Russia is using Azerbaijan to send gas to Europe

DEC. 4 2022 (The Bulletin) — A gas supply deal between Moscow and Azerbaijan should make alarm bells ring in European capitals. Are they, these European superpowers, helping Moscow skirt around sanctions that they and the US set up after the Kremlin invaded Ukraine.

On Nov. 18, Gazprom said that it had sold Azerbaijan 1b cubic metres of gas since March — and would continue to supply gas. 

By agreeing to buy gas from Russia to meet its domestic demand, Azerbaijan frees up more of its own gas to pump to Europe along the Southern Gas Corridor which has been heralded as the way out of Europe’s dependency on Russian gas. 

This year Azerbaijan plans to export 10b cubic metres of gas to Europe, rising to 12b cubic metres next year and 20b cubic metres by 2027.

But this is an illusion. Europe is not actually weaning itself off Russian gas. Instead it is pretending not to notice that part of the gas it now imports from Azerbaijan is essentially a gas swap with Russia. 

Azerbaijan is washing Russian gas for Europe. Labelling the gas as Azerbaijani makes it politically acceptable to buy. If it came with the “made in Russia” tag, it simply wouldn’t be.

For Europe, the optics around taking Azerbaijani gas have always been complicated. In July, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen grinned broadly as she shook hands with Ilham Aliyev, Azerbaijan’s president.

But Aliyev is a man loathed by human rights activists and supporters of free speech. In his 19 years as president, he has crushed opposition and essentially banned free media in Azerbaijan. 

And he is a warmonger, granted a popular one among his own people. In 2020 he launched a war, backed by Turkey and Israel to recapture the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh. The war killed around 5,000 people but was considered a major success at home for Aliyev.

That was meant to be the end of it but in September his forces appear to have launched more attacks along the border with Armenia. Another 300 soldiers were killed.

Corruption is also a problem with Aliyev. In 2021, a court in Italy jailed an Italian MEP for taking cash from Azerbaijan to help sway votes. Aliyev’s associates have also been accused of laundering money through London.

Perhaps too many billions of dollars have been spent on setting up the Southern Gas Corridor. Perhaps it would just be too embarrassing for BP, a major supporter, for Europe to turn its back on Aliyev. 

Aliyev is having a very good war.


— This story was published in issue 530 of the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin, on Dec. 4 2022

— Copyright the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin 2022

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