What Does Azerbaijan-Slovakia Strategic Partnership Promise? – OpEd


Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico made his first foreign visit outside Europe to Azerbaijan on May 7, 2024 after the being elected prime minister. During the visit, Robert Fico met with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and important agreements such as joint declaration on the establishment of strategic partnership, memorandum of understanding in the field of military-technical cooperation, agreement on defense cooperation, were signed between the two countries. Except the recent agreements when we consider the agenda between the two countries it can be said that energy, defense-industry and political fields come to the fore in the cooperation.

Cooperation on natural gas field

The first important dimension of cooperation between the two countries is the energy. In particular, the Russia-Ukraine confrontation, which has become chronic since 2006 and turned into war in 2022, has increased the tendency in EU towards alternative resources.

Russia axed almost all pipeline gas supplies to EU nations via Ukraine in late 2022 in response to Western sanctions imposed following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine earlier the same year. However, Russian gas supplies continued to EU member states Austria, Italy and Slovakia, as well as Moldova, via intact pipelines running across Ukraine because of the lack of infrastructure to enable enough volumes from elsewhere. According to the European Union’s latest country report on Slovakia, since summer 2022, the share of imports of natural gas from Russia to the country fell from 85% to about 50% last year, which “remains nonetheless significant”. The European Union has rejected the possibility of continuing Russian gas supplies via Ukraine to Slovakia, Austria, Italy and Moldova beyond 31 December 2024, reassuring these nations that they will be able to source alternative supplies.

Meanwhile, the MoU between Azerbaijan and the EU on strategic cooperation in the field of energy in 2022 expanded Azerbaijan’s cooperation opportunities with these countries in the field of energy. After this agreement Azerbaijan supply to Europe is increasing, from 8 billion cubic meters in 2021 to up to 12 billion cubic meters this year. This accounts for 50 percent of Azerbaijan’s total gas exports. Baku plans include delivering 20 billion cubic meters of gas solely to the European Union by the end of 2027. Azerbaijan currently exports its natural gas to eight countries, and I hope that Slovakia will be the ninth.

For this reason, Slovakia, like other countries, chose Azerbaijan as an alternative source. On 25 April 2023 Slovakia together with Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and Azerbaijan signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for encouraging cooperation among the relevant gas transmission system operators in their efforts to ensure diversification of supply routes that could facilitate the transport of additional gas from Azerbaijan to the EU. According to the plan, operators will boost the annual capacity of a gas route running from Bulgaria through Romania and onwards to Hungary and Slovakia to between 5 Bcm and 9.5 Bcm at an estimated investment of €730 million ($780 million), with completion targeted by the end of 2026.

A second alternative route for Slovakia is to purchase natural gas through the Russia-Ukraine pipeline. With a swap agreement to be signed between Azerbaijan, Slovakia and Russia, Slovakia will be able to receive its natural gas through the Russia-Ukraine pipeline. The Prime Minister of Ukraine has mentioned that there may be an agreement between Ukraine and Russia if Azerbaijani natural gas is in issue.

Cooperation in Europe Union Institutions

Azerbaijan had previously signed a declaration and agreement on strategic cooperation with 9 countries from Europe. Slovakia became the 10th European country, that signed such agreement with Azerbaijan These strategic partnership documents are very important when we consider the hostile attitudes and behavior of some countries within the European Union institutions, towards Azerbaijan. The Azerbaijani side thinks that these attacks are an itch after the liberation of Karabakh from occupation.

As a matter of fact, in his meeting with President Aliyev, the Slovak Prime Minister criticized the attitudes of the big powers and said, “I am disappointed by the discrimination, injustice and bias against small countries in some international institutions because we are considered a small country in terms of population.” He said that in return for this injustice, Slovakia could take a role between Azerbaijan and the European Union to eliminate this injustice. In this sense, for Azerbaijan, the more countries that become Azerbaijan’s voice within EU institutions, the more isolation will be eliminated.

Meanwhile, Slovakia, as the second country after Hungary, will take part in the reconstruction process of Karabakh. Agdam region was completely destroyed by Armenian forces during the occupation period. The reconstruction of the Garvand village in the Aghdam district will be carried out by a Slovak company.

Azerbaijan-Slovakia Defense-Industry cooperation

Cooperation between Slovakia and Azerbaijan in this field started in the late 90s and early 2000s, On 20 May 2005, the first model of Slovakia-produced medium flail BOZENA-5 mechanical demining machine (MDM) was delivered to Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan uses the Božena systems mainly in demining operations in liberated territories of Azerbaijan. 

In the period after the Second Karabakh War, two developments occurred that increased Azerbaijan’s interest in Slovakia’s defense industry. The first is that Armenia continues to be armed by France and India. The second was the success of Slovakia’s weapons products in Ukraine.

Multiple Slovak companies see close engagement with Ukraine as a gateway to vast new opportunities. After the joint developments, production, servicing, and modernization of defense products such as howitzer such as Zuzana-2 and Zuzana-2S self-propelled howitzer, they are being tested in intensive combat. In these sense  Slovak Defence Minister Robert Kaliňák travelled to Azerbaijan  on 18 January 2024, and during the visit Slovak minister highlighted the products of Slovak arms factories that could be interesting for the Caucasian country.

The parties want to engage in joint production. According to Prime minster of Slovakia, technology will come from Slovakia and finance from Azerbaijan. The prime minister added that the weapons to be produced will either be exported or remain in Azerbaijan. The Slovak prime minister summarized the benefits of cooperation in this field as follows: “As we know, the parameters of the war in Ukraine have completely changed. There is currently a serious shortage of weapons. If we can do that, I think it will be beneficial for both countries”. Zuzana and BIA self-propelled howitzers may be joint production.

Ultimately, both parties will benefit from cooperation in a way that suits their own interests. Both parties have common interests in the energy, political and energy fields from this strategic cooperation. While Slovakia diversifies its own energy security, Azerbaijan can cooperate in the production of common defense industry products. Increasing cooperation with Slovakia may also provide an opportunity for Slovkai to make Azerbaijan’s rightful voice heard against political attacks against Azerbaijan in the EU.

Dr. Cavid Veliev

Dr. Cavid Veliev is the head of a department at the AIR Center. He worked previously for the Center for Strategic Studies (SAM) under the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan as a researcher (2009-2015) and afterwards as the head of Foreign Policy Analysis Department (2015-2019). Dr. Veliyev also served as an editor in chief of Caucasus International Journal between September 2017 and January 2019.

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