Azerbaijan is set to decide the route of its gas supplies to Europe next month, US ambassador to Baku Richard Morningstar confirmed today at a conference in Baku. The Southern Gas Corridor from Azerbaijan to the EU will significantly raise the role of the country in ensuring the European energy security. The EU Commission adopted a formal decision last week granting tariff exemptions for the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) project.
Head of the EU Delegation to Azerbaijan Roland Kobia explained the significance of this decision saying, “These decisions form another milestone in completing the Southern Gas Corridor,” demonstrating “the commitment and seriousness of the EU to concretely work with Azerbaijan.”
The progress towards energy cooperation with the EU is seen as another cornerstone in greater integration with the West for Azerbaijan, as the Eastern Partnership Summit in November approaches, where the Southern Caucasus countries are tipped to initial the much-talked-about Association Agreement with the EU.
While many are lauding the benefits of Azerbaijan’s closer cooperation with the West, other neighbours are not so pleased.
Russia is irked by Azerbaijan’s pipeline plans, as tensions are reportedly rising along with Russia’s concerns over the security of its interests in the region. Consequently, Russia is taking various actions to reaffirm its grip on the region, including suggesting it could back the opposition in Azerbaijan in the upcoming October elections. The Russian government also announced last week that it has cancelled a long-standing agreement to transport Azeri oil across its territory, stating Azerbaijan was failing to ship sufficient quantities–putting heat on the nation’s energy sector. Russia is also putting added pressure on Armenia through increased gas prices.
Aleksandra Jarosiewicz of the Centre for Eastern Studies explains the possible significance of such moves on Russia’s part:
“It should be expected that Russia will continue to undertake measures aimed at generating tension in the region and to thus impede bringing it closer to the West and may put a shadow over the Vilnius Eastern Partnership summit.”
Jarosiewicz also highlights that such actions are viewed as hostile in Azerbaijan, and that anxiety over Russia’s intentions are heightening in the Caucasus. This comes on the heels of reports of increased military action by Russian forces in the South Caucasus, including the rapid re-militarisation of forces in Armenia, South Ossetia and Abkhazia.