Interview with Mr. Vugar Bayramov

 

Mr.Vugar Bayramov (photo from personal archive)
Mr.Vugar Bayramov (photo from personal archive)

 Mr.Vugar Bayramov is a well-kmown economist and expert on economic policy of Azerbaijan, alumnus of  Washington University in St.Louis. Currently he is serving as a founder and chairman of Center for Economic and Social Development (CESD) which took a high ranking place as one the most active brain centers of Caucasus region  in the international poll of Harvard Univresity.

Dear Mr.Vugar, first of all thank you for sharing your time. I would like to be inform your opinions and future analyses about Azerbaijan policy towards the European Union after Vilnus Summit which became a “last hope” for some pos-soviet countries to integrate to Europe.

  1.  How could you estimate the importance and impact of Vilnus Summit in the foreign policy of Azerbaijan Republic?

 The Vilnius  Summit in fact was the important event in context of keeping prominence of the  EU Eastern Partnership Program since policy impacts of this program has not been considered as decent before the indicated summit. Azerbaijan’s participation at the summit was extremely important taking into considering Russian influence on the region mainly on forcing neighboring countries to join to the Customs Union, a Russian new project.The impact of Vilnius summit on Azerbaijani foreign policy was in some way perceptible. Azerbaijan signed Visa Facilitation and Readmission Agreement with EU, which will allow Azerbaijani citizens to travel to Schengen countries easier. However, Azerbaijan foreign policy was remaining unchangeable after the summit subsequently the country has been pursuing balancing policy; not hut Russian, but gradually integrate to Europe.

2.In your judgment, did the results of the Vilnius summit clarify the complete geopolitical situation in the region?

Geopolitical situation in the region remains complicate considering the fact that Russia has been becoming very vigorous on implementing its new political projects such as Customs Union and Eurasian Union. Motionless, after the summit, key players in the region have not been transformed. Therefore, it is really hard to say that the Vilnius summit clarify the rules of game in the region.

3.According to the some experts and also to official comment of deputy head of President Administration, Mr. Novruz Mammedov: “Azerbaijan is pursuing an independent policy without paying attention to anybody.”. Can you agree with his claim in that point?

Azerbaijani is pursuing a balancing policy by considering the country’s geo-politic interest. Azerbaijan has to keep gradually integration European approach particularly after Armenia joined to the Customs Union on September, 2013. Karabach Conflict is the main obstacle for Azerbaijan in European integration way since Armenia has pro-Russian foreign policy.

 4. Two out of six Eastern Partnership countries – Georgia and Moldova – have made their geopolitical choices in favor of the European Union. Should we expect a positive changes with Armenian Republic over the Nagorno Karabakh conflict after Vilnus meeting?

Unfortunately, the summit will not have any tangible impact on the regional conflict although resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict would be economically beneficial for the entire South Caucasus region. At the moment, the two countries have no diplomatic relations. And, of course, at this stage economic cooperation between the two countries is also impossible and due to the fact that countries do not recognize each other, do not recognize each other’s independence, the establishment of diplomatic or economic relations is almost unthinkable, too. However, there hasn’t been an official ban on private companies cooperating with companies of the other party. They can do it easily. However, companies of countries that are in a state of war or conflict are usually not particularly eager to cooperate. SOCAR issued an official position that Azerbaijan is ready to sell gas and invest in the economy of Armenia, in case of the solution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

First, it is necessary to take into account that after solving the conflict cooperation between the two countries is inevitable because Azerbaijan and Armenia are neighboring countries. For this reason, establishing bilateral political and economic relations after the resolution of the conflict would be necessary for both. Neither Azerbaijan nor Armenia can leave the area, and they will always remain neighbors. Resolution of the conflict requires creating relationships.

Azerbaijan’s economy constitutes 78% of the economy of the South Caucasus, and Azerbaijan is an investor country. And of course, Armenia would become a new market for both public and private investors. Considering that labor is cheap in Armenia and the economy needs investment capturing a certain market by our investors is expected in the future.

Such cooperation is beneficial for both parties. For example, Armenia needs depositors and investors for economic development while Azerbaijan needs to increase its potential corridors for transporting our natural gas to Europe. Theoretically, Azerbaijani gas could go to European market through Iran, Georgia, Armenia and Russia. However, access to European markets via Iran seems rather problematic because the relationship between Iran and Europe is strained. Azerbaijan and Armenia have no diplomatic relations, which makes this path impossible. The European Union is interested in bypassing Russia to decrease dependence on Russia in energy diplomacy. The only possible country here is Georgia. However, last year’s change of leadership in this country showed that being dependent on only one country of transit – where there is no alternative – creates some discomfort. In a sense, this gives Georgia the opportunity to pressure Azerbaijan on political and economic issues. From this point of view, the more dangerous the export of energy resources to one single market, the more dangerous it is to be dependent on a single transit country.
Thus, perhaps not only the sale of Azerbaijani natural gas in Armenia, but also the use of Armenian territory for transporting gas to Europe is possible. Despite the fact that at the moment it looks very skeptical, however, it is possible in the future. However, these possibilities can become real only by solving the conflict between the two countries.

5.      However, it will be difficult for Azerbaijan to stand at the same distance from Russia and European Union. What it will result with, if Azerbaijan keeps no clarity in its position?

Our  prediction is that Azerbaijan will keep its balancing policy by standing at the same distance from Russian and EU. The country does not have another alternative otherwise Azerbaijan will face more challenges in its foreign policy.