Azerbaijan maintains neutrality in Russia-Ukraine war, calling for dialogue

Rahim Huseynli Analysis 3 March 2022
Azerbaijan maintains neutrality in Russia-Ukraine war, calling for dialogue

Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov has called on Moscow and Kyiv for "dialogue without delay" and resolve the conflict in line with international law amid a brutal assault on Ukraine.

Addressing the UN Human Rights Council meeting on March 2, Bayramov expressed Azerbaijan's regret over the situation in Ukraine, saying that civilians and civilian infrastructure must be protected, and human rights must be constantly observed. 

"Ongoing humanitarian crisis requires urgent measures to help those affected. Azerbaijan provided humanitarian assistance and calls on both sides to dialogue," he added.

On March 3, while addressing the UN General Assembly's emergency session, Azerbaijan’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Yashar Aliyev, stressed the importance of civilian lives and infrastructure being protected and safeguarded at all times, calling for strict adherence to international humanitarian law.

The envoy emphasized that the situation must be resolved diplomatically and in accordance with international law, reiterating calls for immediate dialogue to avoid further escalation and direct negotiations between the parties. 

Balanced policy

Azerbaijan sent medical supplies and equipment to Ukraine last weekend amidst the ongoing war. The two aircraft carrying humanitarian aid worth more than €5 million left the Heydar Aliyev International Airport in Baku for the Polish city of Rzeszow, from where it will be supplied to Ukraine via overland routes.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky thanked his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev for the aid in a post shared on his official Twitter account.

In another post, Ukraine’s president stressed that President Aliyev instructed Azerbaijan’s state-run oil company SOCAR to supply the ambulances and vehicles of the State Emergency Service with fuel free of charge in its gasoline stations in Ukraine. 

Concerned about recent events, representatives of the Ukrainian diaspora and Azerbaijani citizens gathered outside the Ukrainian embassy in Baku on February 27 to express their support.

Meanwhile, Azerbaijan did not vote on the UN General Assembly resolution demanding an end to Russian offensive in Ukraine on March 2. The move was "directly linked to Azerbaijan's chairmanship of the Non-Aligned Movement whose members observe neutrality in these kinds of problems and conflicts," according to diplomatic sources

On February 25, the Azerbaijani delegation did not take part in voting in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on suspending Russia's membership of the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers.

Two days before the Russian invasion to Ukraine, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a Declaration on Allied Cooperation during Aliyev's official visit to Moscow on February 22. 

Under the deal, Baku and Moscow shall hold consultations in case of a threat to peace or security of one of the parties and shall consider the possibility of rendering military assistance to each other based on the UN Charter and international agreements. 

The Azerbaijani leader described the declaration as "the most important document" between the two countries that would play a positive role in bilateral cooperation, as well as in regional security. 

Aliyev also said that relations between Russia and Azerbaijan shall be based on respect for each other's independence, state sovereignty, territorial integrity, inviolability of borders and non-interference in each other's internal affairs. 

On March 2, French President Emmanuel Macron called President Aliyev, and they discussed humanitarian support for Ukraine, as well as energy issues. 

Theater of war

Russian forces launched a major assault on Ukraine on February 24. The invasion by land, air, and the sea began after a pre-dawn TV address where President Putin demanded that Ukraine’s military lay down its arms. 

The offensive was launched in several northern and southern directions as Russia tried to cripple the defense lines of the Ukrainian army quickly. However, the Defense Ministry of Ukraine reported that the strong resistance of the country’s military and civilians across the country foiled the blitzkrieg attempts of the Russian army.

The United States and its allies have sought to punish Russia economically for staging the biggest assault on a European state since World War Two. They have imposed sanctions on Russia’s top businesses, oligarchs and officials, including Putin himself.

The US, EU, UK, Japan, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand unveiled sanctions that target banks, Russian sovereign debt, as well as wealthy individuals in Russia. The White House announced that measures would bring restrictions also on semiconductors, telecommunication, encryption security, lasers, sensors, navigation, avionics, and maritime technologies exports to Russia. 

Possible impacts of war on Azerbaijan

According to Azerbaijani Economic expert and MP Vugar Bayramov, the anti-Russian sanctions will have an impact on Azerbaijan's non-oil exports of which 32.3% go to Russia, and in view of the possible consequences, Azerbaijani agricultural producers should be looking for new markets in the Persian Gulf and the EU. 

On March 1, the majority of banks in Azerbaijan had stopped transactions in rubles, and money transfers via Russian Contact and Zolotaya Korona payment systems have also been halted. 

If China doesn’t join the sanctions against Russia, alternative routes will be used for the fright transport between China and Europe, including the transit corridor through Azerbaijan. It is also possible that Azerbaijan and Turkey would remain Russia's reliable partners in transport and trade, as Iran is also under economic sanctions.

In case of a Western embargo on Russian energy exports, Moscow could sell its oil and gas to Azerbaijan. In turn, Azerbaijan would supply the Russian gas to the domestic consumers and export its own gas to Europe.

In late January, Azerbaijan expressed its readiness to supply Europe with some emergency gas should tensions between Russia and Ukraine disrupt shipments.

“While additional exports wouldn’t be enough to replace top supplier Russia, the energy-rich nation can send more volumes to the continent. Still, any significant boost in volumes would require Europe to sign long-term gas contracts”, Elin Suleymanov, Azerbaijan’s ambassador to the U.K said. 

Europe is seeking to secure alternative sources of gas should shipments from Russia be halted or disturbed, and Azerbaijan has already provided extra supplies to Turkey after flows from Iran were stopped.