Author: Natig NAZIMOGHLU
The official visit of the President of Ukraine Vladimir Zelensky to Azerbaijan was a landmark event in bilateral relations. The outcome of negotiations held in Baku confirmed the friendship and strategic partnership between Azerbaijan and Ukraine.
Remarkably, Azerbaijan became the first state in the post-Soviet space visited by the new Ukrainian leader after coming to power.
Vladimir Zelensky himself accurately precisely the essence of discussions and agreements reached during the visit: "Our relations have passed the test of time. We have always supported each other in difficult times. Azerbaijan has always been a reliable friend and an important strategic partner for Ukraine, and today it is."
Indeed, the talks between the heads of state, the Azerbaijani-Ukrainian business forum and other events held as part of Zelensky's visit to Baku, confirmed the strength of friendly and partnership relations between Azerbaijan and Ukraine.
During the visit, the parties signed four documents, including the agreement on cooperation in regulating business conditions between the State Regulatory Service of Ukraine and the Ministry of Economy of Azerbaijan, agreement between the Administration of the State Service for Special Communications and Information Protection of Ukraine and the Special State Guard Service of the Republic of Azerbaijan on establishing an interstate communications line between Kiev and Baku, a protocol of intent between the cities of Odessa (Ukraine) and Ganja (Azerbaijan) and the agreement between the cities of Truskavets (Ukraine) and Guba (Azerbaijan) on trade, economic, scientific, technical and cultural cooperation.
Azerbaijani-Ukrainian summit and business forum have demonstrated great opportunities for expanding economic cooperation. Given the official indicators of trade and economic relations, both countries have indeed untapped potential for cooperation. Last year, trade turnover between Azerbaijan and Ukraine reached a little more than $800 million. According to forecasts, in 2020 it will exceed the record mark of $1 billion. At the same time, the priorities for further development of economic relations between the countries outlined by the presidents of Azerbaijan and Ukraine indicate a significant turnover growth.
Also, there is a potential to increase mutual investments. Recently, Azerbaijani state oil company SOCAR has made serious investments in Ukraine, while the Azerbaijani mobile operator Bakcell has acquired shares of Vodafone Ukraine. It is expected that large Azerbaijani companies continue investments in the Ukrainian economy. That is why President Zelensky addressed Azerbaijani entrepreneurs asking them to actively participate in the privatisation process in Ukraine.
Energy sector has a special place in the Azerbaijani-Ukrainian cooperation in the context of both the current level and prospects of development. SOCAR supplies to Ukraine more than 90% of the total volume of crude oil imported by the country. Meanwhile, Kiev offers the territory of Ukraine as a transit corridor for delivering Azerbaijani oil to European markets. In addition, Ukraine proposes to use its refineries to process Azerbaijani oil and supply gasoline to EU countries. This will be beneficial to both countries, since Ukraine will supply gasoline produced from Azerbaijani oil to Europe without paying EU import duties according to the terms of association agreement between Brussels and Kiev.
One of the important outcomes of the visit was Ukraine's support for the Southern Gas Corridor (SGC) confirmed by Vladimir Zelensky. The project largely backed by Azerbaijan ensures the delivery of Caspian gas to the EU and aims to strengthen the energy security of European countries. At the end of November, the second phase of the Trans-Anatolian Pipeline (TANAP) was opened as part of the SGC project. After the commissioning of the Trans-Adriatic Gas Pipeline (TAP) and the Interconnector Greece-Bulgaria Pipeline (IGB), which will provide the possibility of transporting Azerbaijani gas to the countries of Southeast Europe, as well as with the expected joining of Romania to the SGC project, Ukraine expects to receive Azerbaijani energy through Bulgaria and Romania. That's why Kiev is practically interested in the project. Zelensky announced in Baku that he had agreed to study the possibilities for expanding the SGC project to Ukraine.
Another promising area of cooperation between Azerbaijan and Ukraine is transport. Vladimir Zelensky noted the "incredible transport potential" of both countries and announced a mutual decision "to strengthen our contacts, cooperation in the field of land and air transport." Remarkably, the volume of cargo traffic between Azerbaijan and Ukraine has increased in recent years. This is largely due to the role of Azerbaijan as a transit country between Ukraine and China, Central Asia, and Iran. It is no surprise that the Ukrainian media, covering the cooperation between Baku and Kiev in transport, urge the Ukrainian authorities "not to miss a chance", referring to the transformation of Azerbaijan into a "key hub connecting China and Europe."
At the Azerbaijani-Ukrainian forum, the President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev said: "Azerbaijan is a country with no access to open seas. However, we have turned Azerbaijan into one of the international transport and logistics hubs with very large investment projects. East-West and North-South transport corridors passing through the territory of Azerbaijan increase the role of our country in this context. These projects boosted other projects, including North-West and South-West transport corridor projects, which pass through the territory of Azerbaijan. These projects are not purely economic and transport projects; in the broad sense, they contribute to international cooperation. Because the countries along these corridors rise to the status of natural allies."
It is also worth mentioning the cooperation between Azerbaijan and Ukraine within the framework of GUAM (Georgia and Moldova are also part of this organisation). During the summit of heads of GUAM governments held in Kiev in December, the participants discussed prospects for cooperation within major projects of global importance, such as the New Silk Road. Azerbaijan will chair the organisation in 2020, and considers the project instrumental in terms of economic integration of the GUAM member countries, expansion of trade and transport communications in the Black Sea-Caspian region, in the European part of the post-Soviet space, diversification of energy routes, transformation of infrastructure into one of the most important links connecting the West and East, Europe and Asia.
In defence of territorial integrity
Certainly, the confirmation of mutual support to territorial integrities of Azerbaijan and Ukraine should be considered the key political result of the visit of Ukrainian president to Azerbaijan. As Vladimir Zelensky said after meeting with Ilham Aliyev, "we discussed the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and the conflict in eastern Ukraine. We support each other in the matter of restoring the territorial integrity and sovereignty of our countries. This is about restoration of sovereignty within internationally recognised borders. We stand from a single position both at the regional and global levels."
Indeed, Azerbaijan fundamentally supports the territorial integrity of Ukraine within its internationally recognised borders. Baku voted for the resolution of the UN General Assembly On Territorial Integrity of Ukraine dated March 27, 2014, as well as the inclusion of the item "The Situation in the Temporarily Occupied Territories of Ukraine" on the agenda of the 74th session of the UN General Assembly in September 2019.
Ukraine also supports Azerbaijan in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. President Zelensky confirmed the position of Kiev during his visit to Azerbaijan.
It is not surprising that V. Zelensky's support for the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan caused serious discontent in Armenia. Local media hysterically criticised the democratic leader of Ukraine, who supports the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and opposes the Armenians. Spokeswoman of the Armenian Foreign Ministry, Anna Naghdalyan, has even tried to "enlighten" Mr. Zelensky by stating that "all OSCE countries have stated that the Karabakh conflict must be resolved on the basis of three principles, including the right of nations to self-determination." As if the right to self-determination in relation to the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict essentially implies the occupation of Azerbaijan's territories by Armenia and the expulsion of a million Azerbaijanis from their native lands!
The visit of Vladimir Zelensky to Baku demonstrated that the Azerbaijani-Ukrainian cooperation meets the national interests of both states and is not directed against third countries. Including Russia, although certain media and political expert circles in a number of countries are trying to present the partnership dialogue between Baku and Kiev in anti-Russian perspective. Azerbaijan pursues a friendly policy both to Ukraine and to Russia, historically considering these Slavic countries as partners. Therefore, Baku is interested in the speedy establishment of peace in eastern Ukraine, restoration of friendly and fraternal relations between Moscow and Kiev. The visit of V. Zelensky to Baku has once again confirmed the balanced foreign policy of Azerbaijan aimed at building equal relations with all partner countries.
Both parties have significant potential for strengthening cooperation in the interests and for the benefit of our nations. According to the general opinion of politicians and experts of Azerbaijan and Ukraine, the visit of Vladimir Zelensky has become a significant event on a regional scale. Certainly, the strengthening of cooperation between Baku and Kiev will have a positive impact on the future of the countries and peoples of the Black Sea-Caspian region and Southeast Europe.