aimed at solving not global, but tactical problems. This enables the parties to interact not only with each other, but also in parallel with other actors who are aimed at achieving the same goal. The advantage of such interaction is that the state’s foreign policy is focused on achieving specific goals in a short-term period. In addition, it becomes possible to use the resources of different partners to solve the problem. This does not deny the possibility that such interaction can be transformed into models of a constant cooperation.

Eurasia and Asia
Central Asia: Competition or Cooperation?
Grigory Mikhailov
The regional elites, under the influence of stereotypes, as well as internal and external propaganda, had an impression that things were not going too well for Russia. Only in recent months, the assessments of Russia’s prospects began to change for the better, writes Grigory Mikhailov.

The leadership of Azerbaijan was one of the first to realize the good trends of bilateral relations and made enormous efforts to develop them. It was within the framework of the “Shushi Declaration” (June 15, 2021) with Turkey and the “Declaration on Allied Interaction” (February 22, 2022) with Russia, and now Baku has intensified activities aimed at interaction with the Turkic-speaking states of Central Asia.

For Azerbaijan, access to the Central Asian region opens primarily through Kazakhstan.

The countries are brought together by a common vision of regional problems, including the position agreed with Russia on dividing the Caspian Sea shelf. Kazakh oil and grain enter world markets through Azerbaijan. According to Kazakh data from April 2023, Baku has invested about $306 million in Kazakhstan over 17 years, and Astana, in turn, has invested $95 million in the Azerbaijani economy. The countries actively interact in the field of military security, conduct naval exercises, participate in ADEX arms exhibitions, and, accordingly, KADEX. Kazakhstan is helping to restore Karabakh — the construction of the Kurmangazy Children’s Creativity Centre began in the city of Fuzuli. The specificity of Kazakh-Azerbaijani relations lies in the fact that the countries are actively developing interaction across the entire spectrum of interstate relations.

Today, Azerbaijani-Uzbek relations are at a very high level, thanks to the friendly relations between leaders Ilham Aliyev and Shavkat Mirziyoyev. In 2023, a roadmap for energy cooperation for 2023-2025 was signed.

It is planned to expand cooperation in the fields of agriculture, industry, tourism, automotive industry, and building materials. The process of creating joint ventures between SOCAR and Uzbekneftgaz has begun.

In November 2023, the parties agreed to develop a roadmap in the field of military production. Tashkent is also participating in the restoration of Karabakh. In August 2023, Ilham Aliyev and Shavkat Mirziyoyev took part in the opening of school No. 1 named after Mirzo Ulugbek, built in Fuzuli with funds from Uzbekistan.

Thus, the relationship between Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan, having begun in the economic field, is dynamically expanding to other areas, including the military-technical cooperation.

If the development of relations between Baku and Astana and Tashkent was progressive from the very beginning, cooperation with Kyrgyzstan acquired serious dynamics only recently. By November 2023, bilateral ties, including military-technical cooperation, had reached such a level that President Sadyr Japarov, during negotiations with Ilham Aliyev, described them as “unprecedented.” This statement demonstrates the commitment of the two states to deepen cooperation and interaction.

The path of rapprochement and cooperation between Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan was more tortuous. There were disputes between Ashgabat and Baku over a number of Caspian fields. In addition, Turkmenistan supported the Iranian approach to the sectoral division of the Caspian Sea, contrary to the Russian-Kazakh-Azerbaijani approach. The situation began to change after the energy prices started to fall, which coincided with gas disputes between Turkmenistan and Russia. These factors forced Ashgabat to look for ways to interact with its neighbours, including Azerbaijan. In January 2021, the parties managed to resolve the problem of territorial disputes in the Caspian Sea by signing a memorandum on the distribution of the Dostlug field in the ratio of 30% to Azerbaijan and 70% to Turkmenistan. For Azerbaijan, the main thing was that the transportation of raw materials from this field would have to be carried out using the transport transit systems of Azerbaijan. A further improvement in relations between the countries occurred in December 2022, when, with the active participation of Turkey, the three countries signed five documents strengthening their interaction in the fields of trade, transport, energy, communications, science and culture.

At the turn of 2023-2024, Baku’s relations with Ashgabat cooled again after Turkmenistan refused to supply gas to Azerbaijan through Iran, according to a swap agreement concluded in 2021, citing the fact that Baku wanted to purchase gas below the market price.

In general, Azerbaijani-Turkmen relations are characterized by a pendulum nature, and it is obvious that they will remain so for quite a long time.

Thus, Azerbaijan and the Turkic-speaking states of Central Asia have a common position on the following subjects: readiness to develop cooperation in all areas, including the military-technical cooperation, but with an emphasis on economic interaction, the desire of these states to help Azerbaijan with the reconstruction of Karabakh.

Multilateral cooperation between Azerbaijan and the countries of the region is in its initial stage and will actively develop. It is clear that interaction in the scientific and cultural spheres will deepen. In addition, the countries will work together to implement the Middle Corridor project, which is essentially a chain of bilateral agreements ensuring trade between China and Europe through Central Asia and the South Caucasus.

The importance for Azerbaijan of multilateral cooperation with the countries of the region is evidenced by the participation of Ilham Aliyev in the fifth summit of the heads of the countries of Central Asia (September 14, 2023), and the first Summit of the Heads of State and Government of the United Nations Special Programme for the Economies of Central Asia (SPECA) held in Baku on November 24, 2023.

Thus, Azerbaijan has already managed to achieve considerable success in this direction.

Central Asia in the New Geopolitical Reality
The anti-Russian sanctions of the West did not change the structure of the Central Asian economies, did not cause a sharp reorientation to the markets toward the EU or China, and did not lead to a full-scale collapse.
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.