On April 24, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev arrived in China to attend the second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation (Report.az, April 24). This was Aliyev’s second official visit to the world’s most populous country, since 2015. In light of growing Chinese involvement in the South Caucasus region more generally, the Azerbaijani leader’s attendance at the summit sought to further boost bilateral cooperation.
The ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI—formerly called One Belt, One Road or OBOR), unveiled by Beijing in 2013, will link China and Europe via new or expanded overland and maritime transit corridors. The aim, the Chinese authorities proclaim, is to bolster trade and economic growth among all countries involved. Since BRI’s inception, China has invested roughly $90 billion in overseas loans for major infrastructure projects, including the construction of roads, railways and ports throughout Eurasia (Global Risk Intelligence, April 26). The South Caucasus region, with its important transit routes linking East and West, holds great geostrategic importance. Therefore, China has sought new opportunities to deepen its engagement with the South Caucasus countries, in turn providing additional impetus for the development of strategic regional transit projects like the Baku–Tbilisi–Kars railway, the Trans-Caspian International Transit Route, the South–West Transit Corridor, and others (see EDM, April 12, 2017; October 16, 2017; November 6, 2018; April 3, 2019). Oxumağa davam et Azerbaijan Eyes More Cooperation With China Within Belt and Road Initiative→
On November 19, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev paid a long-awaited official visit to Belarus, where he met with his counterpart, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. On this occasion, the Belarusian and Azerbaijani state news agencies praised the level of bilateral strategic cooperation, widely citing Lukashenka’s words to Aliyev: “Belarus has been waiting for you” (Belta, November 19).
The Azerbaijani president’s trip to Minsk coincided with “growing frictions” between Belarus and Armenia, two formal allies within the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). The latest diplomatic row was sparked by Lukashenka’s recent meeting with Azerbaijani ambassador to Belarus, Latif Gandilov. During their talks, the Belarusian leader ended up revealing the content of confidential conversations among CSTO member countries (Azerbaijan is not a member of the alliance) regarding the choice of the organization’s next secretary general (Turan.az, November 12). These revelations infuriated the authorities in Yerevan (see EDM, November 29). “It is strange that Belarus reveals closed-door conversations to [Armenia’s] adversary, Azerbaijan,” Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan angrily stated (News.am, November 20). Oxumağa davam et Belarus and Azerbaijan Enhance Their Strategic Military Partnership→
United States National Security Advisor John Bolton visited Azerbaijan on October 24, and held meetings with President Ilham Aliyev and other high-level state officials. Bolton appeared in Baku immediately following his visit to Moscow (Trend.az, October 24). The US National Security Advisor’s Russian agenda and his meeting with President Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin suggested that Washington will not be rekindling relations with Moscow under the current circumstances.
Bolton’s ensuing trip to the South Caucasus included stops not only in Azerbaijan but also Armenia and Georgia. As the highest US official from the Donald Trump administration to come to the region since Vice President Michael Pence’s visit to Tbilisi last year (Whitehouse.gov, August 1, 2017), Bolton’s three-country tour raised questions of whether the White House is interested in more seriously reengaging the region, which had been neglected under the previous US administration. During Barrack Obama’s presidency, US influence in the South Caucasus had declined as the White House paid more attention to bilateral relations with Russia. Oxumağa davam et John Bolton’s Caucasus Trip: Growing US Influence in Region?→
On August 16, the Azerbaijani MP and head of the Azerbaijan-Russia interparliamentary group Ali Huseynli told local media that “It would be advisable to consider Azerbaijan’s participation in the Collective Security Treaty Organization” (CSTO). The sensational statement triggered a public discussion on Azerbaijan’s possible membership in the Russia-led CSTO and its consequences for the region. While some state officials described this prospect as a logical extension of Baku’s cooperation with Moscow, others strictly opposed the idea, stating that it would pose dangerous challenges to the country. Oxumağa davam et What Would Membership in the CSTO Mean for Azerbaijan and the South Caucasus?→
Russian President Vladimir Putin paid a surprise official visit to Azerbaijan, on September 27. The formal reason for his arrival was to hold talks with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev as well as to jointly attend the Ninth Interregional Russia-Azerbaijan Forum (Kremlin.ru, September 27; AzerNews, September 28). Local mass media in both Azerbaijan and Russia described Putin’s visit as a next significant step in improving the strategic partnership between the two countries (AzerNews, September 26).
Prior to sitting down together in Baku, the last time the two leaders spoke face-to-face was in Sochi, Russia, on September 1 (AzerNews, September 1). During that meeting, Putin and Aliyev signed several documents encompassing the economy, agriculture, tourism, and the defense sector. The most significant outcome of their talks was indeed a new $5 billion arms deal to purchase Russian-made weaponry. Moreover, President Aliyev stated that the number of bilateral military agreements will increase in the near future (Izvestia, September 3). Oxumağa davam et Could Vladimir Putin’s Visit to Azerbaijan Shift the Regional Balance of Power?→
The Azerbaijani State Oil Company (SOCAR) announced, on July 27, the formation of a new corporate entity that will oversee the future development of the Ionian-Adriatic Pipeline (IAP) project. The proposed pipeline is designed to deliver Azerbaijani natural gas to Europe—namely to the Balkan region. According to Murad Heydarov, the head of the subsidiary SOCAR Balkan, the announced firm will be set up by the end of this year (AzerNews, Trend, July 27). Although, SOCAR is not a stakeholder in the IAP project, it acts as a technical consultant and manages the future design of the pipeline between the Albanian cities of Fier and Vlora. This project will represent the first time that SOCAR will undertake engineering services in the Western Balkans. Oxumağa davam et Ionian-Adriatic Pipeline: A Priority Gas Transit Project for Azerbaijan and the Western Balkans→
Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev, on May 29, officially inaugurated the first phase of his country’s long-awaited flagship Southern Gas Corridor (SGC) project, through which Caspian-basin natural gas (from the offshore Shah-Deniz field) will be transported to Europe (Azernews, May 29). The new project consists of several linked pipelines that pass through Azerbaijan and Georgia (via the South Caucasus Pipeline Expansion, or SCPX), Turkey (via the Trans-Anatolian Pipeline, TANAP), and further through Greece, Albania and into Italy (via the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline, TAP). In the initial operational phase of the SGC, 6 billion cubic meters (bcm) of natural gas will annually be transported via Turkey to Europe, and those volumes will be increased to 10 bcm after 2020. Reportedly, the volumes will be expanded to 31 bcm after 2026, if additional gas compressor stations are constructed.Oxumağa davam et Southern Gas Corridor Project Opening New Long-Term Opportunities for Europe→