Azerbaijan Continues to Strengthen Ties With Central Asia

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 21 Issue: 71


Executive Summary:

  • Russia’s war against Ukraine has given Azerbaijan fresh motivation to strengthen relations with Central Asian countries to improve their collective trade, transit, and energy potential.
  • Continued development and increased use of the Middle Corridor is central to Baku’s increased cooperation with Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan.
  • Effective joint development between Baku and the Central Asian capitals is crucial for the Middle Corridor to potentially become the premier transit passage for east-west trade.

On February 14, speaking at his inauguration ceremony, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev declared, “We do not have another family. Our family is the Turkic world” (, February 14). Aliyev’s message was meant to outline Azerbaijan’s foreign policy priorities and highlighted Baku’s plans to continue strengthening ties with Türkiye and the four Central Asian states of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan. In the following months, Aliyev hosted Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev on March 11 and 12 and Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov on April 24 and 25. Regional experts pointed out that these talks “laid the foundation” for a new era in Azerbaijan’s ties with Central Asia (, March 12; Sputnik Kyrgyzstan, April 25). The growing partnerships between Baku and the Central Asian states are built on shared geopolitical and economic interests, including developing infrastructure and expanding trade, as well as attempting to collectively address the unfolding global instability caused by Russia’s war against Ukraine.

A turning point in Azerbaijan’s ties to Central Asia came in the wake of Moscow’s expanded invasion. In April 2022, Japarov visited Baku and signed a strategic partnership agreement in addition to ten other documents aimed at strengthening economic cooperation and trade between the two countries (, April 26, 2022). As a result of these efforts, in 2023, bilateral trade volume increased sixfold, reaching $85 million (, April 25). During the latest visit, Japarov and Aliyev signed 18 documents in the cultural, economic, trade, agricultural, and transport fields, including an expansive bilateral cooperation program for 2024–29 (Kaktus Media, April 24). Kyrgyzstan offers Baku the chance to become a central player in prospective transit projects, though Bishkek’s bet on the China–Kyrgyzstan–Uzbekistan railway may not pan out. Azerbaijan was planned to be a key link in connecting this passage with European markets (see EDM, May 7).

Baku has also expanded relations with Tashkent. In 2022, Aliyev visited Uzbekistan on three different occasions (see EDM, July 26, 2022). During his official visit in June 2022, the two sides signed around 20 agreements to enhance economic, transport, trade, and cultural cooperation. The joint production of cars in the Azerbaijani city of Hajigabul is one noteworthy project to come from these talks. The plant is expected to be completed in 2025 and will have the capacity to produce 30,000 automobiles annually (Sputnik Uzbekistan, August 1, 2023). By the end of 2022, Uzbekistan was home to 238 joint ventures with Baku and Azerbaijani companies (, January 18).

In 2023, both governments built on the cooperative framework established in 2022. During the first Uzbek-Azerbaijani forum in Tashkent, the parties signed an intergovernmental agreement creating a joint investment fund worth $500 million (Sputnik Uzbekistan, August 1, 2023). In August 2023, Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev visited Azerbaijan, where the two sides established the Supreme Interstate Council and discussed further trade, industrial, and transit cooperation development. Fifteen more documents were also signed, including agreements to deepen cooperation in the energy sector and youth development. Mirziyoyev stated, “It is symbolic that I am making my first visit after the elections to Azerbaijan. This testifies to the highest level of bilateral cooperation [and] mutual desire for rapprochement” (, August 23, 2023).     

Kazakhstan is perhaps Azerbaijan’s largest and most important partner in Central Asia. Over the past two years, both countries have expanded their economic cooperation and trade relations (see EDM, April 20, July 31, 2023). The foundations were laid during Tokayev’s visit to Baku in August 2022. Tokayev shared plans to increase trade volume to $1 billion, and the two sides signed the Declaration on Strengthening Strategic Relations and the Comprehensive Program for the Development of Cooperation 2022–2026 (, August 25).

Since then, the two countries have expanded their cooperation by conducting the first-ever joint military drills and commencing a project to install a fiber-optic cable line along the bottom of the Caspian Sea to enhance internet connectivity between Europe and Asia (see EDM, February 26;, March 11). Astana and Baku are also considering a new project to lay an electric cable along the bottom of the Caspian that will enable Kazakhstan to export electricity to Europe via Azerbaijan. Another major outcome of these growing ties is the agreement to export Kazakhstan’s oil using Azerbaijani energy infrastructure—namely ports and the Baku–Tbilisi–Ceyhan pipeline. In 2023, 1 million tons of Kazakh oil was exported via this route, with 1.5 million tons expected to be exported in 2024 (Sputnik Kazakhstan, March 11).

The challenges and opportunities presented by Russia’s war against Ukraine are the main factors driving the rapidly growing cooperation between Central Asia and Azerbaijan. The disruption of trade, transport, and logistical networks has drawn the attention and resources of global and regional powers to the Trans-Caspian International Trade Route (TITR), also known as the Middle Corridor (see EDM, April 19, August 4, 2022, April 20, 2023; March 6). This passage is an alternative to the existing Northern Corridor from China to Europe via Russia. It originates in China and passes through Central Asia, the Caspian Sea, and the South Caucasus to reach Europe. In this regard, the railway companies of Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, and Georgia established a logistics company to facilitate trade along the Middle Corridor in 2023 (, October 26, 2023). 

For Kazakhstan, the TITR is crucial for diversifying export routes, as Astana has faced increased difficulty in exporting its oil via Russia (see EDM, March 18). For landlocked Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, it is a much safer trade route compared to the alternatives that involve using ports in sanctions-ridden Iran and relying on the promises of unstable Afghanistan to reach Pakistani ports. For Azerbaijan, it is an opportunity to assert its geopolitical importance for east-west trade and transit and gain bargaining chips in its dealings with the European Union. For its part, Brussels recently promised to invest 10 billion euros ($10.75 billion) into the development of the Middle Corridor (, February 23).

Additionally, Azerbaijan has used its talks with Central Asian leaders to generate support for reclaiming Karabakh and preserving the country’s territorial integrity. Tokayev, Japarov, and Mirziyoyev have all visited Azerbaijan’s reclaimed regions and built or promised to build educational centers and schools there (, August 23, 2023; Sputnik Kyrgyzstan, April 25;, March 12).

Effective cooperation between the Central Asian states and Azerbaijan is key for the Middle Corridor to reach its full potential. Baku has made important steps toward bridging the existing gap by engaging with Central Asian governments on an unprecedented scale. The Central Asian countries, in turn, have become more willing and active partners in this exchange. The disruption of established transit and trade networks and growing regional instability have pushed Azerbaijan to focus more on Central Asia as a core part of its “multi-vector” foreign policy. The growing cooperation is off to a promising start and has the potential to play a vital role in reshaping trade and transit between Asia and Europe.