Azerbaijan and the EU: restraint towards the gas supplier

Azerbaijan and the EU: restraint towards the gas supplier

2023-09-30 21:40:21

A humanitarian tragedy is currently taking place in the Nagorno-Karabakh region of the Caucasus. Azerbaijan has forcibly annexed the unoccupied remnants of the territory to which it lays claim. International observers are already speaking of signs of genocide against the Armenians living in the region.

Alexander Wulfers

Editor in the economy of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung.

Reactions from foreign heads of state, including from the EU and Germany, were cautious: a few condemnations of the violence, a call for a peaceful solution, that was it – just like you do when you don’t want to endanger economic interests.

In any case, the large neighboring countries Russia and Turkey are not expected to support the Armenians in the conflict, even though Russia has often presented itself as Armenia’s protecting power. The government in Baku has reliable partners everywhere in the control centers of power, in the West and in the East. There are primarily economic reasons why this happened.

For Europe, Azerbaijan has long played an important role in diversifying natural gas supplies. While the gas has only flowed to Europe since 2020, the plans for it go back to 2006. That was when doubts first arose about the reliability of gas supplies from Russia. Gazprom temporarily stopped deliveries to Ukraine. Nord Stream did not yet exist; Ukraine was an important transit country for the EU.

Europe’s dependence became obvious for the first time – and Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev quickly offered his country as an alternative. “Until last year, we considered Turkey and Georgia to be the only markets for Azerbaijani gas,” Aliyev said at the time. “The situation has now changed.”

“Strategic partner”

The EU didn’t need to be asked twice and in the following years campaigned intensively for the construction of a pipeline. In 2011, then EU Commission President Barroso and Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger went to Baku to sign an agreement with Aliyev in which the president guaranteed gas supplies. The government in Baku suddenly found itself in the comfortable position of being able to choose the most lucrative deal from a variety of deals – and gambled accordingly.

Initially, the Europeans’ greatest hopes were pinned on the Nabucco pipeline, in which the German RWE, among others, was involved. This project failed in 2013 when another connection was awarded the contract for Azerbaijani gas supplies: the trans-Anatolian TANAP pipeline from the Turkish-Georgian to the Greek border and the trans-Adriatic pipeline (TAP), which runs through Greece and the Adriatic to Italy.

Gas from Azerbaijan gained new importance in 2014. Not only was the security of gas transit through Ukraine once again under discussion with the occupation of Crimea. At that time, Russia also decided to scrap the planned South Stream pipeline, which was supposed to bring gas directly through the Black Sea to Europe, bypassing Turkey and Ukraine. This made Azerbaijan the only option for Caspian gas. There was also criticism of the human rights situation in the authoritarian country back then. However, the EU Commission stuck to the plans and called Azerbaijan a “strategic partner”.

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