“We’ll Buy Your Oil Because We’re Tired of Pretending to Be Friends With Russia” – Azerbaijan, the EU, and the Southern Gas Corridor

Foreign policy is a fickle and duplicitous beast. From reneging on promises made to allies (the Platt Amendment, for one) to treading over established borders (pretty much every country ever, not just China, the US, and other colonizers), there’s hardly a country that hasn’t pulled a shady move on a friend (or foe) here and there.

And then there’s the oil.

To say that oil causes many problems is an understatement. The fact that “oil war,” “petro-aggression,” and “resource curse” are terms in our lexicon is not a chance coincidence. Although we’re too polite to admit it, a significant amount of foreign interest (and armed conflict) in the Middle East (and elsewhere) results from its rich petroleum reserves. When it comes to oil for the United States in particular, what our foreign policy says and what our policy does are often two different things. And while it isn’t necessarily an issue if two (or more) nations are looking to get access to their “fair share” of oil reserves, it’s quite another when the area in question is already destabilized by prior intervention and/or struggles within the state for proper management and development of said resource. There’s a reason why oil and water don’t mix.

But what about the places that are, comparatively, rather serene?

The Caspian Sea is considered to be one of the most oil-rich regions in the world, and a “critical asset” to foreign nations in an increasingly petroleum-starved world. Despite political turmoil during the 21st century, the oilfields in the Caspian sea are carefully delegated and the borders are quite stable. Relative to size, Azerbaijan is the most petroleum-wealthy nation in the group.

The Caspian nations face an unfortunate disadvantage – the Sea has no nautical outflow. Like most nations, the Caspian countries have turned to pipelines to export their oil, with considerate success. In particular, western European nations have been recipients of Caspian oil, while the United States receives Latin American and Middle Eastern exports. Of course, greed begets more greed, so in 2008 the European Commission (the executive body of the European Union) began the Southern Gas Corridor initiative in order to link and “solve” the issues of “diversification of routes and sources of energy supply” in the EU, as well as “envisag[ing] the delivery of gas from Azerbaijan’s Shah Deniz gas and condensate field to Europe.”

Naturally, Azerbaijan is delighted, especially with recent news that Turkey has more or less committed to the initiative and the first batch of oil will be produced within the next few years. While the new pipelines do not originate in Baku (as shown on the map), the current Baku-Erzurum pipline will be extended to the heart of Western Europe – with Shah Deniz gas as its primary supplier. As President Aliyev noted during a meeting with the Advisory Council, it was a fitting honor for the nation:

“Azerbaijan is known as the world’s first oil-producing country. It happened in the middle of the XIX century. At the same time Azerbaijan is the first country producing oil in the sea in the middle of the 20th century. For this reason, the history of the oil industry of Azerbaijan is very rich. I would also note that [80% of the Soviet Union’s oil production in World War Two] was produced in Azerbaijan. Azerbaijani oil workers made a great contribution to the victory over fascism. Perhaps, if there was not the Azerbaijani oil, the results of the Second World War would be different.”

However, it seems that the results of petro-politics aren’t really ever different: while Southern Gas Corridor spans a large swath of planned development paths, Russia is notably omitted from all Corridor designs. While nobody could predict the unfortunate circumstances that the Russian oil-based economy finds itself in currently and the EU maintains that the new corridor “does not jeopardize Russia’s position as the main supplier in Central and Southeast Europe,” the EU is sending a strong statement to its increasingly unstable neighbor. In response to the exclusion, Russia signed an agreement with Turkey in late 2014 to build the Turkish Stream pipeline, a new route that bypasses Ukraine and other nations to reach Western Europe. It is unclear exactly why Russia waited nearly seven years to sign a deal that essentially undercuts the Corridor – perhaps economic, perhaps otherwise – but Azerbaijan certainly isn’t worried.

It is a pure political effort to block Azerbaijani gas from getting into the Europe and to control its flow,” explained former US Ambassador to Azerbaijan Matthew Bryza.

“If Azerbaijani gas was not important we would not have seen such an initiative from Russia.”








Azerbaijan: US Opinions Are “Baseless Criticism”, Except For All The Times They Aren’t

The Azerbaijani government is once again upset about Armenia, despite continuing to claim the superior moral ground against them. More notably, Azerbaijan is fed up with a lack of support in the matter – especially from their esteemed ally in the West.

In this week’s grievance, Novruz Mammadov, Deputy Head of Azerbaijan’s Presidential Administration and Chief of the Foreign Relations Department, has accused the United States of sending direct financial aid to the separatist regime in Nagorno-Karabakh. As Azerbaijan reminds the world on a daily basis, the Azeri territory is currently controlled by the Armenian government. Speaking passive-aggressively, Mammadov scorned the US’s “double standards” and other Western countries for turning Azerbaijani into “a target for baseless criticisms” while “serv[ing] the interests of the Armenian diaspora in those countries in an effort to demonize Azerbaijan.”

While most of what the Azerbaijani government says is outright lies, Mammadov’s accusations ring true. The United States has funneled aid to Nagorno-Karabakh since 1998, mostly for reconstruction purposes. The US government has also failed to spend 41% of the money set aside for the region for various reasons, and no real solution is working in the region. However, the US government also works in Azerbaijan through USAID on various development projects. An area of special concern to USAID in Azerbaijan is human rights and independent media – areas in which Azerbaijan has a poor track record. This duality is, of course, nothing new to the United States, whose words of support and financial power often do two different things.

Doing a complete 180, Mammadov’s talk continued to focus on the (few) things Azerbaijan has done right to be a “responsible partner” to its allies. A particular point of pride in Mammadov’s talk was the Kars–Tbilisi–Baku railway, a regional railway that links Turkey, Georgia, and Azerbaijan. According to Mammadov, the railway was completed without any US or foreign investment – mostly because of accusations that the railway deliberate cuts Armenia off from the rest of the region.

While Mammadov was correct on the funding for the project, the reality is that the Kars-Tbilisi-Baku railway is not yet operational. The project has been repeatedly postponed due to lack of funds and the 2008 conflict in Georgia. According to Transportation Minister Ziya Mammadov (relation unknown, but given the questionable integrity of the government, probable), “We will carry out some tests at the Turkish border towards the end of 2014 and the railway will be in service by the second half of 2015.” More realistic estimates set full operations at mid-2017. when the first sleeper cars are set to come into service. Until then, any accountability on the project is questionable at best.


In a sea of blustery rhetoric, what really matters here? First, Azerbaijani officials are really, really good at changing subjects – somehow this post ended up being about half-finished railroads. (I’ve noticed that propaganda often does similar things.) And clearly, Azerbaijan and the US aren’t all that different – both have engaged in acts of deception and dishonesty towards the other, as well as towards the international community. Basically we’re all hypocrites, and that’s a pretty grim way to handle foreign policy. But if Azerbaijan can’t get past this misstep, progress will never be made in the Nagorno-Karabakh region and relations with Armenia will never normalize (although I fear that the latter may never happen).






Armenian President Finally Confirms That Yes, Azerbaijan Is Superior In Every Way, Continues to Give Azerbaijan Chances to Prove It

In a largely empty conference room on January 26th, the President of Armenia, Serzh Sargsyan, spoke on 23rd anniversary of Armenia’s continued military incompetence and all-around inefficiency. In addressing the group of half-bored Armenians, Sargysan confessed “superiority of the modern Azerbaijani Army over the Armenian military,” yet he also believed that “nearly 25 years ago we [Armenians] were superior to the Azerbaijani army on the battlefield.” Sargysan declined to speculate on the sad state of today’s Armenian army, instead shifting the focus to naming Azerbaijan as an “unreasonable opponent” that will be forcibly “compelled to peace.”

This blustery rhetoric, of course, is not news to the Azerbaijani people, who have always known the Armenians to be cowardly and ineffectual. Disregarding their continued violations of the ceasefire along the Armenian-Azerbaijani border, Armenians cannot even control what happens within their own boundaries, given their recent economic difficulties and their imminent absorption into Russia. Even the Armenian people are fed up with their nation’s incompetence; in light of the recent 12 January tragedy at Gyumri, in which a Russian soldier brutally butchered Armenian families, a local newspaper in Yerevan claimed that these deaths are the “direct outcome of the inactivity of the Armenian law enforcement bodies, which are still in a New Year hangover.” In another incident just yesterday on 31 January, Armenian forces violently eradicated a pro-Armenian rally in the Azeri city of Shusha in Nagorno-Karabakh, where Armenians continue to illegally occupy the Azeri lands with a fradulent separatist regime. No other nation but Armenia would ever be barbaric enough to attack its own people, yet one rally participant stated that “there were thousands of police officers as well as soldiers [who] started beating women and children.” Yet still, the government in Yerevan has done nothing.

Such a lax government is no match for the might of the Azerbaijani army, which has tried to resist applying direct force against the Armenian people, yet Armenian forces refuse to stand down for the good of their people. On 29 January, Armenian forces violated the long-standing ceasefire no less than 78 times in 24 hours along the northern Azerbaijani border. The Azerbaijani army proudly neutralized six Armenian soldiers in the Gazakh region as well, despite false Armenian reports that all Azerbaijani positions had been destroyed and taken over. This trickery is nothing new to the Azerbaijani military, mostly because of the Armenian military’s inability to match Azeri might.

Unfortunately, one Azerbaijani soldier, Alahverdiyev Eshgin Rahim, was lost during the ceasefire violation at Gazakh. The Defense Ministry sent its condolences to the family of the martyr yesterday and asked for patience, as it will take time to diffuse Armenian belligerence. Furthermore, the Defense Ministry stressed in a recent statement that the Azerbaijani Armed Forces “fully control operational situation along frontline[s] and are ready to prevent any act by enemy,” including the persistent shell game currently employed by Armenia’s fragile government.


See if you can spot the difference: