On July 6, Albanian President Bayram Begai visited Azerbaijan and engaged in discussions with his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev on bilateral political relations, joint activities in international organizations, trade, economic matters and investment opportunities (Kaspi.az; Report.az, July 8). These talks underlined Baku’s increased attention to deepening its partnerships with countries in the Balkans. In the case of Albanian-Azerbaijani relations, Aliyev declared, “I would call these relations excellent.”
In recent years, official visits between Azerbaijan and the countries in the region have been steadily intensifying (President.az, July 7). For example, during the 2022 Francophonie Summit, Albania blocked a special resolution that included a clause that Baku characterized as “anti-Azerbaijan.” Interestingly, despite internal conflicts and disagreements in the Balkans, Azerbaijan has managed to establish balanced and rapidly developing relations with each country in the region. Recently, the Azerbaijani president embarked on visits to Albania and Serbia, and, on April 13, he made a trip to Bosnia-Herzegovina (Azertag, November 24, 2022; see EDM, April 24). These visits built on past progress made by Azerbaijan during official talks in Bulgaria, Albania, Serbia and Romania in the latter part of 2022, as well as meetings with the prime ministers of Croatia and Montenegro during the World Economic Forum in January 2023. Equally important are the recent visits of the Albanian, Bulgarian and Romanian presidents as well as Serbian prime minister to Baku (Report.az, April 25).
In 2011, Azerbaijan was selected as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council from Eastern Europe for a two-year term; currently, Albania is fulfilling this role, and this shared designation in and of itself gives special meaning to the two countries’ diplomatic relations (News.un.org, October 24, 2011). Azerbaijan opened its embassy in Albania in 2022, and in a reciprocal gesture, Albania plans to open its embassy in Baku sometime in 2023 (President.az, July 7).
Beyond Albania, in 2022, Azerbaijan and Serbia signed a memorandum on strategic partnership and cooperation. Earlier, in 2021, they signed an agreement on military-technical cooperation (Azertag, November 24, 2022). Additionally, during Aliyev’s visit to Bulgaria in 2015, a joint declaration on strategic partnership was signed, establishing the Azerbaijan-Bulgaria Strategic Dialogue (Musavat.com, accessed August 17).
In recent years, the expansion of relations between Azerbaijan and the Balkan countries has been influenced not only by traditional factors but also by increasing regional tensions, especially Russia’s ongoing war against Ukraine and the recent disputes of Albania and Azerbaijan with Iran. Their growing closeness is additionally influenced by geography, shared interests and security concerns, as well as a common history under Soviet influence. For Azerbaijan, the region is significant as it provides access to the Black, Aegean and Adriatic seas. While not having direct access, Azerbaijan benefits from export and transit opportunities through ports in Georgia and Turkey, enabling the transportation of its goods to Balkan countries. Additionally, critical transit corridors from Asia to Europe pass through Azerbaijan further enhancing its pivotal role (1news.az, December 23, 2022).
Indeed, Baku plays a key role in helping the Balkans states diversify their energy sources. Particularly, amid the war in Ukraine, Moscow’s threats to Europe’s energy security have elevated the importance of alternative sources. The Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP), which transports Azerbaijani natural gas to Europe, passes through the Balkans via Greece and Albania. In 2022, Azerbaijan supplied 1 billion cubic meters (bcm) of natural gas from only its Shah Deniz field to Bulgaria through the TAP via the Greece-Bulgaria gas interconnector (Musavat.com, accessed August 17). Currently, Azerbaijani gas is being transported to Albania, also through the TAP. The primary goal is to eventually transport this gas from the Adriatic to Italy. Additionally, using Albania as a transit point, other Balkan countries can receive gas from Azerbaijan, as they have expressed interest in expanding the transit of hydrocarbons.
New perspectives in energy cooperation between Azerbaijan and the countries in the region have become ever-more relevant since Baku began utilizing the Greece-Bulgaria gas interconnector in 2022. Azerbaijani gas supplied via this interconnector will enter the Romanian market sometime this year. Moreover, efforts are underway to connect Serbia to the overall system through an additional interconnector. Albania’s gasification campaign, including the establishment of gas pipelines and supporting infrastructure, is being carried out through investments from Baku and the involvement of Azerbaijani companies (President.az, July 7). In this, the realization of the Ionian-Adriatic Pipeline will create opportunities to transport Azerbaijan’s energy resources deeper into Europe (Azertag, April 13).
In April 2023, a memorandum of understanding was signed in Sofia between Bulgartransgaz (Bulgaria), Transgaz (Romania), FGSZ (Hungary), Eustream (Slovakia) and the State Oil Company of the Republic of Azerbaijan to promote cooperation on energy matters (President.az, April 25). The memorandum outlines joint development and use of the Southern Gas Corridor, with energy resources being delivered through the enhanced transmission systems of Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and Slovakia.
Furthermore, in July 2022, Azerbaijan and the European Commission signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Strategic Partnership in Energy. According to the document, plans are in place to double Azerbaijan’s gas supply to European markets by 2027. In 2021, Azerbaijan exported 8 bcm of natural gas to Europe. This year, the target is set at 12 bcm (525.az, April 27).
With Europe’s green energy policies, Azerbaijan and the Balkan countries have initiated collaboration in this direction as well (see EDM, March 21). As part of this effort, a working group was formed this year to lay a 1,195-kilometer electricity cable along the bottom of the Caspian to connect Azerbaijan, Georgia, Romania and Hungary. Currently, Azerbaijan’s export capacity is around 1,000 megawatts (MW). However, Baku is engaged in several projects that will increase Azerbaijan’s green energy export capacity by an additional 700 MW in the coming months (Renewables.az, January 11). Furthermore, Azerbaijan has signed contracts and memorandums of understanding to produce more than 25 gigawatts (GW) of recovered energy. The estimated potential for recovered energy in Azerbaijan is around 200 GW, with 157 GW located in the Caspian. Overall, Europe has been designated as the primary destination for Azerbaijan’s green energy exports, with the first recipients being the Balkan countries (Azertag, April 26).
In recent years, Baku’s relations with the Balkan states have experienced dynamic growth, characterized by reciprocal visits that have significantly expanded diplomatic ties and strengthened transportation connections. For Azerbaijan, the Balkan region serves as a strategic gateway to European markets for its energy resources. The countries of the region in turn have actively collaborated with Azerbaijan, particularly in aligning with Europe’s shift toward green energy. This cooperation has not only facilitated improved energy security in the Balkans by reducing over-reliance on only a couple external suppliers but has also fostered increased investments and the further development of key infrastructure projects. As this cooperation continues to deepen, it will play a central role in easing and increasing the delivery of goods and energy resources from Asia to Europe, to the mutual benefit of Baku and its Balkan partners.