Azerbaijan - kazakhstan: caspian cooperation and prospects

Abstract. This article analyses co-operation between Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan in the Caspian region in foreign policy, economic, security and cultural affairs, and in the transport and energy supply sector. It explores the history of the development of diplomatic relations between Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, the two countries’ strategies for foreign policy and the role of transport and energy supply projects in establishing a strategic partnership. It outlines the current issues concerning the legal status of the Caspian Sea and draws special attention to inter-cultural ties within Türksoy.

The scientific objective of this article is to examine the objectivity in the analysis of bilateral relations between Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan in the Caspian region and the prospects for cooperation. The comparative and deductive approaches made it possible to describe energy supply projects in the Caspian region and the importance and role of the projects in enhancing the bilateral relations and identify the interests of Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan in the Caspian region.

The strategic importance of the Baku–Tbilisi–Kars (BTK) railway line in Kazakhstan’s foreign policy and of a close co-operation with Azerbaijan in the Caspian region is rising. There is a tendency for Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan to have convergent views on co-operation in multiple areas.


Bilateral relations between Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan have always been friendly. These countries are connected by a common culture, a common religion and common traditions. The existing transport and energy projects in the Caspian region unite the interests and geopolitical goals of both countries. Strategic cooperation between Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan in the Caspian region takes place in the context of a number of important issues. Caspian cooperation between countries is a worthwhile topic for academic research, and deserves special attention.

The main direction of Azerbaijan’s and Kazakhstan’s foreign policy in the Caspian region

Diplomatic relations between Azerbaijan and the Republic of Kazakhstan were established on August 30, 1992. The Embassy of the Republic of Kazakhstan in the Republic of Azerbaijan was established on January 9, 1993. The Embassy of the Republic of Azerbaijan in Kazakhstan was established on March 1, 2004. The first official visit of the President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, to Azerbaijan was on September 16, 1996 [1].

During the break-up of the Soviet Union, the Kazakhstani political leadership tried to consolidate its independence, and a political area was formed, both at regional and international levels [2].

After gaining independence, the foreign policy milestones of both Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan had common features. For example, Azerbaijan pursued a foreign policy aimed at strengthening stability in the region. Using economic force as an instrument of foreign policy, the state expanded its circle of partners. The economic strength of the state is a weapon from the "hard-power" arsenal of foreign policy, based on the use of resources.

The presence of political interest in the economic cooperation of states remains a fact. For example, the foreign economic cooperation of the states of the Caspian region and the implementation of oil and gas projects reduce the dependence of the states of the region on the Russian Federation. Such steps ensure effective regional integration within a certain format. In this context, the Caspian region is the main center of strategic cooperation between the Caspian countries.

Azerbaijan's foreign policy in the Caspian region is aimed at expanding mutually beneficial cooperation and integration of the states of the region. Azerbaijan has turned the Caspian region into an open zone of international cooperation.

After coming to power in 1993, President Aliyev of the Republic of Azerbaijan witnessed one of the most important problems - the contradiction and unstable nature of the state's foreign political correlations at the regional level and uncertain prospects in the world foreign policy arena. He prepared a draft foreign-policy concept that fully corresponded to the state interests of modern Azerbaijan, taking into account the issues of establishing international and regional security on the basis of democratic values [3].

The first official visit of Azerbaijani President, Heydar Aliyev, to Kazakhstan was in June 1997. As a result, agreements on cooperation and free trade were signed.

An official visit by Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev to Kazakhstan was made in March 2004. During the visit, issues of bilateral economic cooperation were discussed, especially in the Caspian region. The heads of states expressed their intention to supply oil and gas from the Caspian Sea shelf to the world market and underlined the important role of Kazakhstan in the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan project [4].

In its foreign policy, Kazakhstan adheres to the multi-vector strategy proclaimed by the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, on December 1, 1991 [5]. The main element of the implementation of the Foreign Policy Concept of the Republic of Kazakhstan is the strengthening of the multilateral nature of Kazakhstan's diplomacy [6].

Therefore its geopolitical location at the crossroads of Asia and Europe; its economic and military political interests; and its existing resources and industrial potential determine the place of Kazakhstan in the system of international relations as a regional state with a multi-vector foreign policy. To ensure its long-term interests, Kazakhstan is interested in maintaining a broad field for political maneuvers. Special features of Kazakhstan's diplomacy are its decisiveness in upholding national-state interests, multi-vector and balance.

The Republic of Kazakhstan is interested in partnership with the Republic of Azerbaijan, especially in resolving strategic issues: determination of the legal status of the Caspian Sea; transportation of oil to world markets; maintenance of transport and logistics interconnections; and development of bilateral economic, political and cultural relations.

Azerbaijan was the first among the states of the region to form a new economic model of development in the Caspian region, despite the fact that the Caspian Sea is a closed sea and the issues of international cooperation were contradictory. Today even non-regional actors are interested in the projects initiated by Azerbaijan.

One of the most important issues of bilateral cooperation between Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan is the implementation of the TRACECA project. Kazakhstan became a party to the main multilateral agreement on the development of the international transport corridor Europe - Caucasus - Asia, signed on September 7 - 8, 1998 [7].

TRACECA is an international transport corridor that links the countries of Europe and Asia. One of the specific features of the Europe-Asia route is that the delivery of goods from the sender to the recipient is carried out by rail and by ships that run on the Black and Caspian Seas. [8]. About thirty states are participants in the TRACECA project, whose headquarters are located in Baku.

For Kazakhstan, the Caspian factor is an opportunity to strengthen its position in the development of the navy, oil and gas production on the shelf of the Caspian Sea and their transportation along alternative routes. Energy policy and the possibility of transit of energy resources strengthen the strategic importance and role of Kazakhstan in the region.

Through the Republic of Kazakhstan, transport routes for oil and natural gas are going to Europe and Asia. Today Kazakhstan remains a stable supplier of energy to the world market.

Thus, in 2008, the National Company KazMunayGas and the State Oil Company of the Republic of Azerbaijan signed the Agreement on the Basic Principles for the Establishment of the Trans-Caspian Transport System. This system was designed to transport Kazakhstan oil from the Tengiz and Kashagan oil fields to the world markets via the Baku- Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline [9]. The first batch of oil extracted from the Tengiz field in Kazakhstan passed through the BTC pipeline in October 2008. However, the increase in tariffs by BTC shareholders in 2011 led to the termination of this agreement.

Oil production in Kazakhstan is growing rapidly, and has already exceeded, by some estimates, 55 million tons per year: most experts believe that the export potential of the state is four times larger than the deposits of Azerbaijan oil. At the opening ceremony of the BTC, President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev specified that the "Ceyhan" direction will become only one of the routes for oil export from Kazakhstan, but in any case not the main one [10].

An important factor for both Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan is the Transcaspian International Transport Route (TCTR). The trans-Caspian international transport route (TCTR) runs through China, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Georgia and further through Turkey and Ukraine - to Europe. It was decided to hold the third meeting of Baku-Aktau-Samsun twin-cities council of cooperation of Turkicspeaking countries in Kazakhstan. Last October, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Georgia signed an agreement on the establishment of the International Association of TCTR, with the office in Astana. Its activities are aimed at attracting transit and foreign trade cargo, as well as developing integrated logistics products along the TCTR route.

The Republic of Azerbaijan has enough oil reserves to fully fill the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, so the implementation of this project will be successful without Kazakh oil.

It is obvious that Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan adhere to the principle of diversification in the issues of oil delivery to the world market.

The President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, shows significant activity in the region [11]. The state seeks to implement transport and energy projects that satisfy its interests and simplify the integration processes in the region. Being a Caspian state, Kazakhstan maintains partnership relations, both with the states of Central Asia, and with the South Caucasus. The idea of regional integration of the states of Central Asia was realized on April 30, 1994 by signing the Agreement on the Common Economic Space.

Today Kazakhstan has significant chances to strengthen its positions in the region. Kazakhstan has a sufficient foreign policy resource for carrying out an independent play, taking into account geopolitical realities, especially in the Central Asian region [12]. In turn, the states of the South Caucasus occupy an important place in the system of economic, political, transit and transport interests of Kazakhstan [13]. The main element of the implementation of the Foreign Policy Concept of the Republic of Kazakhstan is the strengthening of the multilateral nature of Kazakhstan's diplomacy.

Kazakhstan's interests in Central Asia and the Caspian region are interrelated. This is justified by the implementation of the existing key transport and energy projects. Kazakhstan is forming its foreign policy course in the Caspian region, taking into account the priority importance of achieving the set goals, in particular, this concerns the economic sphere.

The regional policy of Azerbaijan influences the formation of national interests. Analyzing the national interests of Azerbaijan in the context of regional policy, the strategic importance of the Caspian region will not remain without attention.

The development of national security is possible due to the correct understanding, formation and maintenance of national interests. Azerbaijan - is the state of the South Caucasus and the Caspian region, which directly affects the nature of the national interests of this state in the region.

In 2010, Kazakhstan began its course of economic modernization - "Kazakhstan - 2020". Today, Kazakhstan's economy not only successfully overcomes crisis conditions, but also moves purposefully on the path of innovation-industrial development [14].

Foreign policy milestones of Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan in the Caspian region

Looking ahead, Kazakhstan will enhance its foreign policy in the east, especially in relation to China. Cooperation with the Russian Federation is lower down the priority list. This is confirmed by Kazakhstan academics and analysts, by characterizing the situation in the region as confrontational for the Russian Federation. So, in his book "Apart: Russia and the countries of Central Asia" A.K. Bisenbaev notes: "Russia's integration efforts in the CIS space are ritualistic. In practice, the state, the ideology of which has the character of confrontation with the whole world, is engaged in pushing away its allies and searching for new enemies. All world and regional events are evaluated from the standpoint of stand-off and confrontation" [15].

The book "Caspian chess board: geopolitical, geostrategic and geo-economic analysis" of the Center for Strategic Studies under the President of Azerbaijan states: "The development of energy and transport potential makes Azerbaijan an important player in the Eurasian region. In this context, due to the favorable geographic location, Azerbaijan becomes an active participant in transport projects between the Middle East and the European Union" [16].

Despite the fact that China is a strategic partner of Kazakhstan in the implementation of energy and transport projects, the role of Azerbaijan in the implementation of the Great Silk Road project is not without interest. Thus, the project of President Nursultan Nazarbayev "The New Silk Road" provides for the transit of goods between Europe and Asia through the South Caucasus corridor and Kazakhstan. China, being an extra-regional power, is interested in seeking a shorter transit route to Europe. That is why the South Caucasus and the Caspian region as a whole are of strategic importance not only in the bilateral relations of the Caspian states, but also with extra- regional actors.

No wonder that Patrick Verhoeven, chairman of the International Association of Ports and Harbors, said: "Baku can play an important role in the implementation of the concept "One zone - one way" [17]. The capital of Azerbaijan has historically been an integral part of the Silk Road and today there are all opportunities for building effective and favorable conditions for cooperation in the Caspian region, both with Kazakhstan and the states of the Far East. In turn, the Turkic vector and cooperation with the Turkic-speaking states, first of all with the Republic of Azerbaijan, play an important role in the foreign policy of Kazakhstan. Bilateral relations of Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan in the Caspian region are realized taking into account economic and geopolitical interests.

According to Kazakhstan expert Aidos Taibekuly, there is a transit dependence of Kazakhstan. Transit routes, which Kazakhstan uses to enter world markets and the ocean, run through the territories of other states [18].

For example, a cargo transportation route from Turkey to Kazakhstan passes through Azerbaijan, in particular, cargo is transported to the port of Aktau via the ferry lines operating in the Caspian Sea. In addition, diversification of transit and export routes of Kazakhstan gas is an important strategic task of the Kazakhstan government.

Another direction of the foreign policy of Kazakhstan in the Caspian region is cooperation with Azerbaijan within the framework of Turkey - Georgia - Azerbaijan - Kazakhstan format. So, in August 2012 at the Bishkek summit of the Council on Cooperation of the Turkic-speaking countries a decision was made to create a transport corridor between these states [19]. The strategy "Kazakhstan - 2050" states: "It is difficult to imagine the sustainable development of the state's transit potential without the exit of Kazakhstan into the World Ocean" [20]. Kazakhstan strives for broad cooperation, including the whole region of the Caspian Sea. Orientation to the West is possible due to the implementation of transport and energy projects, initiated by the Republic of Azerbaijan. One of these projects is the "Baku-Tbilisi-Kars" transport corridor.

In April 2017, the President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, paid an official visit to Azerbaijan. Analyst of the Kazakhstan Institute of Strategic Studies S. Kushkumbayev emphasized the importance of this visit: "Azerbaijan is our strategic partner in Transcaucasus - economic, transport, communication, moreover, we are part of the Turkic Union, this is an important factor" [21]. As a result of the visit, bilateral trade and economic agreements were signed. "We look forward to the introduction of the Baku-Tbilisi- Kars railway, which will significantly shorten the time spent on transportation from Asia to Europe and from Europe to Asia through our territories," said President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev. [22] The construction of the Baku- Tbilisi-Kars railway will become an "Iron Silk Road", which will unite Asia with Europe. Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan will be able to supply goods in different directions, as well as to act as transit countries for a large cargo flow [23].

On October 30, 2017, the President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, was invited to Baku for the opening ceremony of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars project. This important event was the beginning of the implementation of the international transport project, which became the shortest corridor between Asia and Europe. The initiative of the Republic of Azerbaijan allowed all parties to benefit on equal terms. For example, the Baku-Tbilisi- Kars project ensured economic cooperation, tourism development, integration, trade and security in the Caspian region and outside the region. Undoubtedly, in the long term Kazakhstan will also be able to become a participant of this project. The export of Kazakhstan grain to Europe will be possible through the territory of Azerbaijan, in case of connection of the large "Silk Road" to the new project. Given this geopolitical situation, the government of Kazakhstan can potentially take the initiative to participate in the Baku- Tbilisi-Kars project. This will strengthen existing relations between Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan in the Caspian region. Kazakhstan has established itself as a reliable partner in matters of international cooperation and is an important partner of Azerbaijan in the Caspian region [24].

The status of the Caspian Sea at the present stage

Another important issue is the status of the Caspian Sea. Between Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan there are no contradictions on the status of the Caspian Sea.

The official position of the Republic of Kazakhstan on the status of the Caspian Sea provides for the application of certain provisions of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea of 1982 concerning the modes and breadth of various parts of the sea. Kazakhstan stands for establishment of the territorial sea, fishing zone and common water space in the Caspian. On November 29, 2001 the Agreement between the Republic of Azerbaijan and the Republic of Kazakhstan was signed, and on February 27, 2003 the Additional Protocol was signed [25]. Also in 2003, an agreement was signed between the Republic of Kazakhstan, the Republic of Azerbaijan and the Russian Federation on the point of junction of the lines of delineation of adjacent sections of the bottom of the Caspian Sea. These agreements have legal force and were signed with the aim of realizing the sovereign rights to subsurface use. From a legal point of view, these states agreed on delimitation of the Northern part of the Caspian Sea [26].

The presence of natural resources on the Caspian Sea bottom pushed Kazakhstan to more actively defend the position of the sectoral division of the Caspian Sea.

The legal positions of Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan on the status of the Caspian Sea coincide. In his work, an Azerbaijani international lawyer conducts a comparison of the positions of both states: "Azerbaijan views the Caspian Sea as an international or border lake", the bottom and waters of which should be divided according to the sectoral principle of coastal states into zones subject to their full control. Kazakhstan, which once drafted the Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea in 1994, tended to a less radical position - the Caspian Sea is a closed sea and must be governed by the principles and norms of international maritime law, including the establishment of the territorial sea, exclusive economic zone, continental for each coastal state [27].

Since the contradictions regarding the status of the Caspian Sea continue to weaken, a solution to this problem becomes possible. The Caspian states are gradually implementing plans to develop a draft Convention to determine the status of the Caspian Sea. The governments of Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan are supporters of the project and are making efforts to accelerate this process. "The current stage of negotiations on the legal status of the Caspian Sea can be considered the beginning of the final stage", Deputy Foreign Minister of Azerbaijan Khalaf Khalafov said at a press conference on the results of the 39th meeting of the Special Working Group held in Baku at the level of foreign ministers of the Caspian states in connection with the preparation of the Convention on the determination of the legal status of the Caspian Sea [28].

The adoption of a joint Convention will ensure close and broad cooperation in the field of security. Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan share common interests in creating safe communications in the region: counterterrorism efforts, fight against organized crime, prevention of smuggling and other important issues that require joint efforts to resolve. Obviously, the preservation of security in the Caspian region is the prerogative of the Caspian states, therefore, negotiations on security are often conducted at the multilateral level during the Caspian summit.

Cooperation in the field of security

It is known that the third Caspian summit was held in Baku on November 18, 2010. As a result of the summit, an agreement on cooperation in the field of security was signed [29]. This document has become an important legal base, which all the Caspian states have signed. As a result of the 5th summit of the Caspian states, which was held in Aktau on August 12, 2018, the Convention on the status of the Caspian Sea was adopted. Negotiations over this convention have been conducted for many years. Achieving a compromise between the countries was a historic event.

According to the convention, the main area of the water surface of the Caspian Sea remains in the common use of the parties, and the bottom and subsoil are divided by neighboring states into zones by agreement between them on the basis of international law.

The summit in Aktau was a very important event. First, the issue of the legal status of the Caspian Sea was resolved. Second, the laying of pipelines along the bottom of the Caspian Sea became possible without obstacles. In the future, the transit potential of the Caspian countries will increase. Kazakhstan, like Azerbaijan, actively invests in the development of port connections.

The signing of the Convention on the status of the Caspian Sea also affects the development of cooperation between the Caspian countries in the security sphere.

In 2010, Kazakhstan was elected chairman of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. This was an important event for the government of Kazakhstan. For the first time among post-Soviet states, Kazakhstan took this place and earned the trust of many European states. Kazakhstan positions itself as a key intermediary between East and West, respecting the basic principles of the OSCE [30]. Also, Kazakhstan was elected on June 28, 2016 as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council for 2017-2018.

Cooperation in the field of ensuring energy security was among the key priorities of Kazakhstan in the activities of the UN Security Council [31]. The adoption of Kazakhstan in the framework of such an important structure confirms the dynamically growing authority of the state in the region and draws attention to the official position of the state in the issue of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

The position on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in the official speeches of the President of Kazakhstan is formulated as the need for a peaceful settlement. The Government of Kazakhstan supports the principle of peaceful settlement of conflicts and calls for compliance with the resolutions of the UN Security Council.

Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan are members of the Turkic Council, an international organization that was established in 2009 in Nakhchivan (Azerbaijan). Turkey, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan are the founding states of the organization. The summits were held in such cities as Bishkek, Gabala, Bodrum and Astana. The main goals of the Turkic Cooperation Council are to strengthen peace in the region and the world, to jointly solve foreign policy issues, to maintain ties and create conditions for attracting investments, and to fight extremism, terrorism, and transnational crime. [32]

Cooperation in the field of security: "Soft power" and foreign policy in the Caspian region 

The effectiveness of "cultural diplomacy" between Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan is confirmed by the activities of the International Turkic Academy (ITA), whose members are Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkey, Kyrgyzstan, established in 2012 by the initiative of the President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev during the 9th summit of the heads of Turkic-speaking states in Nakhichevan (Azerbaijan).

The main mission of the ITA is to develop the scientific and educational activities of associations of Turkic nations, as well as create conditions for supporting and creating conditions for initiatives of politicians of Turkic-speaking states [33].

In April 2017, in honor of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Republic of Azerbaijan and the Republic of Kazakhstan in the cities of Baku and Sheki, the days of Kazakhstan culture organized by the TURKSOY organization were held. This year, Ilham Aliyev presented the Order of Heydar Aliyev to President Nursultan Nazarbayev, which had a symbolic character. This event underscored the high level of bilateral relations between fraternal peoples.

Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan have a common language, religion and traditions. Geographic proximity and historical past play an important role in strengthening bilateral relations. Transport and energy projects bring together the interests and positions of Azerbaijan and

Kazakhstan in the Caspian region. In the context of a new geopolitical reality, the efforts of the Turkic-speaking states on various forms of interaction are continuously increasing. The Republic of Azerbaijan supports the unity of the Turkic world.


Thus, bilateral relations between Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan have a dynamic character. Cooperation in the Caspian region creates mutual trust and partnership, as the strategic importance of the region brings together the interests of both states. Existing transport and energy projects play an important role in strengthening economic relations between states and opening up new prospects. The Republic of Azerbaijan is the leading state in the region and the initiator of international projects aimed at making the Caspian Sea a center of trade between the West and the East. The international policy of Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan in the Caspian region is conditioned by the implementation of a number of important issues:

Economic issues: the transit dependence of Kazakhstan creates the need for rapprochement with the states of the region. Thus, the export of the Kazakhstani goods to Europe through the territory of Azerbaijan will be promising and profitable. This also concerns the diversification of energy resources, covers the supply of oil and gas. Taking into account economic opportunities and international confidence to Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan takes active part and shows interest in the initiated projects of official Baku. The Baku-Tbilisi-Kars project envisages the creation of a railway corridor, which will facilitate the attraction of cargoes from China to Europe through the territory of Kazakhstan.

Political and legal issues: common position of Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan concerning the status of the Caspian Sea is confirmed by the absence of contradictions. Agreed contract is a guarantee of the existing position and readiness of the parties to adopt the Convention on the status of the Caspian Sea at the level of five Caspian states.

The position of Kazakhstan in the Armenian- Azerbaijani conflict deserves the confidence of the Azerbaijani government.

Cultural issues: The presence of the Turkic factor in the relations between Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan plays a special role. Joint participation in international organizations that unite Turkic-speaking states is not only a form of strengthening cultural relations and cultural heritage, but also a kind of political unity.



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Year: 2018
City: Almaty