Azerbaijan's pivot toward Central Asia
    Interregional interaction

    ANALYTICS  11 May 2024 - 09:17

    Fuad Shahbazov

    On February 14, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev underscored in his inaugural speech the strategic importance of Azerbaijan's belonging to the Turkic family. He outlined the country's new foreign policy paradigm, a shift towards multivector diplomacy, and emphasized the strategic significance of strengthening ties with Central Asian nations. This pivot, initiated in 2021, is a response to Azerbaijan's strained relations with some EU member states following the post-Karabakh war in 2020.

    Due to the common historical, linguistic, and cultural factors, Azerbaijan's pivot to Central Asia did not have a shock effect, though it enabled it to boost its geopolitical profile by providing a viable route to the West to Central Asia. Azerbaijan's foreign policy priorities highlighted Baku’s plans to continue strengthening ties with Türkiye and the four Central Asian states of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan. In the following months, Aliyev hosted Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev on March 11 and 12 and Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov on April 24 and 25. Regional experts pointed out that these talks laid the foundation for a new era in Azerbaijan’s ties with Central Asia.

    Moreover, in the context of the tripartite level, Azerbaijan played an important role in the creation of two important platforms, namely the Turkey-Azerbaijan-Kazakhstan and Turkey-Azerbaijan-Uzbekistan tripartite platforms. These platforms facilitated Azerbaijan's engagement with two important actors in Central Asia. The five Central Asian countries see Azerbaijan as a way to the outside world without going through Russia or China. For them, this relationship is strategic, and they are ready to welcome Azerbaijan into their midst with pleasure.

    For instance, according to Kazakh data from April 2023, Baku has invested about $306 million in Kazakhstan over 17 years, and Astana, in turn, has invested $95 million in the Azerbaijani economy. This mutual investment underscores the potential for economic cooperation. Turkmenistan is also seeking collaboration with Azerbaijan on gas exports, demonstrating the potential for mutually beneficial energy projects. Similarly, Uzbekistan is eager to jointly develop the Middle Corridor, a crucial route for accessing the European market for all Central Asian economies.

    Even the geographical distance between Azerbaijan and Tajikistan, another regional state, did not become a serious obstacle to establishing a legal foundation for their bilateral cooperation through approximately 62 agreements covering various areas of collaboration. On April 5, 2023, an additional 14 agreements spanning various sectors were introduced. A development fund is not a particularly new concept. Azerbaijan already has arrangements similar to those of several Turkic states, including Turkey, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan.

    Moreover, the joint fund between Astana and Baku has the potential to foster insightful cooperation, particularly in developing infrastructure in the Caspian Sea. This fund can also be leveraged to finance projects in other Central Asian and European countries, including Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, and Turkey, thereby facilitating international trade. These countries all stand to benefit economically from the Middle Corridor, a route designed to enhance Chinese-EU trade via the Caspian Basin, further highlighting Azerbaijan's growing influence in global affairs.

    Indeed, the enhanced partnership between the CA region and Azerbaijan was made possible through the Organization of Turkic States (OTS). Consequently, member countries of OTS focused on improving economic cooperation, transport connectivity, and food security. Baku's engagement with Central Asian countries increases its geopolitical importance, not only for the regional powers but also for the EU and China. The close engagement with the CA region will pave the way for Azerbaijan to play a crucial role in navigating the regional politics linking to the West amid the ongoing Russo-Ukraine war.


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