In an effort to reduce its dependency on Russian gas, the European Union has turned to another dictatorship — except this time, it is one that has been terrorizing the South Caucasus since 2020.
The dictatorship in question is Azerbaijan.
President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, although critical of Putin’s unjust attack on Ukraine, readily ignores the blatant human rights violations committed by the Aliyev regime. With her last visit to Baku, von der Leyen signed a deal with Azerbaijan to double the imports of natural gas, with definitive plans to increase the imports to $20 billion by 2027.
Azerbaijan’s strategic location in the South Caucasus, as well as its natural gas resources, have made the country a critical actor in the development of the South Gas Corridor (SGC). The SGC is an infrastructure project with four main pipelines that aims to transport natural gas from the Caspian basin to Europe. Through the construction of pipelines and facilities, the SGC aims to transport gas from Azerbaijan’s Shah Deniz field to South Eastern European countries. Moreover, Azerbaijan deliberately excluded Armenia from the SGC project due to the ongoing conflict over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region. This exclusion was a strategic move by Azerbaijan to prevent Armenia from benefiting from the project.
Now, in its latest attempts to diversify its energy sources, the EU is apparently willing to get in bed with an authoritarian state, with von der Leyen expressing further interest in solidifying the relationship between the EU and Azerbaijan.
However, it is uncertain whether Azerbaijan can meet the increasing gas demands of Europe. Baku, unable to meet its own domestic gas demand, has turned to Russia. Azerbaijan’s gas deal with Russia raises questions the EU is unwilling to acknowledge — for example, can Azerbaijan keep up with European demand?
Despite the EU imposing sanctions against Russia following the attack on Ukraine, the sanctions do not apply to Azerbaijan, allowing Baku to import gas from Russia. Due to Baku’s domestic gas needs, Azerbaijan’s potential as the EU’s primary alternative to Russian gas is impractical.
The implications are significant, if not outlandish.
In an attempt to keep up the European gas demand, Azerbaijan depends on gas imports from Russia, indirectly overriding the impact of EU sanctions. The EU’s decision to sanction and abandon Russian gas, therefore, has ultimately backfired, as Azerbaijan, in order to maintain the agreed-upon gas demand, can easily purchase Russian gas, neatly bow-tie it and turn around and sell it to the Europeans.
In an effort to support Ukraine, distance itself from Putin’s regime and uphold European human rights values, the EU’s agreement with Azerbaijan may have merely replaced one dictatorship with another. The European Commission has failed to address Azerbaijan’s grave human rights violations, not only against its own people and the de-facto independent region of Nagorno-Karabakh, but also against the sovereign territory of Armenia.
The hypocrisy is palpable, as the EU willingly ignores human rights violations and potential ethnic cleansing by Azerbaijan, yet sanctions and blacklists Russia for doing the same. For instance, Azerbaijan was given a “Global Freedom Score” of nine by Freedom House, while Russia was given nineteen, which raises serious questions.
The Lachin Corridor, the only road that connects Nagorno-Karabakh to the Republic of Armenia, has been blockaded since December 12, 2022, by Azerbaijan. The blockade has ceased all transportation of people, food and even medical supplies. Nonetheless, the EU has repeatedly failed to either pass a resolution to urge Azerbaijan to end the blockade, or propose sanctions against the authoritarian state.
Because the EU is heavily reliant on Azerbaijani gas, Baku feels emboldened to continue its genocidal agenda without fear of repercussions from the international community. The recent blockade of the Lachin Corridor for over 113 days, without meaningful intervention from the Europeans, underscores this troubling trend.
It is unjust and hypocritical to punish one authoritarian state for violating human rights, while rewarding another with an agreement to import 20 billion cubic meters of gas per year. With Baku’s recent gas deal with Russia, it is highly likely that the EU will end up purchasing Russian gas through Azerbaijan.
Lastly, the implications are clear, if not significant. Rewarding Azerbaijan with a tremendous gas deal indirectly green lights and supports their active ethnic cleansing efforts against Armenians.
As such, the EU has failed to replace Russia with another gas supplier. They merely traded one dictator for another.
Photo by Marco Fieber republished with CC-BY-2.0 license.