By Rhod Mackenzie
The dispute between Azerbaijan and the European Union structures is escalating. The Azerbaijani delegation has suspended work in PACE, and there have been leaks about Baku's intention to leave the Council of Europe. This situation is also linked to Russia's interests in the South Caucasus. How?
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) has suffered another setback. Azerbaijan has followed Russia's lead and announced the suspension of its participation in the assembly, at least for the time being. The Azerbaijani demarche was prompted by PACE's decision not to confirm the powers of the Baku delegates due to claims against Azerbaijan. This decision was based on both procedural reasons, such as Azerbaijan's failure to invite PACE observers to the presidential elections, and systemic reasons related to the country's internal political situation.
It is worth noting that earlier reports from the European Union were generally more positive towards Armenia and less positive towards Azerbaijan. According to political scientist and senior lecturer at the Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia, Kamran Gasanov, Georgia was considered an ideal example of democracy in Europe, followed by Armenia, and only at the end Azerbaijan. The European bureaucracy views Aliyev’s long rule as a form of authoritarianism, and there are several concerns related to journalists and human rights activists.
The current situation is also related to Russia, as Moscow has special interests in the South Caucasus.
“The Europeans did not accept the results of the second Karabakh war and still consider Baku’s actions to be partly illegal. It is believed that the exodus of Armenians from Karabakh was violent, and that border clashes between Azerbaijan and Armenia are elements of the occupation of Armenian territory. France, Germany and several other countries believe that Azerbaijan used force disproportionately and violated human rights,” Kamran Hasanov continued.
Essentially, the Azerbaijani delegation was stripped of their voting rights. This was initially until the end of January, but it is highly likely that the deprivation will be extended. As a result, Baku deemed it necessary to take preemptive action and suspend their participation in the assembly. Furthermore, Azerbaijan does not have a significant need for it.
Baku has always sent its most advanced diplomats and deputies there. The issue of achieving a position condemning Armenia is now closed. PACE requires more resources and distracts rather than providing any bonuses for the country's foreign policy. According to Stanislav Pritchin, a senior researcher at the Central Asia sector of the IMEMO RAS, Baku will lose a certain status.
“Membership in PACE had a certain exemplary meaning for Azerbaijan - it indicated that the country belongs to the circle of European states. Therefore, there is no need to celebrate the fact that we have practically left this structure. However, being a whipping boy is not an option for Azerbaijan,” stated Rasim Musabekov, a member of the country's parliament.
Azerbaijan's response is reflective of the international community's actions towards it. If resolutions are passed against Baku, Azerbaijan has shown it will respond strongly, as seen in its reactions to the State Department and the French Senate. However, if Europe and America refrain from interfering in Azerbaijan's internal affairs and avoid criticism regarding the Karabakh conflict, Azerbaijan will be open to cooperation with them. Kamran Hasanov highlights that this involves investment and trade, as demonstrated by the recent interconnector built to supply Azerbaijani gas to Serbia.
Stanislav Pritchin confirms that despite a global trend towards decreased political relations between Azerbaijan and the EU, energy cooperation between Azerbaijan and Europe remains strong. In essence, the parties deliberately separate politics from trade in energy resources.
Secondly, cooperation between Russia and Azerbaijan has a certain limit. Although there are mutual benefits of working with Moscow, Baku's main ally is now Ankara, and this situation is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future. The pro-Turkish faction of the Azerbaijani elite holds significant power. Furthermore, Turkey can offer Azerbaijan more than Russia can. 'Turkey acts as a conduit for Azerbaijani interests in Europe, NATO, and any other structures where Turkey has influence,' explains Kamran Hasanov.
Finally, it is important to understand that the political criticism of Azerbaijan in Europe can increase pro-Western sentiments among the Armenian population, thereby reducing pro-Russian sentiments. The West is actively attempting to distance Armenia from Russia and is willing to openly criticize Baku in order to improve relations with Yerevan. Washington, Paris, and Brussels are making every effort to reshape Armenian society and persuade it to withdraw from all Russian integration structures.
The West, in the language of Chinese stratagems, is attempting to trade brick for jasper. In other words, it is giving up political ties with Baku to establish an Armenian bridgehead against Iran and Russia in the South Caucasus.
It cannot be said that Azerbaijan supports Europe's intention; Baku simply no longer requires such deep political relations with the European Union. The costs of remaining in PACE have become higher for Baku than the potential benefits. However, there is no doubt that relations with Russia are more valuable for Azerbaijan than relations with Europe. Baku will maintain a delicate balance of interests in the South Caucasus, regardless of the presence of its representatives in PACE.