Azerbaijan in the world: Revisiting 2012 and looking forward to 2013 (2)

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

AIW:  Please list the main achievements of Azerbaijan’s foreign policy in 2012.

Dr. Karavayev:  The successes of 2012 were the result of the achievements made in 2011: membership in the UN Security Council, entrance into the Non-Aligned Movement, a further rapprochement with Israel, and the holding of the Eurovision competition, all of which were in fact achieved in the earlier year.  However, it is possible to speak about two foreign policy victories over the last 12 months.  The first concerns the role of diplomacy in the return to Azerbaijan of Major Safarov.  This was a purely diplomatic achievement that reflected the lengthy work of the foreign ministry and the efforts of the Azerbaijani president.  It is also worth noting that the rapid amnesty of Safarov practically did not affect relations with Budapest or more broadly with Brussels, even though many feared that it might.  The second victory of 2012 was the liberation of Azerbaijani writers from an Iranian prison.  Considering that Teheran has not cut back its pressure on and propaganda against Baku, this beyond doubt must be considered a success.

AIW: Please enumerate the main shortcomings of the foreign policy of Azerbaijan in 2012.

Karavayev:  The shortcomings are in fact the result of Azerbaijan’s advantages.  The domination of the presidential line in foreign policy not infrequently reduces the importance of the work of diplomats; they turn into mere bureaucrats.  That is a problem of many countries; and Azerbaijan is not an exception in this regard.  The Azerbaijani diplomats, then, often face the problem of having to consult, including during fast-paced events, not only with their ministry, but with the Presidential Administration.  The official structures of the diaspora face a similar problem and, while looking to the Committee on the Affairs of Azerbaijanis Abroad, also have to consult the President’s Office.  Another problem is related to the weak support of the foreign economic activities of Azerbaijani companies.  For example, up to the present, Azerbaijan lacks a chamber of commerce in Russia.  As a result, the embassy has to fulfil what would be the latter’s functions.  By definition, the embassy cannot do this work as well as a specific trade representation would.  There also exists a deficit in the number of Azerbaijani cultural centers abroad.  The diaspora makes up for some of this, but this is exactly a sort of area which needs the attention of the government.

AIW:  How do you assess the energy diplomacy of Azerbaijan in 2012 and what in your view are its prospects for the future?

Karavayev:  Energy diplomacy is the most effective mechanism of Azerbaijani policy and has allowed Baku to achieve many of its goals.  Among the most significant of these in the past year were the development by SOCAR of investments in Turkey and other European countries and the TANAP agreement, which in essence has given a second wind to the Nabucco project.

AIW:  How do you assess the dynamics of the relationships of Azerbaijan with its nearest neighbors—Russia, Iran and Turkey—in 2012 and what in your view are the prospects for the further development of these relations in 2013?

Karavayev:  The most complicated of these relationships is of course with Iran.  In principle, this is a dead-end, which can be eliminated only after a change in the regime in Tehran.  Iranian expectations from the end of the 1980s and the early 1990s that Azerbaijan would choose the Islamic path have not been met, nor yet overcome.  The situation with regard to Moscow also is far from simple, although here one needs to note that Azerbaijan has a large range of channels—many of which do not intersect—through which it engages with Russia.  Consequently, the freezing of talks on the Nagorno-Karabakh problem and the intensification of the struggle over foreign gas markets, which one can see extending into 2013, should not so strongly affect the economic and socio-cultural components of relations between Azerbaijan and Russia.
AIW:  How do you assess the prospects for relations between Azerbaijan and Georgia in 2013?

Karavayev:  I do not see any reason for decay, but the style will undoubtedly change.  The opening of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway, which is expected at the end of the year, will give these ties a new impulse.  Of course, Baku will carefully attend to the development of relations between Yerevan and Tbilisi.  The Azerbaijan-Georgian vector is chiefly defined in opposition to Georgian-Armenian relations.  I hope there will be no major crisis in this respect.  The intra-state dynamics in Georgia is also important.  The information wars certain to attend the upcoming presidential elections in Georgia could engage, and ultimately affect, bilateral ties as well.

AIW:  How do you assess the dynamic of relations between Azerbaijan and the United States in 2013?

Karavayev:  Baku has already shown its ability to work with various interest groups in Washington and in individual states.  I think that this practice should be promoted further and used to block the activities of the Armenian lobby.  At the level of geopolitics, much will depend on the character of the American-Iranian standoff.  In the summer and fall, on the eve of the presidential elections in Azerbaijan, one can expect an increase in pressure from American organizations concerning media freedom and human right.  However, I do not think this will be critical.

AIW:  How do you assess the activity of Azerbaijan in the public diplomacy area over the last year?

Karavayev:  Several distinct Azerbaijani brands have emerged in this realm.  For example, the Baku International Humanitarian Forum and the Gabala International Music Festival have acquired prominence.  The holding of the Eurovision competition very much raised the prestige of Baku and might well have played a role in helping Azerbaijan to become the host of the European Olympic Games in 2015.  Baku’s efforts in this regard, including the Justice for Khojaly campaign initiated by the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, helped convince the Organization for Islamic Cooperation to support the recognition of the Khojaly tragedy as genocide.  All this became a result of work carried out within the context of public diplomacy.

AIW:  What challenges in your view stand before Azerbaijani foreign policy in 2013, and what actions must Azerbaijan take in response to them?

Karavayev:  I would not point to any completely new challenges.  Rather, Baku needs to seek the further strengthening of its positions and improve its ability to use a broader spectrum of foreign policy instruments.  An upgrade in the international standing of the Nagorno-Karabakh Community of Azerbaijan, propaganda about the economic projects for the restoration of Nagorno-Karabakh and the occupied territories, and a show of openness about talking with Armenian public organizations are all part of that.  But I think Baku could do more in this direction.  Other specific foreign policy tasks are likely to arise in the context of the presidential elections in Azerbaijan later this year.