Russia-Azerbaijan: An Important Partnership

Azerbaijan is currently an exceptionally important partner for Russia in the South Caucasus. The two countries are strategic partners, and there are a number of promising areas, primarily the energy sector, for mutual cooperation. This is why the recent presidential visit to Azerbaijan was mostly devoted to this issue.

Russian President Vladimir Putin paid a visit to Azerbaijan. Even though it was called a “working” visit, not an official one, Russia was represented by a high-powered delegation. The Valdai Discussion Club asked Felix Stanevsky, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, Head of the Caucasus division at the Institute of CIS Countries (Institute of Diaspora and Integration), to comment on the results of the visit and the new twists in the relations between the two countries.

What determines Russia’s relations with its southern neighbor today?

Azerbaijan is currently an exceptionally important partner for Russia in the South Caucasus. The two countries are strategic partners, and there are a number of promising areas, primarily the energy sector, for mutual cooperation. This is why the recent presidential visit to Azerbaijan was mostly devoted to this issue.

The Russian leader’s visit took place shortly before the next presidential elections in Azerbaijan. Does this mean that Ilkham Aliyev would like to secure top-level Russian support?

I think this is too “journalistic” question. If a visit is held two months before presidential elections, the media cannot resist the temptation to present events precisely in this light. I am certain that if visits are made to be an electoral factor, there will be much fewer opportunities for top-level contacts, which are exceptionally important in themselves. In interstate relations, you cannot wait for visits to coincide with some election or another, and arrive just in the nick of time.

This aspect was by far not a priority for the Russian representatives. It’s up to Azerbaijan to decide what and how this will affect… Of course, the Russian President’s visit is likely to be of some importance in the context of internal political rivalry, but this is not Russia’s problem.

Addressing a news conference, Mr Aliyev for the first time revealed the amount of Russian arms sales to Azerbaijan. He said that the current scope of military-technical cooperation “runs into 4 billion dollars and is expanding.” How would you comment on this statement?

Military cooperation between Russia and Azerbaijan is indeed important for both countries, something that was confirmed by the fact that Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu accompanied the president on this visit. Current military cooperation between Russia and Azerbaijan is primarily focused on the Caspian Sea. The entry of a Russian cruiser into the Baku harbor was meant to emphasize this circumstance. Russia would like the Caspian states to deal with Caspian affairs on their own. It is unnatural to invite nations from afar to become involved in local problems, nor is this in keeping with Russian interests. I am sure that the two leaders talked about this in Baku.

Russia terminated its lease of the Gabala radar in 2012. In 2013, Azerbaijan’s transit oil was barred from traveling via the Baku-Novorossiysk pipeline. What problems are there in the countries' bilateral relations, and how are they being addressed?

As far as the Gabala radar is concerned, Azerbaijan is known to have set absolutely exorbitant lease prices. I'm not ruling out that this was done under pressure from their Western partners. This resulted in putting a stop to cooperation on Gabala. It is certainly a serious blow to Russian interests. The important thing right now is to overcome the negative consequences of this circumstance and promote cooperation with Azerbaijan in areas of interest for Russia. Let me repeat that Russia is keen on cooperating with Azerbaijan in the Caspian region in a way that would exclude interference by non-regional nations.

The sides have reached important energy understandings. Rosneft head Igor Sechin paid his first visit to Baku in June 2013, when preparations for the summit came under way. Rosneft and Azerbaijan’s state oil company, SOCAR, managed to formulate their respective interests in two parity-based agreements on cooperation and on the main oil supply terms. A joint venture will be established to prospect for and produce oil and gas. Interestingly, the project will be implemented not only in Russia and Azerbaijan but also in other countries.

As I see it, the very pattern of the Russian energy policy has been changing. Formerly it was believed that the construction of pipelines in circumvention of Russia’s territory interfered with its interests. Today Russia is changing its approach and plans to take part in projects that Azerbaijan is implementing, among other areas, in Western Europe. Azerbaijan likewise is tapping new opportunities with regard to Russian energy resources. The sides will start joint work on energy and will explore energy resources in regions that Azerbaijan has never intended to include in its sphere of influence. For example, Rosneft is one of the biggest suppliers of oil to China and Southeast Asian countries and Azerbaijan will be able to join in. Of course, Azerbaijan has a presence in the region, but now it will be able to operate on a bigger scale. This is why I don’t think that we should emphasize the suspension of energy supplies from Baku to Novorossiysk in 2013.

Can we expect that Azerbaijan will make a bid to join the Eurasian Union sometime in the future?

I have no information on whether this was discussed during Putin's visit or at all recently. I don’t think that Azerbaijan’s stance could change. No serious shifts are likely on this any time soon. At the same time, Azerbaijan has a vested interest in being on good terms with Russia. Azerbaijan is experiencing perceptible Western pressure and relations with Russia are of importance for its leadership in order to maintain certain equilibrium internationally. Western policies cannot but cause concern. The West is actively interfering in the internal affairs of other countries to influence their territorial integrity and economic development. This interference creates chaos or near-chaotic states. We saw this in Egypt and in Libya. Stable development of whole countries is called into question, and this is a serious problem for Azerbaijan.

The West wants Azerbaijan to become a Western-type democracy overnight, as if unable to understand that countries with a history different from its own cannot develop in keeping with this logic. We might talk for a long time on this topic. The West is guided by two main ideas: the promotion of democracy outside of the West, and the fostering of a controlled chaos. These two are interconnected, because promoting democracy outside of the West in disregard of local histories will only lead to chaos. Both Azerbaijan, and its neighbor Iran, and any country under pressure from the West have well-justified apprehensions in this regard.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.