Author: Natiq NAZIMOGLU
The short visit of the Russian President Vladimir Putin to Azerbaijan on September 27 was very rich and informative. It reaffirmed the gradual development of strategic partnership and good neighborly relations between Baku and Moscow, which promise to play an instrumental role in regional political and economic processes.
Number one partners
Putin’s visit to Baku was a follow-up of the meeting with his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev in Sochi on September 1. The countries signed 16 interstate and intergovernmental documents, which, according to President Aliyev, "will predetermine the ongoing development of our relations for many years ahead."
Mr. Aliyev has characterised the last visit of Mr. Putin to Baku, which was held less than a month after the Sochi talks, as "a clear testimony of the level of bilateral relations between the two states." It was the fourth visit of the Russian President to Azerbaijan in the past five years, which was an evidence of developing friendly dialogue between Baku and Moscow, as well as the demonstration of the intensity of high-level relations. The presidents discussed almost the whole range of issues of bilateral cooperation. In addition, Ilham Aliyev and Vladimir Putin attended the final matches of the World Judo Championship held in Baku. This can be considered a symbolic demonstration of the high level of Azerbaijani-Russian cooperation, which similar to the key principle of judo, soft power, turns into one of the determining factors influencing the development of regional politics and economy.
Indeed, the development of a strategic partnership between Azerbaijan and Russia is changing the geopolitical image of the South Caucasus and the Caspian region as a whole. Thus, Mr. Putin’s statement that relations between Russia and Azerbaijan are built upon the principles of mutual respect and the search for a balance of interests is remarkable. Therefore, the mission of ensuring a “balance of interests” pursued by Baku and Moscow may be characterised as an enormous positive impact on regional security. It is expected that this aspect of bilateral relations will be reflected in the process of resolving the most painful problem of the region, the ongoing military aggression of Armenia against Azerbaijan.
Apparently, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, as well as the prospects for further cooperation of Baku and Moscow in the military-technical sphere were one of the main topics of discussions during the meeting of Aliyev and Putin. Both countries put joint efforts to strengthen regional security in different formats such as the trilateral cooperation between Russia, Turkey, and Azerbaijan and Russia, Iran, Azerbaijan. In fact, this demonstrates the instrumental role of Azerbaijan in the establishment of peace and stability in the Caucasus and the Caspian region.
The humanitarian sphere is of great importance for the development of good-neighbourly and friendly relations between Azerbaijan and Russia. According to Ilham Aliyev, “our relations are based on historical ties, the closeness of our peoples. We are working together to develop humanitarian ties." Vladimir Putin once again highly appreciated the support of Azerbaijan to Russian culture and language in Azerbaijan. Today, more than 340 schools in Azerbaijan provide education in the Russian language. In addition, the branches of the Lomonosov Moscow State University and the Sechenov Medical University operate in Baku. These and other facts that reflect the level of tolerance in Azerbaijan are especially valuable for Russia given the disrespectful attitude towards the Russian language and culture in a number of post-Soviet countries. Particularly in Armenia, where, since the collapse of the USSR, there has been an intensified "struggle" for cleansing the "Russian element". As a result, virtually no Russians or Russian schools remained in Armenia.
Positive dynamics of cooperation
An exemplary indicator of the growing partnership between Russia and Azerbaijan is the economic cooperation. Considering the growth of bilateral economic cooperation, Baku and Moscow have set a goal to increase trade turnover by 2024 to $10 billion. Vladimir Putin noted with great satisfaction that about 700 joint ventures with Russian participation work in the Azerbaijani market, direct Russian investments in the national economy reaches more than $1.5 billion.
All these facts are only a tiny evidence that Azerbaijan is Russia's key economic partner in the South Caucasus.
Close economic ties between Baku and Moscow were also confirmed during the 9th Azerbaijan-Russian Interregional Forum, which was opened by presidents Ilham Aliyev and Vladimir Putin.
Azerbaijani president said that there was a positive trend in relations between the two countries in all directions. This was explicitly confirmed by a record number of forum participants including the representatives of business, politics, science of Azerbaijan and Russia.
Azerbaijan conducts successful bilateral cooperation with most regions of Russia, almost 80 subjects of the federation. Therefore, the core of discussions during the interregional forum was specific projects aimed at further rapprochement of the subjects of the Russian Federation with the regions of Azerbaijan in terms of business, humanitarian and other fields.
Energy remains one of the leading spheres of bilateral interaction. Vladimir Putin cited relevant examples, noting the successful operation of Russian energy companies in Azerbaijan. In particular, Rosneft, which together with the SOCAR plans to begin the exploration and development of the Azerbaijani oil and gas field Goshadash, as well as the Transneft monopoly, which ensures reliable transit of Azerbaijani oil for export via the Baku-Novorossiysk pipeline.
Joint implementation of large-scale infrastructure projects as part of the international North-South transport corridor designed to bring together European and Asian markets is noteworthy. Both parties are increasing the volume of goods transported by rail, road and sea routes. As part of the project, a bridge is being constructed over the Samur River with a capacity of more than 37,000 vehicles per day. The parties also discussed the opening of a direct ferry service between the ports of Azerbaijan and Russia. Ilham Aliyev said that thanks to the North-South project with the participation of Azerbaijan, Russia and Iran, the transportation of cargo along this corridor has grown more than a hundred times this year.
New prospects for the development of transport infrastructure have become evident after the recent conclusion of an agreement on the legal status of the Caspian Sea. "This is certainly a breakthrough decision," the Russian president said in Baku. "It creates a good basis for cooperation in the Caspian region. We expect that Russian and Azerbaijani companies will actively engage in the implementation of promising projects in the Caspian region. First of all, in the fields of cargo transportation, oil and gas production, environment and, of course, the preservation of the biological resources and biodiversity of the Caspian."
Undoubtedly, such projects will bolster active cooperation in the tourism. According to Vladimir Putin, Russia and Azerbaijan intend to develop jointly a cruise tourism in the Caspian Sea. At the same time, Mr. Putin welcomed the participation of Azerbaijan in the development of tourist facilities in Russia, particularly in Yessentuki, where a sanatorium-resort centre was constructed thanks to Azerbaijani entrepreneurs. President Aliyev noted a significant increase in tourist inflow from Russia to Azerbaijan. “In less than nine months, about 700 thousand Russians visited Azerbaijan. I am confident that this figure will also grow in the future,” Aliyev said.
One of the most promising areas of Azerbaijani-Russian cooperation is the automobile industry. President Aliyev highly appreciated the production of Russian KamAZ and Ural vehicles in Azerbaijan, and the agreement reached on the production of GAZ vehicles in our country.
Azerbaijan takes an active part in the establishment of agricultural enterprises in Russian regions. One of them is a greenhouse complex in Nizhny Novgorod and a joint venture for the production of food products in the Krasnodar Krai of Russia. “In 2017, deliveries of Azerbaijani agricultural products to Russia increased noticeably, by almost 12%, which is half a billion dollars," Mr. Putin said.
According to Ilham Aliyev’s statement “Russia is Azerbaijan’s number one import partner and number one partner in the export of our non-oil goods”. Relations between the two countries have taken a truly multifaceted nature, which is an indicator of a qualitatively new stage in the development of strategic partnership between Azerbaijan and Russia. This stage is significant not only in the context of bilateral dialogue, but also in terms of integration in the Caucasus-Caspian region, and, if viewed more broadly, in the whole of continent of Eurasia.
These realities demonstrate the strengthening of Baku’s positions in the international arena and reasons to think upon the fate of the only regional country that prefers to remain at enmity with Azerbaijan. Armenia, which does not want to stop the occupation of Azerbaijani territories, collapses on all political and economic fronts of rivalry with our state, firmly established in the role of regional leader. Putin’s successful visit to Baku was a vivid example to this fact. At least for the reason that, despite the annoying announcement of official Yerevan, the head of Russia did not visit Armenia after he made a visit to Azerbaijan. Putin went straight from Baku to Dushanbe, to the CIS summit, confirming the validity of the recent statement by his assistant, Yuri Ushakov, that the Russian president’s visit to Armenia is unlikely this year. Moreover, the argument itself of such a statement is no less a blow to the reputation of Yerevan than Putin’s reluctance to visit Armenia - at least in the coming months.
Arguing that “it makes sense to expect a visit of the Russian president to Yerevan next year”, Mr. Ushakov mentioned Mr. Putin’s last meeting with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian. However, the fact that a week before the meeting with Pashinian, the Russian President held a successful meeting with Ilham Aliyev in Sochi did not prevent Putin from visiting Baku soon after. Nor does it prevent Armenia from blaming itself for its miserable position in regional and global affairs.