Recently, it is seen that there is a rapprochement between Azerbaijan and the Balkan countries. The basis of this convergence lies in the energy factor. In particular, the ongoing Russia-Ukraine War has created an energy security crisis on a global scale and has further affected the current energy crisis in the Balkans. In this process, due to the sanctions imposed by Western countries, disruptions began to occur in the flow of energy resources from Russia. Considering that the countries of the region are also dependent on Russia, especially in terms of energy, the current situation will be better understood.
Azerbaijan is trying to turn this situation into an opportunity by taking advantage of the current conjuncture. In this context, the ongoing war has opened a new door for Azerbaijan in terms of energy. [i] The Balkans is a corridor for the delivery of Azerbaijani gas to Europe In this respect, an opportunity arises to minimize the vulnerabilities of energy security in the Balkans[ii]
One of the important steps taken in this framework was the signing of a memorandum of understanding on April 25, 2023 with the State Oil Company of the Republic of Azerbaijan (SOCAR) and the relevant institutions of the states of Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia[iii] With this step, it is aimed to increase Azerbaijan’s energy exports to these countries. On the other hand, with a separate agreement between Hungary and Azerbaijan in August 2023, Hungary stated that it would supply 1 billion cubic meters of gas from Azerbaijan [iv]
While these developments were taking place, Azerbaijan also held talks with Serbia on energy supply. In fact, in 2022, the leaders of the two countries came together and signed an agreement on a strategic partnership that emphasizes opportunities in the field of energy [v]
On the other hand, Bulgaria, which is highly dependent on Russia in terms of energy, has started to supply gas from Azerbaijan as a result of the agreement it has made with Azerbaijan. In this context, at the end of 2022, Azerbaijani gas began to reach Bulgaria through the Greece-Bulgaria Pipeline. So much so that some have described this situation as a “game changer” development. Because with this step, Bulgaria’s dependence on Moscow in terms of energy has decreased. In addition, the way to ensure the flow of gas to countries such as Romania and Moldova has been opened [vi]
Another country in the Balkans that benefited from Azerbaijan’s energy was Albania[vii] Although the Albanian energy basket is very narrow, it plays an important role in ensuring the energy security of both the region and Europe at the point reached today. The Trans-Adriatic Pipeline, which constitutes an important dimension of ensuring the flow of gas to Europe and the Balkans, carries Azerbaijani gas to Italy through Albania
In addition, Azerbaijan, which strives to establish and maintain close relations with Bosnia and Herzegovina from the countries of the region, aims to develop its bilateral relations by opening a diplomatic representation in this country. Because the energy cooperation to be provided with Bosnia and Herzegovina, which acts as a corridor like other countries in the region, is expected to make significant contributions to the region.
At this point, it is worth mentioning that Azerbaijan is in an advantageous position compared to other actors in the region. Azerbaijan, which has the experience of disintegration and ethnic cleansing experienced by the countries of the region in the 1990s, is able to establish an emotional bond as well as strategic relations with the countries of the region. In addition, Azerbaijan, which strives to maintain the established relations while maintaining its impartiality, is considered as an opportunity within the framework of energy security and investments by the countries of the region. This also benefits the European Union (EU), which plays the role of a stabilizer in the region. Because Azerbaijan’s increasing presence in the region benefits the EU in terms of energy and contributes to the stability in the region.
From this point of view, it is possible to say that Azerbaijan is gradually increasing its presence in the region and benefiting from energy diplomacy in this process. This process of rapprochement of Azerbaijan with the Balkan countries also contains many positive benefits. In the context of the ongoing crisis and in the Balkans, where the crises are deepening, Azerbaijan can be an important actor. The energy dimension will form the basis of this. In the future, the Balkan countries’ efforts to take advantage of the opportunities offered by Azerbaijan by following a pragmatic policy may gain even more importance in terms of the development of the region and the establishment of a sustainable stability.
[i] “Baku and the Balkans: Azerbaijan’s Growing Influence, Built on Gas”, Balkan Insight, https://balkaninsight.com/2023/09/13/baku-and-the-balkans-azerbaijans-growing-influence-built-on-gas/, (Erişim Tarihi: 15.09.2023).
[ii] “OPINION: Azerbaijan’s energy diplomacy pivots to the Balkans”, bne IntelliNews, https://intellinews.com/opinion-azerbaijan-s-energy-diplomacy-pivots-to-the-balkans-279478/?source=azerbaijan, (Erişim Tarihi: 15.09.2023).
[iii] “A Trans-Balkan Pipeline Is The Next Project For EU’s Accelerated Energy Cooperation With Azerbaijan”, NATO Association of Canada, https://natoassociation.ca/a-trans-balkan-pipeline-is-the-next-project-for-eus-accelerated-energy-cooperation-with-azerbaijan/, (Erişim Tarihi: 15.09.2023).
[iv] “Hungary Secures Gas Purchase Agreement with Azerbaijan”, Caspian News, https://caspiannews.com/news-detail/hungary-secures-gas-purchase-agreement-with-azerbaijan-2023-8-22-3/, (Erişim Tarihi: 15.09.2023).
[v] “Balkan-Azerbaijan Friendship is Transforming Europe’s Energy Prospects”, Balkan Insight, https://balkaninsight.com/2022/12/07/balkan-azerbaijan-friendship-is-transforming-europes-energy-prospects/, (Erişim Tarihi: 15.09.2023).
[vi] Aynı yer.
[vii] “Azerbaijan Bolsters Cooperation With Balkan Countries”, The Jamestown Foundation, https://jamestown.org/program/azerbaijan-bolsters-cooperation-with-balkan-countries/, (Erişim Tarihi: 15.09.2023).