How does Azerbaijan's pragmatist approach shape Baku-Kyiv relations?
    Exploring new ways of win-win diplomacy / VIDEO

    ANALYTICS  02 June 2023 - 14:26

    Fuad Shahbazov

    On June 1, 2023, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev arrived in Moldova to attend the European Political Community Summit in Chisinau and meet Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan to discuss steps to normalize relations between their countries. The President of the European Council, Charles Michel, facilitated the recent meeting of leaders and attended by the German Chancellor, Olaf Scholz, and the French President, Emmanuel Macron.

    Although the Chisinau meeting did not cause a breakthrough in the Armenia-Azerbaijan peace process, further progress in the negotiations raised optimism regarding the peace between Baku-Yerevan. In this vein, Aliyev and Pashinyan will meet again on July 21 in Brussels for the next round of EU-mediated peace talks.

    Besides the negotiations with PM Pashinyan, President Aliyev met Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyyy at the sidelines of the event, discussing regional security issues. President Zelenskyy expressed his gratitude to the Azerbaijani leader for his continuous support of the territorial integrity of Ukraine and for critically important humanitarian aid provided by Azerbaijan during the active phase of the Russo-Ukraine war.

    Since the war in Ukraine unfolded in February 2022, the Azerbaijani government has provided around $20 million in humanitarian aid to Ukraine since the beginning of the full-scale war. Nevertheless, Azerbaijan did not join the Western-imposed anti-Russian sanctions maintaining its economic partnership with Moscow due to its leading role in the Azerbaijan-Armenia peace process.

    However, simultaneously Azerbaijan became the only post-Soviet with enough space for diplomatic manoeuvring openly supporting Ukraine's territorial integrity, given its political and economic independence from Russia and strong alliance with Türkiye, combined with the authority Azerbaijan has in multilateral diplomacy. Moreover, weeks before the Russian invasion of Ukraine loomed imminently, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev went on an official trip to Kyiv.

    The meeting resulted in six bilateral cooperation documents across agriculture, energy, and trade. Furthermore, the Joint Declaration signed by President Aliyev and President Volodymyr Zelenskyy reflected support for each other’s independence, territorial integrity, and sovereignty. This declaration, which emphasized Baku’s importance for Ukraine in the aforementioned matters, was crucial for Kyiv as it was about to face the threat of invasion. It also served as further proof of Azerbaijan’s commitment to the principle of territorial integrity.

    Azerbaijan is pursuing a policy of non-alignment in international relations, and since 2011, it has been a member and is currently the chair of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), an international movement uniting 120 members and 17 observer countries. By maintaining these principles, Azerbaijan seeks to avoid allying with one geopolitical pole at the expense of the country’s relations with other actors.

    The partnership with Ukraine matches the interests of Azerbaijan and the West, as the European Union is Baku's top trade partner, particularly in the energy field. Indeed, the Ukraine crisis opened new horizons for Azerbaijan's energy diplomacy, paving the way for enhanced partnerships with the EU and other individual European states. As such, Baku established bilateral cooperation formats with Serbia, Bulgaria, Bosnia, and Albania to boost natural gas flow to these countries and potentially assist with green energy.

    In this context, the EU welcomes Azerbaijan's strengthening engagement with European nations in light of the ongoing Ukraine war. Although Azerbaijan’s trade turnover with Ukraine decreased dramatically due to the war, Baku still keeps its presence in Ukraine via its state oil company's (SOCAR) regional office and by appointing a new ambassador.

    Interestingly, since the first days of the war in Ukraine, President Zelenskyy held a phone conversation with his Azerbaijani counterpart President Aliyev, resulting in Azerbaijan's decision to provide fuel for Ukrainian ambulance vehicles for free. Azerbaijan's decision did not provoke a reaction from Moscow, though some pro-governmental media expressed their concern over Baku's close engagement with Kyiv.

    Overall, Baku has managed to maintain, if not strengthen, its multi-vectorial foreign policy since the beginning of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. While other regional states like Georgia and Armenia were careful not to provoke Russia but at the same time not to alienate its Western partners. Although Georgia’s ruling government’s stance on Ukraine stirred harsh criticism at home and abroad, Armenia keeps a low profile on the issue by avoiding public discussion of the war in Ukraine. Azerbaijani society and media have been more vocal in their support of Ukraine, resulting in Russia's ban on some leading Azerbaijani news websites.


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