Role of Azerbaijan and geopolitics of greater Eurasia | By Dr Mehmood Ul Hassan Khan


Role of Azerbaijan and geopolitics of greater Eurasia

THE scope, utility and importance of greater Eurasia has been rapidly changing because of the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict which has now encouraged all the regional countries of Central Asia and South Caucasus to collectively promote meaningful, beneficial, integrated, interactive and coordinated spirits of regionalism and greater regional connectivity. In this connection, most recently the concept, operationalization and channelization of “alternative route” for trade and economic activities and trans-regional shipment of oil & gas resources has been geared-up in Central Asia and South Caucasus regions. With the war in Ukraine and the socio-economic sanctions on Russia, a significant part of this trade has shifted towards the Middle Corridor which passes through Central Asia and the Caucasus, again, linking China to Europe. The geographical location on the East-West trade route, connecting Europe and China, widens a lot of opportunities for Azerbaijan. The Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway and the Baku International Sea Trade Port further expand the possibilities of these transport corridors. Great importance is attached to cargo transportation through the territory of Azerbaijan. Over the past few years, there has been a large increase in cargo transportation, including transit. Azerbaijani routes will ensure even greater sustainability of the country’s economic development and can play an important role in the greater regional connectivity.

The construction and completion of Zangazur Corridor (ZC) would be a value addition in achieving the dreams of greater regional connectivity in the Eurasia. The opening of the ZC would further strengthen the Caspian Transport Network (CTN) including the “East-West” transport corridor and the “North-South” International Transport Corridor (ITC). It would also facilitate the Oil & Gas Pipeline System (OGPS) extending from the Caspian to Europe. It would further enhance transit capacity of the region that has already played an important role for the European Union (EU), the United States (US), Russia and China gas supplies chains. It would also be a value addition in the greater Eurasia region. Furthermore, the ZC as an “integral” part of the “East-West Corridor (EWC)” connects Asia and Europe through Azerbaijan which would allow Azerbaijan to strengthen its position as Eurasia’s transport and logistics hub.

Time and again, President Aliyev has stressed that his country is the only country where the North-South and East-West corridors converge/connect. Azerbaijan’s modern railway network has been further modernized and continues to expand, while the largest commercial port in the Caspian Sea has been built with a capacity of 15 million tons and with the prospect of expanding to 25 million tons of cargo. Currently, it is building a shipyard to be able to produce ships for transporting goods across the Caspian. Azerbaijan has also unique and important role in the Middle Corridor a joint venture composed of Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, and Türkiye has gained a new impetus and prominence.

The Trans-Caspian International Transport Route (TITR) stretches from China to Europe through Central Asia and the South Caucasus and is divided into two main lines. The first route is China-Kazakhstan-Caspian Sea-Azerbaijan (Northern Lines), and the second route is China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan-Turkmenistan-Caspian Sea-Azerbaijan (Southern Line) with an additional extension via the Lapis Lazuli Corridor. Thus, Azerbaijan has the magic connection for greater regional connectivity which would further strengthen the concept and materialization of Greater Eurasia in the days to come.

Azerbaijan is located in the South Caucasus which has greater socio-economic, geopolitical and geostrategic importance. It has the geographical ability in the Eurasian region, which could be an alternative to Russia and Iran as the transport route between such important economic regions as the European Union and the Far Eastern states. Moreover, its geographical importance has been further consolidated after its accession to the Chinese BRI. It can play the role of a strategic partner and hub connecting China with the Middle East and Europe. In this connection, Azerbaijan can also play a significant role as an additional transport corridor to the existing through the Suez Canal maritime route. In addition, Azerbaijan a connecting link between Russia and Iran, this formed another transport corridor: North-South.

Azerbaijan has built pipelines such as the Baku-Supsa pipeline and the main pipeline Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline which are fulfilling the energy requirements of the region. It also implemented Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum gas pipeline. The construction began with the active participation of Azerbaijan Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TANAP) in Turkiye, and its continuation of Turkiye’s border with Greece via Albania to Italy, Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP).

Throughout the South Caucasus region Baku-Tbilisi-Batumi railway passes which plays a role of transshipment between the Azerbaijani ports: international port Alyat, Sangachal and Dubendi terminals on the Caspian Sea and Georgian ports (such as Kulevi, Batumi and Poti) on the Black Sea. Azerbaijan`s ports are the South Caucasus sea gate in the Eastern direction, while Georgian-in Western. They play role of connection between Central Asian (via Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan) and Black Sea regions. Interestingly, Sangachal is the world`s largest integrated oil and gas processing terminal which located 55 km south of Baku on the Caspian coast and receives, processes, stores and exports crude oil and gas. Caspian oil (not only Azerbaijan, but also Kazakhstan and Turkmen oil which transported with tankers) pumps from Sangachal to Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan and gas from Shah Deniz to the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum pipelines.

Recently, Azerbaijan supplies gas via Turkiye to some of the EU countries such as Italy, Greece and Bulgaria through the Southern Gas Corridor. One of the main advantages of utilizing this route is the minimum possibility or the absence of gas crisis and price challenges. These show that the role of Azerbaijan as a gas provider and Turkiye as a credible transit hub in European energy security will considerably increase in a short period of time. It is currently supplying around 5% of the EU’s gas demand. Thus, collaboration between Azerbaijan and the European Union, especially in the field of energy, is of a strategic nature. To conclude, Azerbaijan is the “Caspian Keystone” because of an effective, reliable and important energy producer and transit nation. Azerbaijan is also an important Middle Corridor which has great geographical significance due to which it has already been dubbed an ideal connecting hub.

It seems that Eurasia geopolitical landscape is rapidly changing. However, the role of Middle Corridor, Chinese BRI, and Azerbaijan is increasing by each passing day. Azerbaijan’s socio-economic, geopolitical and geostrategic interests converge in greater Eurasia region.  China is branching out to the West through its BRI and formation of Middle Corridor has become important in the further integration and connectivity of the Eurasia region. China facilitated Saudi Iran peace agreement would create a new world oil order for which Azerbaijan should initiate befitting policies in the region.

Georgia political instability, Belarus permission of Russian nuclear installation and NATO Eastern expansion should be tackled through dialogue, diplomacy and development. Central Asian countries (Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan) trade relations with Azerbaijan would be balancing act in the days to come. The construction of Zangazur and Lachin Corridors would be win-win proposition for all the regional countries. Thus role of Azerbaijan is paramount in the socio-economic, geopolitical and geostrategic orientations of the greater Eurasia connectivity.

—The writer is Executive Director, the Centre for South Asia & International Studies (CSAIS) Islamabad and Regional Expert, Azerbaijan & South Caucasus.