After visits to Saudi Arabia, Iran, and China, Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliev reversed course and paid a visit to a European country — Poland — on March 30. The trip refuted speculations that Azerbaijan was gradually shifting its foreign policy course towards the East. The visit was important from two perspectives: Poland’s involvement in energy transport issues in Azerbaijan and the political-military assistance that Poland can render to Azerbaijan in its efforts to integrate with European institutions. “We should do our utmost to widen our links in numerous fields,” Aliev said in Warsaw (Baku Sun, April 1). Polish President Alexander Kwasniewski responded by saying that Poland was ready to help Azerbaijan integrate into Euro-Atlantic structures (Zerkalo, March 31).
As in his visits to other countries, economic issues dominated President Aliev’s program. The inclusion of Minister of Economic Development Farkhad Aliev (no relation to President Aliev) and the head of the Customs Committee, Kamaleddin Heydarov, in the delegation has become a regular feature of the President’s visits. This shows the vital role that President Aliev gives to the issues of foreign investment, bilateral trade, and increased economic cooperation.
During Aliev’s visit to Poland, the governments of the two countries signed several economic agreements on topics such as mutual trade and economic cooperation, double taxation, and mutual protection of investments (Azeri Times, April 1). President Aliev also met with Polish businessmen and encouraged them to invest in the Azerbaijani economy by describing the recent legal and economic reforms in the country. A group of Polish private sector representatives already visited Baku several years ago (Azeri Times, April 1). Poland, which has recently joined the European Union, can serve as a good model for — as well as an advocate of — Azerbaijan, which also aspires to become a member of the EU in the future.
Yet, potential cooperation in the oil and gas sector overshadowed all other issues. Poland seemed very eager to cooperate with Azerbaijan on the issue of oil and gas transit from the Caspian region. This topic has been active since 1998, when Poland’s President Kwasniewski visited Azerbaijan. On April 3 ANS television’s weekly analytical program claimed that Poland’s interest in this issue comes from its desire to lower its dependence on Russian energy supplies. One way Poland could boost its role in the East-West energy transport corridor is by extending the Odessa-Brody oil pipeline from Ukraine to the Polish port of Gdansk on the Baltic Sea. President Kwasniewski has repeatedly mentioned this idea during bilateral talks.
The project is a worthwhile consideration, if for no other reason than it would boost the trade between Poland and GUAM members (Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Moldova) and lower their dependence on Russia transit routes. However, in order to fully realize this idea, two factors are required: increased amounts of oil coming from the Caspian and reversing the flow of the Odessa-Brody pipeline (currently it is running southward carrying Russian oil to the Black Sea.) Newly elected Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko has already expressed his intention to reverse the course of that pipeline. As for the first factor, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili recently visited Kazakhstan where he actively urged President Nursultan Nazarbayev to ship some Kazakh oil to Europe through Georgia and Ukraine. Nazarbayev has reportedly promised to send a governmental delegation to Azerbaijan to discuss the tariff issues (Echo, April 2). Should these issues be resolved, Poland could become another important outlet for Caspian oil, which would further strengthen the European integration of Azerbaijan.
Another issue emphasized in the bilateral talks was military cooperation. Azerbaijani Minister of Defense Safar Abiev was added to the delegation specifically for this topic. Unlike China, Poland has even signed a special agreement with Azerbaijan in the sphere of military-technical cooperation and assistance.
Poland, having recently become a member of NATO, can offer Azerbaijan priceless lessons in terms of modernizing its army, raising it to NATO standards, and conducting military exercises and training for soldiers and officers. Poland could also become a strong advocate of Azerbaijan inside the European political and military structures, especially on the issue of the Karabakh conflict.
During the bilateral talks, President Kwasniewski reportedly said that Poland supports Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity and believes that the Karabakh conflict should be resolved according to international law. “Baku’s offer to give the broadest level of autonomy to Nagorno-Karabakh is worth considering,” President Kwasniewski said (ANS TV, April 3).