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Azerbaijan and Slovakia Expand Strategic Partnership

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 21 Issue: 81

Executive Summary:

  • Azerbaijan and Slovakia recently signed an agreement on defense cooperation that opens the door to joint defense production, with Slovakia set to produce weaponry funded by Baku.
  • Slovakia’s expansion of its strategic partnership with Azerbaijan takes on a significant geopolitical dimension, potentially reshaping the dynamics of EU-NATO relationships and the balance of power in the region.
  • Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine presented Azerbaijan with an opportunity to expand its energy trade with Europe and to build individual strategic partnerships with EU and non-EU members.

On May 7, Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico arrived in Azerbaijan for an official visit to meet with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev. The visit marked a significant milestone in the Azerbaijani-Slovakian partnership, as the two leaders discussed new opportunities, such as transporting Azerbaijani gas to Slovakia, and upgraded bilateral ties to a strategic level (President.az; Azertag, May 7). In recent years, Azerbaijan has focused on building individual strategic partnerships with both EU and non-EU states in Europe, despite the strained relations between Baku and Brussels. Continue reading

Risky Business: Saudi Arabia’s Oil Price Hike and Market Reaction

As the world’s leading energy exporter, Saudi Arabia’s decision to raise the price of oil for its Asian customers, namely China and India, is a significant development. The surprise move, announced ahead of the much-anticipated OPEC+ meeting on June 2, saw Saudi Aramco increase the price of Arab Light crude for Asia customers by over 300 percent—from $0.90 to $2.90 per barrel above the Oman-Dubai benchmark. Saudi officials cited strengthening oil benchmarks, particularly the price of Dubai-Oman crude, to justify the price hike. However, a more likely underlying motive would be Saudi Arabia’s desire to maintain high oil prices in the face of the ongoing war on Gaza and the potential for further destabilization across the Middle East, which pose a serious threat to global oil markets and the country’s economy—although the attempt to secure its own economic well-being will certainly buy it no friends to the east. Continue reading

Azerbaijan’s new strategy is to become a green energy hub

COMMENT: Azerbaijan’s new strategy is to become a green energy hub

Two agreements signed at the end of May advanced Azerbaijan’s efforts to establish itself as a key energy provider in Southeast Europe, going beyond its role as a producer of hydrocarbons to enter the electricity markets in the region as well.

On May 29, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Romania and Hungary signed a memorandum to create a joint venture as part of the implementation of the Black Sea Energy Caspian-Black Sea-Europe Green Energy Corridor project. The first agreement regarding the submarine cable was signed in 2022 and it is supposed to be fully operational in 2029. The Black Sea submarine cable will be 1,195 km long and is set to be an important pillar of the transition to green energy, with the plan to integrate it into the EU’s internal electricity market. As an attempt to diversify energy supplies in response to Russia’s war in Ukraine in February 2022, the Black Sea cable is of particular importance. Continue reading

Is ISIS Reviving in Iraq?

Members of the Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS) cheer as they carry upside-down a black flag of the Islamic State (ISIS) group in the Old City of Mosul on July 2, 2017.

On May 13, Iraqi media reported a brutal attack by the notorious Islamic State (ISIS) on a military outpost in eastern Diyala and Salahuddin provinces.

Iraqi authorities did not provide specific details of the deadly incident apart from saying that the attackers killed a commanding officer and four Iraqi soldiers and wounded others. Iraqi forces launched an operation in the al-Aith area of Salahuddin in retaliation.

That the May 13 attack was  perpetrated by Islamic State militants suggests that rural areas remain a hotbed of activity for militant cells despite an earlier declaration of victory over ISIS in Iraq and Syria by a U.S.-led international anti-terrorist coalition in 2017. Other regional threats, including sectarian and proxy wars, appear to have undermined the Iraqi government’s counter-ISIS efforts and facilitated the radical organization’s revival. Continue reading

How pragmatism drives Azerbaijan-Iran shift on regional transit

Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi meets with his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev in Tashkent, Uzbekistan on Nov. 9, 2023. (Photo via Iranian presidency)

After rising confrontation and a war of words in recent years, Azerbaijan and Iran have returned to the diplomatic track—emphasizing regional connectivity and infrastructure projects based on pragmatism.

Having pursued coercive diplomacy to contain the rising influence of Israel and Turkey in Azerbaijan since 2020, Tehran has opted for reversive diplomacy towards Baku to de-escalate tensions. The shift is part of a broader Iranian strategy of seeking rapprochement with neighboring states, including Saudi Arabia.

Transit in focus

Regional infrastructure projects lie at the heart of the current pragmatism in the Azerbaijan-Iran relationship, putting political disputes on the back burner.

In Oct. 2023, Baku and Tehran laid the foundation for a new route connecting Azerbaijan to its Nakhchivan exclave through Iranian territory. The ceremony gathered Azerbaijani Deputy Prime Minister Shahin Mustafayev and Iran’s Minister of Roads and Urban Development Mehrdad Bazrpash. Per the initial agreement, a road bridge will be constructed between the two countries, followed by new motorway and railway connections. Although there is currently a functioning road connection between Azerbaijan and Nakhchivan via Iran, the new highway will significantly reduce travel time. Continue reading

What Does a Recent ISIS-K Terror Attack Mean for Turkey?

On January 28, 2024, masked assailants attacked a Roman Catholic church in Istanbul, killing one person. Shortly afterward, the Islamic State, through its official Amaq News Agency, claimed responsibility. Turkish police detained 47 people, most Central Asian nationals.

The incident shed light on the growing presence in Turkey of a Central Asian offshoot of the Islamic State group known as ISIS-K for Khorasan, once a large portion of the Persian Empire now divided among Iran, Afghanistan, and Central Asian states.  The Jan. 28 assault was the group’s first successful attack in Turkey since Jan. 1, 2017, when jihadists invaded an Istanbul nightclub, killing 39 people and wounding nearly 80. Continue reading

Azerbaijan and Serbia Expand Defense Partnership

Presidents of Azerbaijan and Serbia made press statements

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 21 Issue: 31

On February 6, Serbian President Alexander Vučić confirmed that Serbia signed a new defense contract worth over $300 million with Azerbaijan for Serbian-produced NORA B-52 (155 millimeter) self-propelled artillery (DefenseMirror.com, December 13, 2023). While Western media was surprised to hear about the new defense contract, it was not a surprise for Azerbaijani society, given the recently deepened strategic partnership between Azerbaijan and Serbia. For example, in November 2023, both countries signed a new energy deal to deliver Azerbaijani natural gas to Serbia (Balkan Insight, November 15, 2023). In the same period, Azerbaijani company AzVirt started the construction of the high-speed highway Slepcevic-Badovinci, which was 15.4 kilometers near Shabac (ABC.az, November 29, 2023). The most recent Serbian-Azerbaijani arms deal is a logical continuation of the earlier agreement regarding military-technical cooperation that consistently asserted mutual respect for each other’s territorial integrity as the framework for collaboration between the two ministries in the military-economic and military-technical sphere (The Government of Serbia, October 11, 2021). Continue reading

While Militias Flourish Elsewhere, Iran Struggles to Promote a Shi’ite Proxy in Azerbaijan

A servicemen holds a portrait of Colonel Lieutenant Makhman Ganbarov, who was killed during the fighting in Armenia-occupied Nagorno-Karabakh region, during a funeral in the city of Barda, Azerbaijan Oct. 1, 2020. (Reuters Photo)

Relations between Iran and Azerbaijan have been tense since the dismantling of the Soviet Union in 1991 despite the two countries’ many historical, cultural, and religious ties.

Iran has ironically been closer to Christian Armenia – Azerbaijan’s rival – than to a fellow Shi’ite majority state. The regional status quo and balance of power shifted in the South Caucasus as a result of the second Karabakh War in 2020, dramatically heightening diplomatic tensions between Azerbaijan and Iran. Indeed, Azerbaijan’s victory in the war and regaining of control over Armenian ethnic enclaves signaled Iran’s diminishing influence and leverage. For many years, Azerbaijan has maintained a close strategic partnership with Israel, Iran’s arch-foe, particularly in the defense field, as it sought to deter radical Shi’ite influence stemming from Iran. Azerbaijan has also drawn closer to Turkey. Continue reading

Increased Russian-Iranian Defense Cooperation Poses Threat to Ukraine and the West

Putin Meets Ali Khamenei, Tehran, Iran - 19 Jul 2022

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 20 Issue: 189

On November 28, Iranian state media reported that Tehran had finalized a long-awaited deal with Russia to procure Sukhoi Su-35 fighter jets, attack helicopters, and military trainer aircraft. Although some sources dubbed the announcement as another round of government speculation, Iranian Deputy Defense Minister General Mahdi Farahi confirmed the reports to semi-official news agency Tasnim (Tasnim News Agency, November 28). For its part, the Kremlin has yet to publicly confirm the reported agreement. Over the past year, Iran has made strides in the modernization and development of its air and naval forces. Intensified cooperation with Russia has largely facilitated that progress, with both sides signing agreements to boost their trade, energy, and military ties. The recent expansion of that partnership threatens Western interests in the wider region and could pose future risks to global stability. Continue reading

How the Hamas-Israel war impacts the South Caucasus?

Israeli President Isaac Herzog meets with his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev in Baku, Azerbaijan on May 30, 2023. (Photo via Azerbaijani presidency)

The war between Hamas and Israel war has triggered strong anti-Israel sentiments in the region and heightened fears of a broader conflict engulfing actors such as Egypt, Iran, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey. Worried that the conflict in Gaza could escalate into a regional confrontation, the US has dispatched two aircraft carrier strike groups within range, including additional troops and military advisors.

But alongside tough rhetoric, the violence in Gaza has renewed apparent pragmatism by important regional states such as Iran and Turkey. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has openly slammed Israel’s bombings of the Palestinian coastal enclave. On the other hand, Ankara has avoided issuing direct threats against Tel Aviv and, in an apparent unusual move, allegedly distanced itself from Hamas in the aftermath of the Palestinian movement’s surprise attack on Israel last month. Continue reading