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Home arrow Geography arrow The Caspian Sea Chessboard. Geo-Political, Geo-Strategic, and Geo-Economic Analysis

Impact of the Caspian Sea as the factor in the formation of Azerbaijan’s foreign policy

Nature and direction of Azerbaijan’s foreign policy is directly linked to it geopolitical location. Given that Azerbaijan does not have access to the open seas and is located between two important international actors, Russia and Iran, the country’s foreign policy is formed on a balanced approach. The main task of Azerbaijan’s foreign policy is to resolve the Armenia-Azerbaijan Nagorno- Karabakh conflict and the restoration of the territorial integrity of the country. In this aspect of the task Azerbaijan is trying to achieve not only the liberation of the Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding areas occupied by Armenia’s troops, but also recognition of its sovereignty over the national sector of the Caspian Sea. Without any doubt the resolution of the legal status of the Caspian Sea plays a multi-vector importance for Azerbaijan. First of all it is related to security of the country. The unresolved status of the Caspian Sea have been a reason of contention with Turkmenistan and Iran at different times. If in the case of Turkmenistan, it has caused the temporary freezing of relations between the two countries, then Iran is almost led to a military confrontation.

In addition, the resolution of the status of the sea has also economic importance. In the case of determining the sector division of the sea, it will be able to develop resources in the disputed fields. At the same time, not only Azerbaijan, but also all other coastal states would benefit from this. This is primarily due to the possibility of co-operation on exploitation of the certain disputed fields. In addition, Iran has not previously engaged in a thorough oil and gas production in the Caspian Sea, and therefore does not have necessary infrastructure and experience. In this case, the country could benefit from the opportunities which Azerbaijan may provide.

Another vector of Azerbaijan foreign policy, in which the importance of the Caspian Sea occupies, is intensifying transport capacity. Azerbaijan is located at the crossroads of important trade routes in the areas between North and South and East and West. Creation of transport and energy corridors provided an opportunity for Azerbaijan to become a significant hub in the Eurasian region.[1] In this case, Azerbaijan is interested in the full advantage of its geographical position for a more active participation in the transport of goods between regions such as the Far East and the European Union. Azerbaijan has a fairly well-developed infrastructure, which could contribute to the development of the transport corridor. There are a number of pipelines, through which it would be possible to transport oil and gas from Central Asia to European markets. One of such transport route is the Baku-Supsa pipeline which is also known as the Western Corridor with a volume of 5.5-6 million tons of oil per year.[2] The pipeline has an outlet to the Black Sea port of Georgia, Supsa, where oil tankers may be exported to world markets. Another pipeline is the Baku-Novorossiysk pipeline, also known as the Northern Corridor. The pipeline is designed for oil export port in the Black Sea in Russia. The Ba- ku-Novorossiysk pipeline had partly survived from the Soviet period: an important part of this corridor, the Tikhoretsk-Baku pipeline, was built in 1983. At that time it was constructed with the purpose of transporting oil from Western Siberia to the Baku refineries. After a small investment it used in the reverse direction as Baku-Tikhoretsk-Novorossiysk.[3] By the way, this line today can also be used to transport Russian oil and its further transfer to European markets via the BTC pipeline or processing in the Baku refineries. Given the agreement on cooperation between the oil companies Azerbaijani SOCAR and Russian Rosneft, signed in August 2013,[4] probability of such use of the pipeline exists.

The presence of these two pipelines allows diversification of the export of oil towards the Black Sea. As for the BTC, this pipeline has a length of more than 1,730 km with an export capacity of up to 50 million tons of oil a year. Moreover, it should be mentioned, unlike the other two pipelines, a proportion of Kazakhstani oil, in 2008, and Turkmenistan oil, since 2010, has already been pumped through this pipeline. Another field in which Azerbaijan may attract potential partners is cooperation in the transportation of natural gas. In parallel with the BTC pipeline, a natural gas transport corridor to the Turkish market was also built. The Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum or South Caucasus pipeline was constructed on 21 March 2006 and natural gas from Azerbaijani offshore Shah Deniz field started to be transported to the Georgian and Turkish markets via the pipeline since then.[5] That is why a new pipeline project was proposed by the Azerbaijani government. Besides of existing natural gas pipeline, Azerbaijan together with Turkey decided to construct the TransAnatolian Pipeline (TANAP) from the Turkish-Georgian border through the whole territory of Turkey up to its western border.[6] It is expected that Azerbaijani gas will be exported via TANAP to Turkey and Central and Eastern European states. TANAP will be a logical continuation of the Baku-Tbilisi- Erzurum pipeline and additional Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) will be constructed from Turkey’s western borders.

In addition to pipelines, a railway routes play a significant role for the development of transit through the territory of Azerbaijan. The existing South Caucasian Azerbaijan-Georgia railway transshipment corridor makes it possible to transport dry cargo and oil and oil products in both directions. These railways as well as ports on the Black and Caspian seas are modernized.

Another significant project is the construction of the Baku-Tbilisi- Ahalkalaki-Kars railroad, which started on 21 November 2007. This project is designed to connect the European railway network across the South Caucasus and Central Asia with the Far East. After completion of construction on 29 October 2013 of Marmaray tunnel under the Bosporus strait in Istanbul the new corridor will unite European and the Far Eastern states with the alternative railroad route. The main initiator of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ahalkalaki-Kars railroad is Azerbaijan, which is interested in creating the necessary infrastructure in the region.[7] The total volume of cargo, which is expected to be transported through the route annually will be about 20 million tons. Currently, Kazakhstan and China have already expressed their desire to transport their goods via this railway.

The Caspian Sea has played an important role in the formation of relations with the European Union. It occupies a central place in a number of projects implemented by this structure. One such project is the Transportation Corridor Europe-Caucasus-Asia (TRACECA) program. TRACECA is a transport initiative with the purpose of developing transport networks and ensuring efficient and reliable Euro-Asian transport links.[8] TRACECA route connects from the South Caucasus region heads up the Caspian Sea with ferryboats (Baku-Turkmenbashi, Baku-Aktau), reaches the railway networks of the Central Asian states Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan, the transportation networks of which are connected with Uzbekistan, Kirgizstan and Tajikistan, and reaches the boundaries of China and Afghanistan.

Another program which initiated by the EU for regional cooperation is Interstate Oil and Gas Transportation to Europe (INOGATE). The INOGATE is an international energy co-operation program between the EU and partner countries from the Black Sea, the South Caucasus and Central Asian regions. Among the main objectives of the INOGATE program are to enhance EU countries energy security by addressing the issues of energy ex- ports/imports, supply diversification, energy transit.[9] To achieve this goal it needs more active participation of countries in the Caspian region.

As a consequence, in according to these EU initiatives in the region, Azerbaijan is trying to actively use these projects in accordance with its national interests. At the end of 90-ies, Azerbaijan saw TRACECA Project as a chance to develop its relations with the EU. As a result, in September of 1997, Azerbaijan together with Georgia filed a proposal to a conference within the framework of the TRACECA with the purpose to form multilateral transportation network. The EU welcomed this offer and a conference on “Revitalization of the Silk Road” was held in Baku on 8 September 1998. At the end of the conference, “Transport Corridor Europe-Caucasus-Asia for the Development of International Multilateral Treaty” within the framework of the TRACECA was signed.[10] According to this agreement the parties were identified as the main objectives as developing of economic relations, trade and transportation, formation of the routes to the world markets, railroad transportation and commercial sea routes in the Europe, the Black Sea region, the Caucasus, the Caspian Sea region and Asia.[11] Thanks to the signing of this agreement, Azerbaijan acquired the possibility to transport part of goods destined to the EU through its territory. The volume of cargo carried in 2012 through the territory of Azerbaijan in the framework of TRACECA corridor, consisted 56.9 million tons. 37.5% of freight was transported by railway, 44.3% - automobile, 18.2% - sea transport.[12] Only in the first half of 2013 cargo transportation via Azerbaijani territory increased by 3.1% - in comparison with the same period of previous year, reaching up to 29 million tons the same period last year 25.8% or 7.5 million tons of cargo was transported along the corridor consist of transit freights.[13] One third of transit goods, consists of oil and oil products from Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. In addition, the TRACECA route is used to deliver freight from the EU states to the Central Asian states and Afghanistan via Baku.[14]

As can be seen from above the Caspian Sea plays a key role not only for the formation of relationships with the riparian countries in different directions, but also serves to strengthen cooperation with other important actors in the Eurasian region. Due to the opportunities of using of the Caspian Sea resources, the foreign economic relations have formed, which are reinforcing Azerbaijan importance in the geo-economic term. This relations are developing in the context of both bilateral and multilateral initiatives. Through the development of economic cooperation and creation of the logistics and transport infrastructure, Azerbaijan succeeded in diversifying export of its energy resources to the world markets. Which in turn has enabled Azerbaijan a more independent foreign policy consistent with its national interests.

  • [1] E. Mammadyarov, “The Foreign Policy of Azerbaijan: Affecting Factors and Strategic Priorities”, in A. Peterson, F. Ismailzade (eds.), Azerbaijan in Global Politics Crafting Foreign Policy, Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy, 2009, pp. 12-13.
  • [2] R. Ibrahimov, “Azerbaijan Energy Strategy and the Importance of the Diversification of Exported TransportRoutes”, Journal of Qafqaz University, no. 29, 2010, p. 24.
  • [3] Ильхам Алиев, Каспийская Нефть Азербайджана, Москва, Известия, 2003, pp. 425-427.
  • [4] “SOCAR и «? оснефть» Ведут Переговоры по ? еверсу Нефти по Баку-Новороссийск”, 19 August 2013,available at:, (last retrieved on 10 February 2014).
  • [5] R. Ibrahimov, Azerbaijan Energy History and Policy..., cit., pp. 26-28.
  • [6] ? овшан Ибрагимов, Трансанатолийский Трубопровод: Начало Новой Эры в ЭнергетическойПолитике Азербайджана, 1 January 2012, available at: (last retrieved on 5 February 2014).
  • [7] Азербайджан Выделяет Грузии Новый Льготный Кредит на $575 млн, 1 July 2011, available at: (last retrieved on 12 March 2014).
  • [8] TRACECA, available at: (last retrieved on 1 February 2014).
  • [9] About INOGATE, available at: (last retrieved on 1 February 2014).
  • [10] Azerbaycan Respublikasinin TRASEKA Layihesinde i§tiraki, available at: .shtml (last retrieved on 2 February 2014).
  • [11] TRACECA Project, available at:, (last retrieved on 2 February 2014).
  • [12] Грузоперевозки Через Азербайджан в ? амках TRACECA в 2012 году Увеличились на 5,5%, 21 February 2013, available at:, (last retrieved on 2 February 2014).
  • [13] Грузоперевозки Через Азербайджан в ? амках TRACECA в I полугодии Увеличились на 3%, 14 August2013, available at:, (last retrieved on 2 February 2014).
  • [14] R. Ibrahimov, Link in the Chain: South Caucasus..., cit., p. 65.
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