The EU and the South Caucasus 25 years since Independence: Azerbaijan in the Geopolitical Strategy of the EU

Caucasus International Magazine. Photo credit: 1News.Az
Caucasus International Magazine. Photo credit: 1News.Az

Caucasus International Magazine; Vol: 7 No: 1; Summer issue

PDF version is available for download

Abstract. This paper examines the European Union’s geopolitical interests in the South Caucasus, with a specific focus on Azerbaijan. The EU has maintained a relationship with the region for over two decades, but often the EU’s approach towards the South Caucasus have been deeply affected by local and regional developments. Nevertheless, EU – Azerbaijan bilateral relations may offer an alternative. Azerbaijan plays a key role in European energy security, while the EU is seeking to create a “European space” in the South Caucasus. These two interrelated developments are mutually reinforcing. This paper examines how this relationship shapes and/or is influenced by the EU’s geopolitical strategic vision in the region.

Introduction

The South Caucasus is an extraordinarily complex region in many ways. Having re-gained independence in 1991, the South Caucasus remains one of the world’s most security-challenged regions, facing a host of internal and external security threats. Despite its small size and relatively small population, the South Caucasus occupies an important place in international geopolitics.

The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 brought new stakeholders to the region. The South Caucasus had the potential to become a prosperous region due to its natural resources and strategic location between Europe and Central Asia, but before that, the region sank into violence and years of political and economic turmoil.Ethnic and religious diversity, old territorial disputes and the rapid growth of the post-Soviet nationalism seriously impeded development. Long-standing claims by neighboring Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan erupted into separatist ethnic violence by 1988, and full-scale war with by 1991, with Armenians backed by Russia. Despite the devastating pact of the wars in the South Caucasus in the beginning of 1990s, Azerbaijan became a point of interest for the international organizations, as well as major external powers such as the United States and the European Union.

There are several areas in which international organizations worked in Azerbaijan: humanitarian aid, educational and cultural programs, support for non-governmental organizations, joint economic projects, and so on. In the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union, the world witnessed the rise of liberal values across the whole post-Soviet space. In this respect, within the above-mentioned parameters, close cooperation with the EU can provide access to the world economic and cultural space for Azerbaijan.