Azerbaijan Explores New Frontiers in its Foreign Policy Landscape

Following the presidential elections in Azerbaijan, its re-elected President Ilham Aliyev, paid his first official visit to Germany to attend the Munich Security Conference.

Following the presidential elections in Azerbaijan, its re-elected President Ilham Aliyev, paid his first official visit to Germany to attend the Munich Security Conference. There, he met with the German Chancellor Olaf Scholz to discuss bilateral relations; as well as top US officials, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, to explore new avenues of cooperation, including climate change, energy cooperation in hydrocarbons and renewables, trade relations, regional stability, and peace efforts with Armenia.

Given Azerbaijan’s geopolitical position between Europe and Asia (sharing borders with Iran, Russia, and Turkey) at the crossroads of major trade and transport routes and its pivotal role for the European energy security, these meetings show the growing strategic significance of the Caspian state on the international fora as a sought-after partner.

On the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference, a high-level tripartite meeting between Azerbaijan, Germany, and Armenia also took place, which confirmed the commitment of Yerevan and Baku to resolve their differences “without new violence”. Aliyev deemed the tri-partite meeting “constructive and useful”, mentioning the “agreements that have already been reached on the normalisation of Armenian-Azerbaijani relations, the delimitation of the border and negotiations on a peace treaty”.

Crucial challenges persist but they are not unsurmountable if both sides show goodwill towards signing a comprehensive peace settlement and normalising relations in a principled approach (respect for territorial integrity, rejection of territorial claims, observance of international law, delimitation of the interstate border and opening of communication routes and ties). This was exemplified by an earlier deal negotiated between Armenia and Azerbaijan to release Armenian detainees on December 7th, after which Armenia had lifted its veto against Azerbaijan’s chairmanship of the COP29. 

As Azerbaijan is preparing to lead the COP29 and to be placed on the forefront of the climate discussions in November this year, it is committed to act as “a bridge builder between the developed and developing world as host of COP29” while prioritising the establishment of a new climate finance goal and fostering global solidarity. This is also a demonstration of Azerbaijan’s determination to shift to diverse foreign policy objectives now that the resolved conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan would no longer eclipse its international relations agenda.

This multi-vector foreign policy approach was already hinted at during the inauguration speech of Aliyev after securing an overwhelming support for his fifth term earlier this month, in which he had referred to the importance of international cooperation in the context of the Organisation of Turkic States, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, and the Non-Aligned Movement.

The election was a historic milestone for the Azerbaijani nation, as it was held for the first time across the entire territory of Azerbaijan, with Aliyev casting his vote in Khankendi. Deriving new legitimacy with the public following his military success in restoring Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity after nearly 30 years of Armenian occupation, Aliyev has opened a new chapter in Azerbaijan’s history and has started setting new benchmarks in the country’s development journey, including the rehabilitation of Karabakh and East Zangezur and resettlement of Azerbaijani IDPs to their traditional homelands. 

Not only Azerbaijan but also the wider region and the EU could thrive economically and politically in these new dynamics in terms of closer economic integration, energy cooperation, and new transport and trade routes. Azerbaijan has supported the EU in the midst of its energy crisis following the Russian invasion of Ukraine and is willing to do so in the future. The EU is Azerbaijan’s main trading partner, accounting for around 52% of Azerbaijan’s total trade.

The current geopolitical tensions gave rise to alternative trade routes, such as the Middle Corridor, which connects Europe and Asia passing through Azerbaijan. In late January, the EU pledged 10 billion EUR in support and investments toward transport connectivity of the Middle Corridor as part of its Global Gateway trade network – another indication of the vast opportunities that are presented for a post-conflict South Caucasus.

Azerbaijan is also a staunch ally of the West, as it has been contributing to peacekeeping operations in Kosovo and Afghanistan as a member of the NATO’s Partnership for Peace programme while cooperating with the West in the areas of defence, security and counterterrorism.

As the Caspian state embarks on a new chapter, it does so with a clear vision for the future – a future defined by unity, resilience and steadfast commitment to progress and prosperity for all its citizens. These internal paradigm shifts are already being reflected in Azerbaijan’s new foreign policy direction, which is likely to lead to a more proactive and influential role for the middle power on the world stage. The latest developments at the Munich Security Conference and future plans for the upcoming COP29 are already heralding such a pivotal transformation as Azerbaijan now stands at the threshold of exploring new frontiers in its foreign policy landscape.

Dr.Ceyhun Osmanli
Dr.Ceyhun Osmanli
Dr. Ceyhun Osmanli is a former Member of Parliament, Researcher and Analyst on International Relations and Political Economy, Director of TLM – Initiatives and Projects Center in Azerbaijan