2010 was a successful year for Azerbaijan — 2011 promises to be a challenging one

An interview with Dr. Aleksandr Karavayev
Deputy Director General of the Information-Analytical Center at Moscow State University

January 10, 2011
Baku/Moscow, Azerbaijan/Russian Federation

Azerbaijan in the World:  Please give your review of the main achievements of Azerbaijan’s foreign policy in 2010.

Dr. Karavayev:  I would highlight the following cases where Azerbaijani diplomacy through the efforts of the foreign ministry and president as well as of others was able to achieve major goals.  First of all was Turkey’s refusal to continue the policy of rapprochement with Armenia.  Then was the acquisition of the S-300 defense systems—although this was never confirmed officially, it had a significant resonance in the media and signaled the existence of military-technical support from the side of the Russian Federation.  Yet another important event was the decision of Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan not to go to the NATO summit.  That too was a success for Azerbaijani diplomacy, albeit an indirect one.

One must also mention the spring resolution of the European Parliament (No. 2216) concerning the situation in the zone of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.  Its contents backed Baku’s position which was especially significant given that it was adopted while elections were being conducted in the separatist enclave.  

Sometimes international summits also can be considered as serious achievements of national diplomacy.  In this connection, it is necessary to call attention to the Third Caspian Summit in Baku and the world inter-religious summit which took place last spring and was organized by the Administration of Muslims of the Caucasus with the support of the Russian Orthodox Church.  That event included the visit to Baku of Garegin II, the Catholicos of All Armenians.  

Finally, one should also note the significant strengthening of relations with neighbors in the former USSR, with Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan.

AIW:  Please list what you see as the main shortcomings of the foreign policy of Azerbaijan in 2010.

Dr. Karavayev:  There were probably certain technical and cadres shortcomings, but for me, in any case, they were not notable.  At the strategic level, Azerbaijan’s diplomacy developed correctly as it attempted to include in its arsenal an ever greater quantity of means and to develop all main directions.  Let us assume there were indeed some shortcomings: the weak relations with the countries of South America and with South East Asia and China, but these are not so much deficiencies as only the first steps in the correct direction.

AIW:  How do you assess the progress achieved in 2010 in the process of resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict?

Dr. Karavayev:  There is still no progress. That the powers in their joint declarations (G-8 and otherwise) have spoken of the necessity of the withdrawal of Armenian forces from the occupied districts is difficult to call progress.  It did not lead to any practical movement.  Nor did two major attempts, one by Turkey and the other by Russia, to push the process off its current stalemate bear any fruit.

AIW:  How do you assess the energy diplomacy of Azerbaijan in 2010 and what in your view are the prospects in this regard for the future?
Dr. Karavayev:  Let us see what the results from the visit to Baku of European Commission President Barroso will be.  If one talks about prospects, then Azerbaijan has adopted a correct approach by promoting the export of liquefied natural gas through Georgian and Turkish ports, the broadening of foreign investments by the State Oil Company in the network and development of pipelines.  Of course, it is also important to develop for export oil distillates as produced by Azerbaijani refineries.

AIW:  How do you assess the dynamics of relations of Azerbaijan with its nearest neighbors—Russia, Iran and Turkey—in 2010 and what in your view are the prospects for the further development of these relations in 2011?

Dr. Karavayev:  The relations of Azerbaijan with Russia and Turkey of course have their own dynamic, but they are brought closer together by a common interest in, and the existence of, an atmosphere of political stability which supports the development of business.  Of course, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has an impact on both sets of relations, but Baku at a practical level divides its foreign policy moves in such a way that the Karabakh impasse does not block the development of political contacts and the rest of the spectrum of relations with other international subjects.  Therefore, in my view, mutually profitable stability will be preserved on both these lines.

As in the past, relations with Iran will continue to be unsettled.  It is a difficult neighbor, and for Azerbaijan, not to have major problems with Iran or with the Western coalition because of cooperation with Iran is already an accomplishment, something Baku has been able to achieve through its skillfully effected multi-vector foreign policy.

AIW:  How do you assess the dynamics of relations of Azerbaijan with the United States in 2010 and what in your view are the prospects for the further development of these relations in 2011?

Dr. Karavayev:  This is quite a complicated and multifaceted issue.  There are no obvious problems between the US and Azerbaijan.  More than that, there is a large list of well-known lines of cooperation involving regional problems and Washington-sponsored initiatives.  But at the same time, it appears that Washington, despite that, has ignored the growing ambitions of Baku.  The impression is thus created that in Washington they do not know what line to follow and thus give contradictory signals.  What line will dominate in the coming year is difficult to say.

AIW:  How do you assess the activity of Azerbaijan in public diplomacy in 2010?

Dr. Karavayev:  The soft power mechanism is not a discovery for Azerbaijani diplomacy, for in essence, any positive activity of the Azerbaijani diaspora in the world is a manifestation of public diplomacy and brings significant fruits in the task of forming a positive image of the country.  But systematically and in an organized fashion, this diplomatic tactic has been employed relatively recently.  Among the successful achievements of public diplomacy of Azerbaijan on the post-Soviet space, I would note the opening in Ulyanovsk of a general education school that was refurbished by the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, something that no other foreign diaspora has done in Russia.  Also noteworthy is the activity of the small Azerbaijani diaspora in Crimea.  At one time, I conducted research on that subject and know the leader of the community.  Without having serious financial and other means of influence on the local authorities, they have been able to attract attention to the destruction by vandals of a memorial complex to Soviet soldiers at Sapun-Gore in Sevastopol, where a large number of Azerbaijani soldiers died.  Therefore, the restoration of this memorial is the direct result of public diplomacy of the local diaspora.

One also needs to recall the successes of the Justice for Hojaly program that has resulted in actions in many countries of Europe and in the United States.

However, one must not forget that public diplomacy to a significant degree is an element of inter-cultural dialogue.  Politics in this case should play a secondary role.  It is necessary to broaden the geography of exhibits of Azerbaijani artists and to develop its film industry in order to allow it to play a larger role in the world market.  In this direction, there is a great deal of work to do.  There is a need for greater inventiveness, and it would be wise to try in the major cities and capitals of the world to open a network of Azerbaijani cultural centers which could host exhibits, conduct forums and presentations, and serve as offices of national commercial brands of Azerbaijan, from tourist firms to producers of food products.

AIW:  What challenges in your view stand before Azerbaijani foreign policy in 2011 and what actions should Azerbaijan undertake in response?

Dr. Karavayev:  There is clearly a need for new approaches to the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.  Baku needs to bring the Azerbaijani plan for the post-war reconstruction of the social and economic life of the currently occupied territories, including Nagorno-Karabakh, to the attention of world public opinion.  And even if this project cannot be carried out in the near term, then at any case, it will become an additional argument for Baku’s diplomacy.  This concerns general strategy.  

If one makes a prognostication about the practical development of the conflict, then in 2011 there is a growing chance of a major provocation by Armenia with the goal of drawing Azerbaijan into a major armed conflict and thus present it to the world as an unrestrained militarist power.  

At the same time, and as usual, the main global challenges, connected with the situation around Iran remain important.  In both cases, restraint is needed.