On December 10, a delegation from the Serbian National Assembly, led by parliamentary speaker Maja Gojkovic, visited the Azerbaijani capital of Baku (Azernews.az, December 10). During their two-day visit, the members of the Serbian delegation met with several high-ranking Azerbaijani officials, including President Ilham Aliyev. The two sides discussed, inter alia, strategies for boosting their bilateral economic cooperation (Parlament.gov.rs, December 11). This visit by Serbian government officials to Azerbaijan was the latest high-level diplomatic exchange between the two countries since the surge in Baku and Belgrade’s mutual cooperation started several years ago.
Two months earlier, on September 10, a Serbian delegation led by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Ivica Dacic (Azernwes.az, September 10) visited Azerbaijan. His two-day trip included a meeting with Azerbaijani President Aliyev. Dacic also held discussions with Azerbaijani Prime Minister Artur Rasizade, Minister of Foreign Affairs Elmar Mammadyarov and Minister of Economic Development Shahin Mustafayev. At a joint press conference with Dacic, Mammadyarov expressed his satisfaction with Serbia’s position toward the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and Serbia’s support for Azerbaijan’s position over the Karabakh conflict with neighboring Armenia. Dacic, in turn, reassured his Azerbaijani counterpart that Serbia insists both on the peaceful resolution of the conflict and on the withdrawal of Armenian armed forces from occupied regions of Azerbaijan. Keeping in mind that, starting on January 1, 2015, Serbia will assume the chairmanship of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which guides negotiations on Karabakh via the Minsk Group process, Serbia’s position on the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict is of particular importance for Azerbaijan.
However, Dacic’s reassurance of Serbian support for Azerbaijan regarding Karabakh comes as no surprise as both countries have a history of mutually satisfactory opinions on each other’s de-facto independent regions. The start of such Serbian-Azerbaijani cooperation dates back to the 2009 visit to Baku by the then–Serbian foreign minister, Vuk Jeremic, and, a year later, a visit by the then-president of Serbia, Boris Tadic. Ilham Aliyev paid a return visit to Belgrade in 2011.
Visits by Serbian officials in 2009 and 2010 directly followed Azerbaijan’s refusal to recognize the independence of Kosovo, despite its recognition by the United States and most European Union countries. A former region of Serbia—which came under protection by a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)–led peacekeeping force following a brutal war against Belgrade in 1999—Kosovo proclaimed its independence in February 2008. Serbia’s position toward Azerbaijan’s breakaway region of Karabakh—which remains under Armenia’s control since the bloody war fought between Armenia and Azerbaijan in the early 1990s—is that of unconditional support for Azerbaijan’ territorial integrity. In 2012, the two countries signed a declaration on friendly relations and strategic partnership, which laid a legal foundation for higher volumes of economic, cultural and political cooperation between Azerbaijan and Serbia. And in April 2014, a Serbian delegation led by former president Tadic played a prominent role at the non-governmental Global Shared Societies Forum held in Baku. In May, following heavy floods in parts of Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, Azerbaijan dispatched two planes with humanitarian aid to Serbian flood-affected regions (Trend.az, May 19).
With trade volumes between the two countries reaching over 42 million euros ($52 million) last year (trend.az, August 27), Dacic, during his September visit to Baku, invited Azerbaijan to invest in numerous sectors of the Serbian economy, including but not limited to, infrastructure, agriculture, construction, energy and information technology. At the moment, however, economic cooperation between Azerbaijan and Serbia is far from mutual and is limited to Azerbaijani capital investments in the Serbian economy. For example, in 2012, Azerbaijan provided a 15-year loan of 300 million euros ($374 million) for the construction of a highway that runs from Ljig to Preljina (EurasiaNet, May 31, 2012). Although the 300-million-euro loan is the largest Azerbaijani capital investment in Serbia (it is also one of the few loans of that size provided by Azerbaijan to a foreign country), since President Aliyev’s 2011 visit to Serbia, Azerbaijan has also invested several million euros in a number of cultural projects in Serbia. These included the reconstructions of mosques and churches, as well as the establishment of a monument in a Belgrade park to former Azerbaijani president Heydar Aliyev, the deceased father of Ilham Aliyev.
Baku’s lavish capital investments in Serbia appear to be aimed not only at strengthening its position with the OSCE under the upcoming 2015 Serbian chairmanship, but also to pursue long-term interests of cementing a strategic alliance with this EU-candidate country. With Brussels’ continuous criticism of Baku over human rights violations, Azerbaijani efforts to establish closer relations with either new EU members, such as Romania, or candidate countries like Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, all seem to be a part of Baku’s long-term diplomatic strategy.