On August 12, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Russia, Iran, and Turkmenistan signed the Convention on the Caspian Sea’s Legal Status in Astana. The Convention’s provision endorsing the construction of a subsea pipeline raised optimism regarding the Trans-Caspian Gas Pipeline (TCGP) project, which has been stalled due to the Caspian’s uncertain status. Discussions on the TCGP have been ongoing since the 1990s, envisaging the export of 30 billion cubic meters/year (bcm/y) of Turkmen gas to Europe across the Caspian by integrating with the Southern Gas Corridor (SGC).
On October 16 th the Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan announced his resignation, paving the way for a snap parliamentary elections to be held on December 10th. The move is seen as a manoeuvre to return to Prime Minister’s Office with his party having the majority in the parliament, thus acquiring even more dominant position in the political life of Armenia.
Although China’s economic engagement was initially embraced by most states in Central and Eastern Europe, it has been recently reported that the 16+1 framework established by China as a means to deepen its footprint in this region faces overwhelming challenges. Particularly, the countries joined this project are unhappy with the fact that Beijing’s promises tend to fall through, its investments come with strings attached, and China prefers to provide loans rather than cash. This discontent calls into questions the true nature of China’s economic engagement with the region.
On October 15, the European Union adopted a new strategy on connecting Europe and Asia (Consilium.europa.eu, October 15), which became a major theme at the latest Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) summit, held in Brussels on October 18–19 (Consilium.europa.eu, October 19). Under this new connectivity initiative, the EU intends to build a dynamic superhighway combining transcontinental rail lines, roads and maritime networks. Although the strategy has been widely portrayed as Europe’s response to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) (Deutsche Welle, September 28), the EU was quick to point out that “the European Union and China share an interest in making sure that our respective initiatives work well together, despite the differences in approach and implementation” (Europa.eu, September 19).
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev traveled to Belarus on November 19 (see EDM, December 6). During his visit, both governments signed a number of key agreements, including regarding the supply of Belarusian air-defense weapons to Azerbaijan. President Aliyev praised the level of “military-technical cooperation” with Belarus, asserting its long history; and he suggested that “another consignment of military equipment” from Minsk could follow. Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, in turn, named Azerbaijan “a reliable strategic partner” (President.az 1 and 2, President.gov.by, Belta.by, November 19).
The United States’ Federal Register published the “Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations” on November 5, re-imposing US sanctions on Iran (Federalregister.gov, November 5). This expected action by Washington had raised concerns in Baku about the potential implications of renewed Iran sanctions on Azerbaijan’s Shah Deniz-II (SDII) natural gas field and the South Caucasus Pipeline (SCP), since the Naftiran Intertrade Company (NICO), a subsidiary of the National Iranian Oil Company, holds a 10 percent stake in each. These two segments are both key elements of the US and European–supported Southern Gas Corridor (SGC), which will deliver Caspian-basin gas to Southeastern Europe and help reduce Europe’s reliance on Russian Gazprom.
On August 23, German Chancellor Angela Merkel went on a tour around South Caucasus, which was called historical even before the trip, since it is the first of a kind. Its agenda varied from country to country, since Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia are located in the same region, but implement different foreign policy concepts. What goals does the German Chancellor pursue and what did she achieve during her three-day trip?
During a July 20 press conference, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan reiterated his maximalist position on the Karabakh conflict and called for “deter[ring] Azerbaijan from provocations” (Lragir.am, July 20). The next day, Armenian fire killed an Azerbaijani service member stationed at the frontline (Mod.gov.az, July 21). Quickly, Armenian Defense Minister David Tonoyan declared, “We are universally preparing for possible military actions” (Eadaily.com, July 22).
In the future, the Caspian Sea should become a “sea of cooperation, not competition.” The Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea establishes a platform for the beginning of constructive interaction between the five Caspian countries in energy and security. The signing of the document is a fait accompli, and no state outside the Caspian region can influence the situation in any way, says Valdai Club expert Farhad Mammadov.
During the June 22 Eastern Partnership (EaP) meeting in Minsk, Azerbaijan’s Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov outlined his country’s key areas of cooperation with the European Union and said the two sides are close to signing a document listing their “Partnership Priorities” (Mfa.gov.az, June 22). EU-Azerbaijani relations suffered in the past because of the European Parliament’s (EP) critical resolutions on Azerbaijan (see EDM, June 22, 2017).
The mass street protests across Armenia, which began in late March, forced the resignation, on April 23, of Serzh Sargsyan, who had recently taken over as prime minister (with strengthened constitutional powers) after ruling as president for the last decade.
Over the past two decades, Azerbaijan has been engaged in a massive effort to modernize and upgrade its military. War with Armenia over the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region forced Baku to drastically ramp up military spending and invest vigorously in various military technologies.
Encouraged by a tremendous influx in oil revenue, Azerbaijan has managed to achieve a twentyfold increase in military spending over the past decade.
Valery Gerasimov, the chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, and Curtis Scaparrotti, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR), met in Baku on April 19 to discuss several issues related to military posture and exercises. The two pointedly agreed to keep their communication channels open following these talks (Nato.int, April 19).
On April 23, Armenian PM Serzh Sargsyan resigned after days of mass protests. He was a President for the last ten years and tried to continue to rule his country as a Prime Minister after the constitutional amendments. Some commentators rushed to express their satisfaction and evaluated the resignation of Sargsyan as a triumph of democracy.