After years of rising tensions, the July visit to Baku by Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian has signaled increased diplomacy between Azerbaijan and Iran. The apparent new détente brings positives for both sides.
For Iran, reconciliation with its northwestern neighbor will allow it to play a bigger role in the South Caucasus. Meanwhile, with improved relations with Tehran, Baku can focus its resources and attention elsewhere. Such efforts have also reduced the chances of a regional crisis breaking out, even as the flareup of hostilities in Nagorno-Karabakh may add complexities. Continue reading
Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 had unpredictable repercussions in the global energy market. Although EU countries significantly decreased reliance on Russian oil and, to some extent, Russian gas, the Kremlin still maintains limited influence in some EU countries, including Bulgaria. Since the EU imposed an energy sanctions package on Russia, Bulgaria was granted a two-year exemption from Europe’s embargo on Russian oil until December 2024. Continue reading
On July 9, Turkey freed the commanders of the well-known Ukrainian Azov regiment after months of hosting them as a part of a deal with Russia (Ukrinform, July 31). The fighters surrendered to Russian forces after weeks of brutal siege and resistance at the Azovstal Iron and Steel Works in Mariupol, even after the rest of the city had fallen following Russia’s devastating and relentless assaults (Kyivpost, May 17). Ankara’s surprise move came during Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s first official visit to Turkey since the Russian invasion in February 2022 to meet his counterpart, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and discuss the possibilities of deepening their strategic partnership. Amid rhetoric on expanding the two countries’ cooperation in defense and security, Erdogan also declared, “Ukraine deserves to be a NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization] member” (Al-Monitor, July 7). Continue reading
Private military contractors (PMCs) re-emerged as a popular phenomenon in the post-Cold War era, particularly in the early 2000s, when the exodus of war veterans from Western militaries expanded the pool of PMCs. As of today, PMCs operate in most (about 110) countries. Among the top 30 PMCs in terms of financial resources and recruited mercenaries, most were established or have their headquarters in the US (13) or the UK (6).[i] Traditionally, PMCs operate mainly in active armed conflict zones or areas where the political and social situations are unstable. In this vein, their activities are usually coordinated with the foreign policy aims of the countries where they are headquartered.
Unlike the Western countries possessing solid experience in establishing and managing PMCs, this phenomenon has long been a tabu in the post-Soviet region due to those countries’ fragile political situations and the nature of their internal power dynamics. However, the situation changed when the Russian government gave the green light to establish its first PMC – Wagner – in 2011, which would be headed by the Kremlin-linked businessman and former criminal convict Yevgeni Prigozhin. In the beginning, Wagner’s main activities were limited to Syria, the Central African Republic, Mali, Libya, Mozambique, and Sudan, with the aim of providing “security and paramilitary services” to local governments struggling with armed rebellion and frequent terrorist attacks in exchange for resource concessions and diplomatic support.[ii] Hence, Wagner’s services vary based on the needs of client countries. Continue reading
In this podcast series, we will talk to academics who will share their insights on pressing events concerning European politics. In this podcast, we will discuss the recent Iran-Azerbaijan diplomatic tensions with our guest Fuad Shahbazov. Continue reading
Since it first emerged as an economic powerhouse in the 1990s and early 2000s, China has consistently adhered to the principle of neutrality and non-interference in other nations’ internal affairs. As it gained economic clout and a growing market share throughout the Middle East, Beijing preserved its reputation as a neutral market, conducting trade with all nations and remaining aloof from regional politics. Given this background, the announcement in March of a China-mediated diplomatic normalization between Saudi Arabia and Iran—the Gulf’s two primary geopolitical foes—after years of the rivalry came as a shock both to Middle Eastern and Western experts. The Saudi-Iran détente could contribute to the de-escalation of deadly tensions, particularly in the Gulf region. Riyadh and Tehran are engaged in prolonged and bloody proxy wars in the Middle East—most notably in Yemen, where Saudi Arabia has led a military coalition against the country’s northern Houthi rebels for eight years without success. Continue reading
Azerbaijan has adjusted its foreign policy agenda to target the Balkan region, that is more vulnerable to the energy crisis than the states of Central and Western Europe.
Energy has long been the core element of Azerbaijan’s pragmatic foreign policy, and recently it gained more impetus as European nations sought additional energy suppliers to replace Russian fossil fuel exports. Although the EU’s leading member countries are able to compensate for energy shortages by using energy reserves, employing alternative energy sources and importing additional gas volumes from alternative suppliers, the less developed Balkan states are struggling to adapt to the energy deficit.
More gas for the Balkans
On April 26, a signing ceremony for the memorandum of understanding on encouraging cooperation among Bulgartransgaz (Bulgaria), Transgaz (Romania), FGSZ (Hungary), Eustream (Slovakia) and the State Oil Company of the Azerbaijan Republic (SOCAR) was held in Sofia. The memorandum paves the way for additional Azeri gas volumes to flow to the Balkans amid the unprecedented energy crisis in Europe caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Moreover, the document highlighting Azerbaijan’s strategic partnership with the Balkan nations will ease the cooperation between the local authorities and the transmission and distribution system operators. Continue reading
Tensions between Azerbaijan and Iran have grown rather raw recently in the wake of Baku’s inauguration of its first-ever embassy in Israel. Of course, diplomatic relations between the neighbours have steadily become more and more inflamed and embittered for several years now, with Iran concerned at the declining influence in the South Caucasus it has suffered since the second Karabakh war between Azerbaijan, urged on by Turkey, and Armenia in late 2020. And with the normalisation of diplomatic ties between Tehran and Baku unlikely in the near future, the big question remains unanswered: Is it possible that the tensions could escalate into a large-scale regional conflict? Continue reading