The Role of Restoring Azerbaijani Territorial Integrity in Maintaining Current and Future European Energy Security
Ilham Shaban is a director of Caspian Barrel Research Centre
For more than a month, Azerbaijan has been writing glorious pages in its history, uniting as a fist for the liberation of its occupied lands. It is safe to say that the daily activities of Azerbaijani citizens during this period, regardless of their profession or work, are focused on war. For nearly three decades, the Azerbaijani people hoped that Armenian armed forces would withdraw from the occupied territories of Azerbaijan. They patiently approached the solution of this issue and waited for it to end peacefully, as there was no doubt that Azerbaijan favoured this.
However, the armed provocations launched by Armenia against Azerbaijan in July 2020 were intense and represented a new phase in the conflict. The steps taken by Armenia did not provide any additional opportunities for Azerbaijan to retreat and make political manoeuvres. Consequently, Azerbaijan was forced to stage a counterattack.
On September 27, a new stage in the Armenian–Azerbaijani Nagorno-Karabakh conflict began. Azerbaijan began to win consecutive victories on the battlefield, undertaking operations to force the other side to make peace. Armenia soon realised it had neither the trained personnel, nor technological capability, on the battlefield to combat the Azerbaijani Army. It subsequently vented its anger by targeting Azerbaijani civilians and firing on strategically important infrastructure.
By doing so, the aggressor Armenia grossly violated the norms and principles of international law, including the requirements of the 1949 Geneva Convention for the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflicts and the Additional Protocols to the Convention. This document prohibits the targeting of civilian objects and civilians during the war.
Armenia – our neighbour – is fully aware of this. It is also cognisant of the status and strategic importance of Azerbaijani energy facilities. However, in the meantime, they still seem to insist on undertaking their insidious deeds.
I would like to remind readers that, during October 2020, the Armenian side repeatedly fired on various Azerbaijani energy infrastructure facilities, including hydroelectric and thermal power plants in Mingachevir and numerous oil and gas pipelines. However, due the vigilance of the Azerbaijani Army and, in some cases, due to inferior Armenian missile quality, the enemy’s dreams were not realised.
- October 5: Armenian armed forces fired two missiles at the city of Mingachevir. One rocket hit the territory of the Khizi region, through which the Baku–Novorossiysk oil pipeline passes.
- October 6: The demilitarised zones of the Yevlakh region, together with the clearly non-military Baku–Tbilisi–Ceyhan crude oil and condensate export pipelines, came under rocket fire. The pipeline exports more than 550,000 barrels of oil per day from the Azeri–Chirag–Guneshli fields and condensate from the Shah Deniz field to international markets.
- October 22: The Gabala region came under Armenian rocket fire, near the Oguz–Gabala–Baku main water pipeline.
- October 22: Armenian armed forces fired a ballistic missile at the Siyazan region, near the Caspian Sea coast. The target of the missile was the Baku–Novorossiysk oil pipeline passing through the region.
Risks to Azerbaijani export pipeline infrastructure
In response to the question: “Does this situation risk the delivery of Azerbaijani oil and gas to the world market?” posed by the Russian Interfax news agency, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev acknowledged that if the Armenians carried out their threats to bomb the Sangachal oil terminal or Azerbaijani oil and gas pipelines, it would certainly create risks.
He predicted: “In this case, I think they will face serious pressure, because this oil and gas is mainly needed by European consumers. It is no secret that the gas pipeline from Azerbaijan, to some extent, provides and will ensure the energy security for some European countries.” He added that some EU member states meet about 40–50% of their energy needs through Azerbaijani oil and, if these are impacted, Armenia will face serious international pressure.
However, President Aliyev reflected: “We see that such factors do not stop Armenia. After all, they tried to bomb the Baku–Novorossiysk oil pipeline, which connects Azerbaijan and Russia. This is the same Russia from which Armenia always demands special dispensations, without giving anything in return. It gives nothing, neither in terms of history, nor with support in the international arena.”
The Azerbaijani President explained that it is difficult to expect anything else from George Soros’ team, which is now in power in Armenia. Therefore, the purpose of bombing Mingachevir, home to the main hydroelectric power plant, is to destroy the energy system of Azerbaijan. “This, of course, creates certain risks”, said President Aliyev. However, Azerbaijan has already built a diversified energy supply network with new power plants that, of course, significantly reduce risk levels.
In summary, we can conclude that the operation carried out by Azerbaijan with the participation of the armed forces within its borders is, in fact, an anti-terrorist operation. As its borders are recognised by international organisations, Azerbaijan is protecting its sovereign rights and it seeks to restore the property rights of its people and to ensure the safety of Azerbaijani citizens.
On the other hand, by targeting positions far from the battlefields, Armenia is revealing its insidious policy, nakedly demonstrating the aggression it has shown against Azerbaijan since it regained its independence.
However, the question arises as to how this looks from the outside or is presented to the public? On October 24, Azerbaijan President Aliyev gave an interview to the French newspaper Le Figaro and, two days later, to the Italian Rai-1 TV channel.
The representatives of these media outlets did not ask the President about the economy. They were disinterested in how Azerbaijan has spent its oil capital, so far; how it has benefited; whether its increase in revenues has had an impact on its neighbours; who benefits from an energy-rich country like Azerbaijan; and who can gain from it? They did not enquire as to how is the country preparing for the post-oil era, what problems await it, or if the country will adopt an environmentally-friendly approach in future?
In my view, it grossly unprofessional to come from a country far away from this region and talk for an hour to the Head of State, only focusing on the thesis of war and trying to be accusatory against Azerbaijan.
Meanwhile Azerbaijan is preparing to export its gas to Europe in a few weeks. It was possible to extract gas from the Shah Deniz 2 project because, in October 2011, at the will of the political leaders of Azerbaijan and Turkey, an agreement was reached on the realisation of the Trans-Anatolian Pipeline (TANAP), the main artery of the gas infrastructure that will transport Caspian gas to Europe. Without TANAP, neither the Southern Gas Corridor would be realised, nor the development of large gas reserves in the Caspian Sea would have begun, enabling consumers in Europe to receive natural gas from alternative sources by the end of this year. Media representatives have now forgotten such realities. Their intention is to portray Azerbaijan and Turkey in a different light.
They also do not pay attention to how the economic life of neighbouring Georgia has transformed as a result of the Baku–Tbilisi–Ceyhan pipeline and how important it has been to expand energy ties with Azerbaijan to ensure Georgian economic security.
Myriad other countries derive benefits from Azerbaijani export pipelines. Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and even Russia, which was once an opponent of the pipeline, export their resources to world markets across the Caspian Sea using this pipeline. Reporters fail to pay attention to the fact that, on October 12, the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) consortium, announced: “Around four and a half years after the start of construction, the TAP pipeline has been thoroughly completed. TAP is currently finalising preparations for the start of trading operations.”
As the last segment of the Southern Gas Corridor, TAP will transport Azerbaijani gas to Europe. The Southern Gas Corridor is a megaproject that will have a great impact on the lives of those across a large geographical area in seven countries from 2020. Altogether, nine European companies will soon start importing Azerbaijani gas – Shell, Bulgargas, DEPA, Gas Natural Fenosa, EON, Gaz de France, Hera, Enel and Axpo.
In the near future, the transformation of Azerbaijan into a gas exporter with an annual volume of 25–30 billion cubic metres (bcm), ownership of gas distribution networks and participation in export infrastructure outside Azerbaijan, as a shareholder and operator, will lead to an increase in trade turnover with Western countries. Funds from gas assets will undoubtedly support the country’s declining oil revenues, and become a major source of income.
Of course, stability and security are important factors in achieving these targets. For more than 25 years, Azerbaijan has proven how it treats foreign investors and companies, and how the country upholds agreements. As Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev emphasised: “Our word is as valid as our signature.”