Azerbaijan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Elmar Mammadyarov is meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Washington today to sign a memorandum of understanding on cooperation for energy security. Crafted to a large extent by Deputy Assistant Secretary Matt Bryza during recent visits to Baku, this framework document enshrines specific initiatives of which Azerbaijan has been the leading promoter in the Caspian region.
The document expresses high-level U.S. support for “new generation” pipelines to carry gas from the Caspian region to European markets on the most direct routes, bypassing Russia. It calls for the earliest possible construction and commissioning of a planned pipeline via Turkey to Greece and on to Italy, as well of the planned Nabucco pipeline, also via Turkey and the Balkans to Central Europe. The Shah Deniz-Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum gas pipeline to eastern Turkey, due for commissioning in the next few days, is intended to supply gas from Azerbaijan to those planned lines to Europe. Furthermore, the concept of new-generation pipelines encompasses trans-Caspian lines from Kazakhstan in a first step and Turkmenistan in a follow-up step, to link up in Azerbaijan with the pipeline to Turkey and Europe (Azerbaijan Press Agency, Turan, March 19, 21-22).
Azerbaijan’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Araz Azimov also demonstrated Azerbaijan’s leadership role in the region during a joint hearing of the European Parliament’s Committees on International Affairs and Energy and Transport in Brussels on March 21. The event was unprecedented in two ways: for the Euro-parliamentarians’ intense focus on access to Caspian energy and for their receptiveness to Azerbaijan’s initiatives, which are now clearly seen to be backed by the United States as well. In the hearing and also in his meetings with European Commission officials, Azimov urged the EU to become more assertive in opening direct access to energy resources on the eastern Caspian shore through pipelines on the seabed and the Azerbaijan-Georgia corridor.
Obliquely but unmistakably, Azimov took issue with misconceptions in several EU countries that inhibit the development of common EU energy policies in the Caspian basin. He insisted that the EU must diversify not just the supply routes from one country at the source, but diversify the range of supplier countries; and that Azerbaijan is fully committed to the EU’s Nabucco project, which is “definitely not a dream.” The first rejoinder concerns the resilient view, particularly among elements of the German government and business establishment, that diversification of routes from Russia would guarantee security of supplies. An accompanying version of this view holds that Ukraine and Belarus are unreliable transit routes, with the corollary that Russia’s North Stream and Blue Stream projects would suffice as “alternative” supply routes.
Azimov’s pointed reference to Nabucco in the hearing clearly refutes Hungarian Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany’s recent, deprecating characterization of that project as a “dream” and his declared preference for Gazprom’s Blue Stream project, which is Nabucco’s rival (see EDM, March 13). The Euro-parliamentarians’ interest in this project sent a message to the Hungarian government on the eve of Gyurcsany’s visit to Russia (Budapest Analyses, March 21). Azimov also made clear the importance of Turkmenistan as an energy source for Europe — a fact that is not yet readily understood or admitted in Brussels or Washington.
Last November in Brussels, President Ilham Aliyev signed with EU Commission President Manuel Barroso a memorandum on EU-Azerbaijan energy partnership, covering the Nabucco project, among other issues. In the parliamentary hearing just held and also in his meetings with EU Commission officials, Azimov called for advancing to the next stage: a framework for cooperation involving the EU and its member countries as energy consumers, the transit countries in the Black Sea region, and the Caspian producer countries Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Azerbaijan (RFE/RL, March 20; Turan, March 21, 22).
Alongside Azerbaijan, Georgia might increase its role as a transit country for oil, under the terms of a proposal that Polish President Lech Kaczynski has prepared for Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan. The proposal involves supplying oil from Kazakhstan to the Odessa-Brody pipeline through the planned trans-Caspian tanker line, continuing overland via Azerbaijan to Georgian terminals on the Black Sea, and again by tanker to Odessa. This route would circumvent Russia, which has for the last five years blocked the access of Kazakhstan’s oil to Ukraine and via that country to EU territory. The new Polish proposal would make possible the extension of the Odessa-Brody pipeline to Plock and potentially farther afield to EU markets (PAP [Warsaw], March 21).