President Ilham Aliyev has been pursuing a very active foreign policy. The head of state embarks on productive visits one after another. Most recent visit was paid to Greece. During the talks with the Greek leader agreements were struck to expand cooperation in different fields. The parties agreed to supplement relations in the context of geopolitical realities. Documents were signed that will amplify mutually beneficial cooperation in different areas, including energy security, science, education, trade and others. In this sense, dynamics of Azerbaijan-Greece relations appears appealing.
Two Tiers of Cooperation: Athens Accord
There is an ancient history to relations between Azerbaijan and Greece. In modern era it has more of a pragmatic nature. Both countries cooperate throughout many domains. And visits to Greece by the President of Azerbaijan played an important role here. Greece’s head of state also visited our country which also led to securing of mutually enriching arrangements.
Recent visit of President Aliyev bore great significance in terms of elevating this cooperation to the next level. There has to be a two-pronged approach to this issue. First, Azerbaijan is enhancing its bilateral ties with Greece. Second, cooperation between the two states acquires new substance with the implementation of the European Union programs.
Both of the aspects are equally important. Indeed, their execution enables healthy development of these ties in a systemic and consistent manner. In this connection, visit of Ilham Aliyev to Greece in particular was an outcome of a well-calculated policy. The essence of the issue is associated with certain contradictions within the cooperation model between the EU and the post-Soviet states that have surfaced recently. Ukraine can be a telling example of the ongoing crisis. This country is literally caught between the EU and Russia. Despite signing of the association agreement, the course of developments remains ambivalent.
Azerbaijan, in the meantime, is pursuing its relations with the EU both through specific programs of the organization and based on concrete chapters of its bilateral cooperation with the member states. Not only that such an approach produces anticipated outcome but also provokes no geopolitical contradictions. Evolution of the relationship with Athens is a great example. It was not incidental that during the last visit President Ilham Aliyev the title of one of the signed documents read, ”Memorandum for Cooperation for the European Union issues between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Azerbaijan and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Hellenic Republic”.
This document signifies tangible substance already acquired by the strategic partnership program between Azerbaijan and the EU. Athens and Baku had agreed upon new provisions of cooperation in the context of the European Union. They encompass economy, energy, politics, science, education, agriculture and youth-related activity.
This is how President Ilham Aliyev characterized relations between the nations, ”An important part of our relations is associated with energy. Greek-Azerbaijani relations are of strategic importance here. The TAP project is not only a project of energy security. At the same time, it has raised the friendly ties between our countries to an even higher level. The Shahdeniz, TANAP and TAP projects initiated by Azerbaijan are currently the largest infrastructure projects in Europe. As a result of this projects Azerbaijan will export its natural gas to European markets for the decades to come. Today we have also discussed issues of mutual investments and exchanged views on cooperation in the field of culture. In other words, our relations are very broad and I am sure that they will develop even more rapidly in the future”.
Energy Security and Culture: Strategic Points of Convergence
It is absolutely understandable that energy security is of the strategic nature in the Azerbaijan-Greece relations because presently a global-scale fierce struggle for energy resources is unraveling. Some Western politicians are calling for rejection of the ”South Stream” project. Romania and Bulgaria have already halted their participation in the project. Therefore, relevance of TANAP and TAP for Europe is only increasing. And thus, through this projects Azerbaijan will connect Europe and Asia. Figuratively speaking, Baku will serve as a bridge.
In terms of sovereignty, Baku yields two substantial dividends. First, it enhances mutual ties with the EU and develops a strategic partnership within a concrete framework. Second, it obtains international guarantees for ensuring security of the nation. Presently, these aspects are known to constitute urgency for all the post-Soviet space countries.
This explains why there is a special emphasis on relations with Greece. The supply route to traverse this country is viewed as perspective and secure. Moreover, energy security of Azerbaijan’s strategic partners – Turkey and Georgia – becomes ensured. Despite that official Tbilisi signed the association agreement with the EU, Georgia is wary of Moscow’s retaliation. Georgia’s Minister for Euro-Atlantic Integration Aleksi Petriashvili said in this regard, ”We believe that Russia may create some constraints of the economic nature”.
Apparently, energy cooperation between Baku and Athens serves the purpose of resolving problems pertaining to global and regional geopolitics. In this connection, there were two noteworthy aspects to the statement for the press by the President Ilham Aliyev. President specifically underscored that, ”President Papoulias and I have also widely discussed regional security. The greatest threat to regional security is posed by the unresolved status of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict over Nagorno Karabakh. For more than twenty years Armenia has held twenty percent of Azerbaijan’s internationally recognized territory under occupation. A speedy settlement of the conflict would bring peace and cooperation to the region”.
Greece and Azerbaijan envisage cooperation in the process of fair resolution of regional-scale conflicts. With the same logic they act together towards establishment of the global energy security system. It is fascinating that such tangible steps are seen as a key factor for the Azerbaijan-EU relations acquiring strategic nature. The very dynamics can be conducive in elevating relations between the parties to a viable level of mutual cooperation. Azerbaijan’s integration to the European system of values would succeed based on a unique model.
Science and education’s share in the cooperation between Athens and Baku must be particularly highlighted. The point is that there is a great deal of interest to Hellenic culture and philosophy in Azerbaijan. It was back in the IX century that educational shrines akin of Greek academies were established in the historically Azerbaijani lands. Now learning of ancient Greek language by the youth can spur intellectual development. Furthermore, the Greeks would gain a chance to acquaint themselves with the jewels of Azerbaijani culture. This signifies the importance of the cultural factor in the Azerbaijan-Greece relationship.
All of the aforementioned concur with the following remark by the Greek President Karolos Papoulias, ”Today’s visit is a new sign of excellent relations between Greece and Azerbaijan and opens new paths and horizons for our cooperation”. There is no doubt that Azerbaijan will as always remain a loyal partner and a stalwart ally along this path. Azerbaijani state is stronger than ever and thus is able to extend a helping hand. And nears the day when the very ”hand” will restore justice in the Nagorno Karabakh.