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Malik Ayub Sumbal is Senior Broadcaster, Political Commentator, and Media Consultant. Malik has been associated with world-leading media outlets and news channels. He has more than 18 years of experience while working on key editorial positions. Malik was President at the Consortium for Press Freedom (CPF), a leading organization working for the Press Freedom and Free Speech around the world.
The EU-Azerbaijan Strategic Partnership: What Does it Mean for Russia?

The EU-Azerbaijan Strategic Partnership: What Does it Mean for Russia?

Europe’s frustration and anxiety are increasing by the day as it stares at the dual challenges of an acute energy shortage and a defeat in Ukraine that the US threw it into. Amidst these crises, a visit by the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, to a former Soviet Union country, namely, Azerbaijan, is Europe’s next move on the chessboard of energy efficiency.

A tightrope walk for Azerbaijan

For Azerbaijan to make any kind of smart move that infuriates Moscow would be disastrous. Recently, Azerbaijan retook Nagorno-Karabakh after a long battle and struck a peace deal with Armenia, in which Russian mediation was instrumental. Azerbaijan cannot afford to forget that. Hence, any kind of strategic partnership that infringes upon Russia’s interests in the region could potentially change the balance of power in the South Caucasus.

In the relations between states and regions, energy partnership and strategic partnership go hand in hand. It is no secret that energy is one of the major reasons for various conflicts taking place around the world today. In some cases, these conflicts have turned into full-scale wars.

The new ally of Europe

Europe has traditionally criticized Azerbaijan’s leadership on its human rights track record, but this latest gesture shows that Baku is becoming a darling of the Europeans. Every time that Europe finds itself in dire need of something, they conveniently forget and downplay their hypocritical social values, ethics, and principles before their selfish needs and desires. These values are, in reality, tactics that Europe uses to malign other countries and nations through propaganda campaigns to strengthen its own bargaining position on various matters.

The agenda of the President of the European Commission’s visit to Baku, which will most likely include the potential of renewable energy and the EC’s commitment to reducing methane emissions, should not clash with Russian geopolitical and strategic interests in the South Caucasus; otherwise, it could lead emissions of a different kind.

Is Europe propping up Baku against Moscow?

With its vast oil and gas reservoirs, Azerbaijan is attracting a lot of overtures from Europe to help meet their energy demands, with the potential to make Baku a contemporary of Moscow, if not a direct competitor. But Azerbaijan has neither the capacity nor the capability to displease Russia and, especially, Vladimir Putin.

A very thin red line exists between Russia and Azerbaijan, invariably drawn by Russia draws. And being a former Soviet country, it is hard for any CIS country, including Azerbaijan, to cross them.

Azerbaijan’s ambitions and a reality check

Azerbaijan has always dreamed of getting closer to Europe and is an enthusiastic candidate for EU membership. Azerbaijan is entitled to have its share of nationalistic aspirations and ambitions, but it would benefit the country to realize that many others who have joined the queue to EU membership before it have been betrayed and deceived.

The latest partnership between Azerbaijan and the European Commission will have deep effects on the regional geopolitical dynamic, especially in the backdrop of the Ukraine-Russia war. As long as the partnership between Baku and Brussels remains an energy/strategic partnership without approaching the red line, it will benefit both the parties and the region. However, any attempts to establish a proxy alliance could have serious implications for the regional and global stability.

Malik Ayub Sumbal is an Award-Winning journalist, Geopolitical Analyst, Commentator & Moderator. He is the author of his newly published book Tovuz to Karabakh, A Comprehensive Analysis of War in South-Caucasus. He tweet @ayubsumbal