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Azerbaijan Defense and Foreign Policy

Foreign policy and defense

Foreign policy is shaped by the proximity to the big neighbor in the north, Russia, and to Iran with which Azerbaijan shares a long cultural and religious history. At the same time, Azerbaijan is trying to strike a balance between east and west and has developed good relations with the United States, Israel and China. The ties to Turkey are also strong.

The objectives of foreign policy are to preserve the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, to prevent other countries from interfering in domestic politics and to promote the image abroad of Azerbaijan as a successful country, partly by financing oil projects in other countries with oil revenues.

  • Countryaah: Overview of business holidays and various national observances in Azerbaijan for years of 2020, 2021, 2022, 2023, 2024 and 2025.

The single most important foreign policy issue is the conflict with Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave located in Azerbaijan but which has been occupied by Armenian forces since the early 1990s (read more in Modern history). The situation at the border with Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan is sometimes tense with occasional clashes between the countries' respective forces.

The government of Azerbaijan caused outrage in the outside world in 2012, when an Azerbaijani soldier who murdered an Armenian colleague in Hungary was received as a hero on his return. He was sentenced to life imprisonment in Hungary but would be transferred to Azerbaijan to serve the rest of the sentence there. Instead of being imprisoned, he was received by the president, pardoned, promoted and assigned a home.

In the spring of 2016, the hardest fighting broke out at the border of at least 20 years and at least 100 people were killed, most soldiers. The situation stabilized after a ceasefire in April, but violence has occurred since then.

Defense and Foreign Policy of AzerbaijanNegotiations for an end to the conflict are being conducted within the so-called Minsk group with eleven members led by Russia, the United States and France. At a meeting in Madrid in 2007, Armenia and Azerbaijan agreed on some basic and universal principles of peace, but so far all more concrete attempts to create peace have failed.

Relations with Russia

Azerbaijan has a split relationship with Russia. It is believed that the Russians contributed significantly to the development of Azerbaijan, but that it was done at the expense of the Azerbaijani national identity. Russia, for its part, has been alarmed by increased US influence in Azerbaijan.

When Heidar Aliyev took over power in Azerbaijan in 1993, he tried to improve relations with Moscow, but they remained ambivalent. Following Vladimir Putin's accession as Russian President from 2000, Russia handled Azerbaijan more cautiously, and relations improved.

Baku has not joined the Western countries' sanctions against Russia after the Russian conquest of the Crimean Peninsula in 2014, and the cooperation is ongoing on energy issues. For example, the countries' largest oil companies have decided to jointly develop deposits in Azerbaijan.

Both countries are concerned about the Islamist uprising against the central power in the Republic of Dagestan, which borders Azerbaijan. To avoid the conflict spilling over to Azerbaijan, Azerbaijani and Russian forces are monitoring the border together.

However, the question of Nagorno-Karabakh is a stumbling block. Russia is closely associated with Armenia. When Russia and Armenia signed a defense agreement in 2012, Russia assured that the country remained neutral on the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh, and Russia has continued to try to mediate the conflict. Russia supplies arms to Armenia on favorable terms, but also sells weapons to Azerbaijan.

In late 2012, Azerbaijan raised the fee for the radar base Russia had in northeastern Azerbaijan and in 2013 the base was closed.

Close ties to Turkey

Turkey has been Azerbaijan's most important ally in the conflict with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh, although Turkish support has only included diplomacy and economic sanctions, but not arms operations. Turks and Azerians feel closely related and understand each other's languages. Turkey was the first country to recognize Azerbaijan in November 1991, and ties have been strengthened since independence. The export of Caspian oil from Baku via Turkey has helped to confirm the close relationship between the countries. Azerbaijan is also a member of the Turkish-speaking Cooperation Council for Turkic-Speaking Countries, which also includes Turkey, War of Afghanistan and Kazakhstan.

The oil in the Caspian Sea helps make Azerbaijan interesting for the United States. Relations were disturbed earlier by Washington indirectly supporting Armenia in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. In 2002, however, US President George W Bush lifted a ban on state aid to Azerbaijan, and the United States had to help modernize airports and strengthen border defense. The United States thus hoped to prevent illegal arms and drug traffic throughout the country. The Americans also promised to pay as much in military aid to Azerbaijan as to Armenia.

After 2008, relations were strained as the US actively supported a rapprochement between Turkey and Armenia. The United States has also had strong objections to the human rights violations that are ongoing in Azerbaijan.

Relaxation with Iran

Relations with Iran have long been strained. At least 20 million Azeris live in Iran. On both sides of the border, voices have been raised to unite all Azeris in one state, but the majority of Azeris do not seem to perceive these plans as attractive or realistic, and therefore have not seriously disrupted contacts.

In contrast, Azerbaijan has accused Iran of supporting militant Islamist groups in the country. A number of people have been sentenced to prison for collaborating with Iran on planning terrorist attacks in Azerbaijan. Iran has also accused Azerbaijan of assisting Israeli agents in operations against Iranian targets in Azerbaijan. In 2014, clashes occurred at the border and an Azerbaijani soldier was killed. Since then, the relationship has improved after Turkish mediation. State visits have been exchanged and the countries have signed a number of cooperation agreements.

Another source of conflict between Azerbaijan and Iran is the border problems in the Caspian Sea, with its many oil deposits on the seabed. These problems have also led to conflict with the former Soviet Republic of Turkmenistan. The problems arose when the Soviet Union disintegrated. Iran and Turkmenistan oppose that deposits in disputed parts of the seabed are exploited before the boundary problems are resolved. In 2018, the countries concerned concluded an agreement on the Caspian Sea, but all important question marks were not rectified (see Calendar).

For the European countries, Azerbaijan has been given an important role as an alternative to Russia in terms of oil and gas supplies and new transport pipelines from the Caspian Sea to Europe are planned. Azerbaijan is part of the EU's Eastern Partnership, that is, the EU's cooperation with the countries of the Caucasus, Moldova, Ukraine and Belarus, but has not signed any association agreement with the EU.

Defense

After independence in 1991, a national defense was built up with army, navy and air force. A special force and border troops were created under the Ministry of the Interior. With the help of the oil money, the defense budget has grown, and the conflict with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabach keeps the upgrading. In the period between 2009 and 2018, Azerbaijan spent six times as much as Armenia on military spending, according to the Peace Research Institute Sipri.

The staffing of the defense branches is based on general military duty which covers up to 18 months of service.

Azerbaijan is engaged in military cooperation with Turkey and Israel and buys weapons from Russia.

Azerbaijan is not a member of the Military Alliance Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) led by Russia. With the Western Defense Alliance NATO, Azerbaijan cooperates in the Partnership for Peace (PFF). Under a 1997 agreement on military cooperation between Azerbaijan and the United States, the defense ministries of both countries regularly consult each other.

Azerbaijan has a smaller peacekeeping force in Afghanistan.

FACTS - DEFENSE

army

66 950 male (2017)

The air Force

7 900 men (2017)

The fleet

2,200 men (2017)

Military expenditure's share of GDP

3.9 percent (2017)

Military spending's share of the state budget

10.4 percent (2017)


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