TODAY.AZ / Analytics

Independent, confident, persistent: new foreign policy of Azerbaijan in 2009

24 December 2009 [15:09] - TODAY.AZ
Small countries like Azerbaijan with small territory, population and economy find it hard to resist great powers in international arena. They have to maneuver between them, to draw attention in their country and often play role of supplicant seeking understanding and support.

It is even harder for countries that have recently acquired or restored independence. Let’s remember how Azerbaijan entered international politics. In early days, Azerbaijan was expected not only to make its position clear for foreign politicians and diplomats, but also to report basic information about its history, geography and potential. Being a victim of aggression and part of its lands being occupied, Azerbaijan faced abroad with misunderstanding and misconceptions about itself and nature of the Karabakh conflict specifically formed by the Armenians, their lobbyists and backers.

However, the situation improved step by step especially after the country was headed by such experienced and respected leader as Heydar Aliyev. The development of country’s diplomacy, and consistent and multi-faceted policy boosted Azerbaijan's independence and country’s foreign policy positions on the international arena.

Signing and implementation of large-scale energy projects, rapid economic growth, accumulation of significant monetary resources enabled Azerbaijan to establish itself as the largest and most attractive country in the South Caucasus. Volume of foreign trade turnover, which is several times higher than the corresponding figures of Armenia and Georgia together, testifies to this fact. Azerbaijan outperforms its neighbors in the region also in terms of major foreign policy events, contacts at the level of ministers and other senior officials. The situation is similar in its relations with major transnational corporations and investors.

One can say that the task of attracting attention and interest of leading world and regional powers to Azerbaijan has been solved successfully. In the meantime, Azerbaijan became full member of majority of international and regional organizations. Azerbaijan was able to balance competing interests of large and regional powers without causing their direct displeasure or hostility and gradually to enhance independence. Rapid economic development, domestic political stability and growing strategic interest in our country have given the necessary resources. As a result, expression of independence and solid defense of interests intensify in Azerbaijan’s foreign policy in the outgoing 2009. Let’s recall some facts.

When a large consignment of Russian weapons previously exported from Georgia to the Gumri base in Armenia was reported to be donated to Armenia, Azerbaijan demanded an explanation from Russian authorities. Moscow had not only to provide explanation, but also confirm earlier assurances that these weapons will remain under Russia's control with no delivery to Armenia. Further, despite Moscow’s clear discontent, participation of Azerbaijani officers in NATO exercises in Georgia was authorized while Armenia could not resist this pressure. Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, hated by the Kremlin leaders, was officially invited to Baku, which demonstrated strengthening Azerbaijan-Georgia partnership.

Contrary to position of Western powers, Turkey and many Islamic countries, Azerbaijan called for strict adherence to principles of international and territorial integrity of states and refused to recognize Kosovo’s independence. Moreover, Azerbaijan recalled peacekeeping unit from Kosovo announcing that it can no longer deploy them there under new conditions. Azerbaijan openly backed Serbia at the hearing in the International Court of Justice where Belgrade raised the issue of illegal recognition of Kosovo's independence.

Baku did not left unanswered the way Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan was welcomed in Iran either. Despite Tehran’s obvious dissatisfaction and even menacing hints by Chief of General Staff of the Armed Forces Islamic Republic of Iran, Azerbaijan hosted Israeli President Shimon Peres and confirmed its intention to further develop partnership with this powerful and technologically advanced country.

By developing relations with the European Union, Azerbaijan joined "Eastern Partnership" program. But this did not prevent Baku from resisting Brussels’ attempts to start some programs in Nagorno-Karabakh. EU Special Representative for South Caucasus Peter Semneby, who was heading from Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh without permission of Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry, was forced to go back on halfway.

Tough response to signing of the Armenian-Turkish protocols involving normalization of bilateral relations and opening of borders was the most impressive demonstration of Azerbaijan’s growing independence and confidence. Baku warned Ankara outright that ratification and implementation of these agreements without tackling the Karabakh conflict will weaken Azerbaijan’s position and if Azerbaijan’s objection is not taken into account, it will have negative impact on the Azerbaijani-Turkish strategic partnership. Neither explanation of the Turkish leadership nor intervention by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton softened position of the Azerbaijani leadership. Erdogan-Gul government was forced to slow down ratification of these protocols publicly declaring that without progress in resolving the Karabakh conflict, normalization of Armenian-Turkish relations and opening of borders will not happen.

Azerbaijan acted independently also in relation to the Nabucco strategic gas pipeline. Azerbaijan said it is interested in this project and stands ready to fill it up with gas from Shah Deniz II. However, without regard as to how this can be seen in the United States and the European Union, it took steps to diversify gas exports in the northwards (Russia) and southwards (Iran). At the same time Baku took a hard bargaining with Ankara on price of gas and tariffs for the gas exports to European markets through Turkey.

Another example is the recent reaction to the move by the U.S. Congress which not only increased requested amount of aid to Armenia from 30 to 41 million dollars, but also allocated $8 million for Nagorno Karabakh. It happens not for the first year. But this time Baku was not limited to verbal expression of dissatisfaction. Azerbaijan’s Milli Majlis adopted a special resolution in this regard with the Foreign Ministry sending an official note to the U.S. government to provide an explanation.

Azerbaijan is holding adhesive negotiations within the Minsk Group and despite persuasions of mediators, it will not give consent to the wording of the Madrid principles which pose a danger to its sovereignty and territorial integrity. Even being aware that the world nervously responds to any words or actions that pose a military threat, the Azerbaijani leadership explicitly states that use of force to restore its territorial integrity and liberate Armenia-occupied lands is not only excluded, but can be put into practice in case the negotiations are deliberately prolonged.

Such statement by Azerbaijan was a surprise to great and regional powers. They all will further have to reckon with Azerbaijan’s confidence and sometimes rigid intransigence. We are not poor relatives or eternal asylum seekers in the international arena. Unlike many countries of the CIS, we have something to offer and give our partners in the world. Azerbaijan has growing and solvent market. It is impossible to implement major energy and transportation and communication projects in the region without Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan’s strategic position is extremely important in the context of regional security and geopolitics.

This allowed to focus foreign policy on a consistent upholding interests of Azerbaijan and to think less about how to look pleasant and obedient in the eyes of the powerful. For those who fear foreign complications, I would say that the noticeable changes in Azerbaijan actions are not an obstacle to develop partnerships with large and small countries. On the contrary, it allows you to put them on a solid foundation of mutual interests.

Rasim Musabayov, political expert

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