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.
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
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.
Negotiations 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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
FACTS - DEFENSE
66 950 male (2017)
The air Force
7 900 men (2017)
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)