MoU signed: President Aliyev recalibrates as a doyen of grand politics
By Orkhan Amashov
A smart aleck with an untrammelled propensity for habitual criticism of EU-Azerbaijani relations for lack of a practical move in the energy field was decisively silenced yesterday. Baku and Brussels signed a historic Memorandum of Understanding, envisaging a holistic design, ranging from investment in Azerbaijan’s gas sector, including field exploration and the existing pipeline, augmentation of volumes exported to Europe, and the fundamentals of the gradual switch to renewables.
Before going into the critical linchpins of the deal inked, some major provisions were leaked to the public a couple of days before the signing ceremony, and it is vital that the atmosphere enveloping the geopolitics of our troubled age is to be thrown a piercing glance.
EU-Russian relations are at their lowest ebb in 30 years. The doomsday scenario of a chilly winter without Russian gas is heavily preying on the minds of Eurocrats who can’t help but privately acknowledge that their robust steps are somewhat belated and lack a sufficient degree of maneuverability.
However, the public posture must remain robust and suitably militant. The awful truth of the situation is that the continent is cracking beneath the calculably excruciating strain brought on by the indisputably honest and righteous, albeit highly risky, the ambition of freeing itself from the shackles of Russian gas dominance.
Azerbaijan has a role to play in relation to the EU’s incessantly exacerbating predicament. This is bound to be measured and carefully recalibrated. President Aliyev’s vision is a testament to the ability of a relatively small-sized and pivotally placed nation to act in line with its supreme exigencies, without stooping to any of the sides’ haughty demands, paving the way for something which is primarily the best for itself and also for the general good of humanity.
President Aliyev’s vision as to how Baku has to behave is exemplified by his magisterial diplomacy for formulating a design in which Azerbaijan’s energy cooperation commitment stemming from the Moscow Declaration, signed in February of this year is in perfect harmony with his steadfast support for Europe’s efforts to diversify its supply routes.
The Azerbaijani president has always downplayed rumours of Baku-Moscow competition in the energy field on the basis that the volumes are not comparable; 148 bcm per annum sent by Russia to Europe prior to the sanctions is exceedingly beyond the reach of the South Caucasian nation’s export capabilities. Aliyev has also said that, in those areas where small volumes could make a difference, the parties would obviate competition.
However, Azerbaijan is also ready to play its bespoke role for the EU, provided a sufficient amount of investment is made into the fields and existing pipeline system. The MoU signed envisages the doubling of the existing volume from 10 to 20 bcm per annum by 2027. This is not a lifesaving amount of gas for the continent, but it entitles Baku to three fundamental things:
First of all, the document signed, in addition to its defining features, is also a roadmap laying the foundations for a long-term partnership, with Azerbaijan’s growing role being officially recognised. It is a question of deep technical intricacies as to how the Southern Gas Corridor’s (SGC) export capacity could be practically enlarged; some experts suggest that, in the fullness of time, the volumes could even be tripled, provided that necessary infrastructural augmentation is carried out.
It is less than two years since the SGC began to work at full capacity, and greater benefits and far more consequential geopolitical gains are yet to be garnered. It was articulated in no uncertain terms that Azerbaijan’s gas reserves are of sufficient scope.
Secondly, each single bcm exported to Europe entails incrementally corresponding clout for Azerbaijan and enhanced diplomatic maneuverability, both in terms of protection of the nation’s geopolitical interests and in terms of the complicated peace process with Azerbaijan, as well as the multi-modal Zangazur project which seamlessly weaves into the connectivity priorities of the EU.
This elevated vantage point allows for a greater and more deeply entrenched connectivity agenda to be pursued. Azerbaijan has the biggest trade fleet on the Western shore of the Caspian and this, coupled with a ship-building yard, a new Sea Port, and, very importantly, the opportunities connecting this modern infrastructure via a railway segment with its neighbours is indicative of a massive potential to bring the whole region into a deep interaction.
Europe sees Azerbaijan as playing an indispensable role in trans-Caspian connections within the Grand Global Gateway project. The EU is the leading donor in demining in the South Caucasus nation and, as an EU high-ranking official confirmed, there is a new €4.25 mln package for the purpose in question. On the other hand, the new Economic and Investment Plan has the potential to go up by 2 billion euros in investment.
Thirdly, Azerbaijan understands only too well how important it is to envisage the future in terms of renewables and hydrogen so as to be in tune with the EU’s overzealous commitment to climate-change objectives. Therefore, the president’s mention of the provisionally estimated 9200 MW potential of solar and wind power plants in the liberated areas of Karabakh and Eastern Zangazur, and the “potential of wind in the Caspian Sea as 157 GW” cannot be ignored. The future is green and the Azerbaijani commitment is there.
In this vein, Ursula von der Leyen has expressed her hope that Azerbaijan will gradually transform from being a fossil-fuel supplier to a prominent renewables partner. She strongly urged Azerbaijan to join the Global Methane Pledge.
The key creed of Baku’s energy offer is no-nonsense and sticks to fundamentals: gas is the focus today for meeting current needs.
This MoU has also enabled the EU to make an honest self-assessment of its less-perfect energy doctrine which has failed to ascertain the extent of punitive measures against Russia. Although the text of the document does not refer to the Ukrainian crisis, the president of the EU Commission, at the very beginning of her speech, mentioned “Russia’s brutal invasion” as a predominant ingredient of the present situation.
It was acknowledged the present doomsday evaluation could have been foreseen, and Azerbaijan’s role as a trustworthy and reliable partner is indisputable. It cannot be ascertained with any degree of certainty whether the EU regrets its somewhat belated appreciation for the greater significance of Azerbaijan’s role in the grand scheme of things but, if the current momentum is not slackened but augmented, history may be more merciful for the less than unflinching measures on the part of past Eurocrats.
Today’s EU-Azerbaijani energy partnership, as President Aliyev succinctly adumbrated in his speech during the signing ceremony, is the result of a long process, in which the MoUs signed in 2006 and the 2011 Joint Declaration on the SGC were important milestones. The newly-inked document forms another critical stage upon which Baku and Brussels are yet to form a comprehensive and all-embracing agreement, the letter and spirit of which was concluded on 18 July.
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