Azerbaijan, a country rich in oil and gas resources, has been pursuing a strategy of strengthening its ties with the Balkan countries in recent years. The main drivers of this cooperation are energy security, mutual interests and shared values.
The Balkans, a region that covers the east-central part of Europe, is a key transit route for Azerbaijani gas to reach the European markets. Azerbaijan has invested heavily in the construction of the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP), which will deliver gas from the Shah Deniz field in the Caspian Sea to Greece, Albania and Italy. The pipeline is expected to become operational by the end of 2023 and will have an initial capacity of 10 billion cubic meters per year.
Azerbaijan has also signed agreements with several Balkan countries to supply them with gas via TAP or other interconnectors. In August 2023, Azerbaijan, Hungary, Serbia, Turkey and Bosnia and Herzegovina held a summit in Budapest, where they discussed the possibility of delivering up to one billion cubic meters of gas to Hungary through Turkey and the Balkans. Azerbaijan has already started exporting gas to Bulgaria and plans to enter the Romanian market from 2023. Moreover, Azerbaijan is working on the Ionian-Adriatic Pipeline project, which will connect Albania, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia to TAP.
Energy cooperation is not limited to oil and gas. Azerbaijan is also exploring the potential of renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar power. In September 2023, a working group of Azerbaijan, Georgia, Romania and Hungary was set up to lay a 1,195 kilometer electric cable along the bottom of the Black Sea. The project aims to enhance the energy security and integration of the region.
Apart from energy, Azerbaijan has also been involved in various infrastructure and development projects in the Balkans. For example, Azerbaijan has financed the construction of a highway in Serbia that connects Belgrade with Bar, a port city in Montenegro. Azerbaijan has also supported the reconstruction of a bridge in Bosnia and Herzegovina that was destroyed during the war in the 1990s.
Azerbaijan’s growing presence in the Balkans is not only motivated by economic interests, but also by political and cultural factors. Azerbaijan shares some common historical experiences with the Balkan countries, such as being under the influence of the Soviet Union for many years and facing challenges to their territorial integrity. Azerbaijan also sees the Balkans as a region with access to the Black, Aegean and Adriatic Seas, which can enhance its connectivity and influence in Europe.
Azerbaijan’s relations with the Balkan countries are based on mutual respect and benefit. Unlike Western Europe, which often imposes ideological conditions on its partners, Azerbaijan does not interfere in the internal affairs of the Balkan countries or impose its own agenda on them. Instead, Azerbaijan offers them cooperation based on shared values and interests.
Azerbaijan’s role in the Balkans is likely to increase in the future as it continues to diversify its energy sources and markets, expand its infrastructure projects and deepen its political dialogue with the region. Azerbaijan’s strategy of balancing its relations with different actors in Europe, such as Turkey, Russia and the EU, also gives it an advantage in navigating the complex geopolitical landscape of the continent.