After the 44-day Second Karabakh War in 2020, the political landscape has changed, not only in the South Caucasus, but in the world as a whole. The reality is that international legal norms are not as effective as they once were, and countries now prefer power competition.
Of course, in the 44-day war, Azerbaijan also restored its territorial integrity using its military power. Years of diplomatic negotiations and international legal norms did not yield any results, and eventually weapons were used.
Azerbaijan was not alone in the war – the political support of Turkey, Israel, Pakistan and other countries was strong. Modern weapons produced by these countries had an impact on the battlefield, and Azerbaijan came out on top.
Azerbaijan has become a clear example for many countries around the world, particularly those suffering from issues of territorial integrity where, in the midst of a de facto conflict, the states involved decide to strengthen their political and military alliances.
NATO or Russia?
There are various options available. Countries such as Georgia and Ukraine have oriented themselves towards NATO. However, the current situation in the countries which took refuge under NATO umbrella and entered into a confrontation with Russia is obvious.
Azerbaijan, which has pursued a balanced policy for many years, has preferred to remain neutral. However, during the war, it realized the importance of gaining friends rather than enemies. Western countries have shown their true nature during the 44-day Karabakh war: Washington and Paris openly sided with the occupying Armenia. This could be considered NATO’s position on the matter.
Exempting Turkey’s support for Azerbaijan, we can say that NATO exercised pressure on Baku. It was no coincidence that after the war, Azerbaijan and Turkey signed the Shusha Declaration and established a military alliance. The official Baku understands that in the near future it will be impossible to act without military allies. Joint exercises with Turkey, including Pakistan’s participation from time to time, highlight this reality.
Another alliance proposed for Azerbaijan in the post-war period is the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU).
This economic organization under the patronage of Russia would strongly benefit from having a country like Azerbaijan in its ranks, However, it is hard to say which side would benefit the most from Azerbaijan’s accession to the organization.
Membership in the Eurasian Economic Union promises new economic opportunities and a more efficient market for Azerbaijan. However, there is one substantial obstacle to this – Armenia.
Obstacles ahead of Azerbaijan
After 30 years of war, diplomatic relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia do not exist. The two countries have not yet signed a final peace agreement and are considered de facto enemies. Armenia still does not recognize the territorial integrity of the Republic of Azerbaijan and is delaying the signing of an official document. From time to time, the ceasefire is violated on the state border between the two countries and there are casualties on both sides. Given this situation, is it not possible for Azerbaijan to become a member of the Eurasian Economic Union.
However, outside of Armenia, membership in the EAEU promises more economic opportunities for Azerbaijan, which has close political and economic ties with other members of the formation.
Given only the economic ties between Russia and Azerbaijan, it is not difficult to see the advantages of Azerbaijan joining the union. In 2021, the trade turnover between Russia and Azerbaijan amounted to $2.9 billion. Large Russian energy companies have a massive share in Azerbaijan, and the cooperation between Russian regions and Azerbaijan is expanding day by day.
But in the end, Azerbaijan must decide for itself. Choosing to become a member is the sovereign right of Azerbaijan, and Baku must make that choice.
Two factors must be taken into account here: Turkey and Armenia.
The signing of the Shusha Declaration with Turkey entails joint steps in many areas. In this regard, Azerbaijan’s membership in the Eurasian Economic Union may become possible only after an agreement with Ankara. Of course, Turkey’s interests must be taken into account in this matter.
On the other hand, the lack of normalization of relations with Armenia remains a separate obstacle. However, I believe that both issues can be resolved in parallel.
Azerbaijan is a key country
Russia understands this very well and is trying to advance the two processes together. On the one hand, intensive talks are being held between Armenia and Azerbaijan through Moscow, work is underway to open infrastructure in the region and sign a peace agreement between Yerevan and Baku. Preliminary results have already been achieved in this area.
The meeting between the public representatives of Azerbaijan and Armenia in Moscow is an important step to start the process of normalization of relations between the two countries. The meeting participants discussed measures to reduce tensions between the two peoples and agreed to continue such relations in early 2022.
At the same time, official contact has been established between Turkey and Armenia around restoring relations and the first meeting between the parties has already taken place in Moscow, as a result of which, Istanbul-Yerevan flights resumed. The issue of opening diplomatic missions between the two countries is on the agenda for the near future. As this issue is also sensitive for Azerbaijan, Ankara and Baku are in close consultation on this issue.
After these issues are reflected, Azerbaijan’s membership in the Eurasian Economic Union may come up. I no longer think that there will be any obstacles after these steps are taken.
Azerbaijan, Turkey, Iran and Pakistan can be expected to become members of the EAEU. Azerbaijan is a key country in this regard, and it is understandable why Russia is making efforts to show Baku the opportunities a membership would provide.