The new 'New Ostpolitik' (I)

BAKU/BERLIN | | aserbaidschan

BAKU/BERLIN (Own report) - With her visit to the oil-producing country Azerbaijan, German Chancellor Angela Merkel will end her current three-country tour in the South Caucasus on Saturday. Her visit had already attracted public attention in advance: A CDU politician, member of the parliamentary delegation accompanying Merkel, has been refused entry by Azerbaijan’s authoritarian government. Berlin has not protested this unusual affront - obviously, because it is hoping to win Baku’s support for important German energy supply projects and because it would like to slow down the county’s rapprochement to Russia. According to the German Ministry of Economics, Germany is considering arms exports to Baku, despite an OSCE arms embargo. Rheinmetall has already entered the relevant negotiations. Since Foreign Minister Heiko Maas' (SPD) arrival in office, Berlin has been strongly pursuing a self-proclaimed "New Ostpolitik," also by amplifying its cooperation offers, particularly with countries in the South Caucasus.

Minor Scandal

Already before Angela Merkel embarked on her Caucasus tour, the announcement that the Azerbaijani police could arrest the CDU parliamentarian Albert Weiler, who was to accompany her, made headlines. He was refused a visa because in 2014 and 2016 he had visited Nagorno-Karabakh, the republic, which seceded from Azerbaijan, with a majority ethnic Armenian population. After conferring with Merkel, Weiler finally withdrew from the delegation, and as reported in the press, both agreed that it is "meaningful and important" that the Chancellor continue with her tour. SPD and FDP politicians protested. "This is disrespectful to the Bundestag, as a whole," according to Bijan Djir-Sarai, foreign policy spokesperson of the FDP parliamentary group.[1] Under other circumstances, such an incident would have provoked a strong government reaction. The government's silence indicates that the Chancellor is hoping that Baku’s government will support important projects.

Armament Contacts despite Embargo

Immediately after its foundation in 1992, Germany had established relations with Azerbaijan and has relatively broad-based business contacts to this Caucasian country. As the German ambassador in Azerbaijan’s capital Baku declared last year, "with no other country of the region, did Germany establish more extensive business relations, than with Azerbaijan." This can also be seen by the fact that this is the only CIS state besides Russia, where Germany has a foreign chamber of commerce.[2] The existing fields of cooperation could be supplemented with arms cooperation. As has been reported in the German media, representatives of Germany's Rheinmetall arms consortium and the Azerbaijani government have signed a declaration of intent in the summer to explore "the possibilities for future cooperation." Since 1992, Armenia and Azerbaijan have been subjected to an arms embargo imposed by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), because of their conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh. However, in regards to Rheinmetall’s declaration of intent, the German Ministry of Economics has stated that the export of arms to Azerbaijan could be possible "in exceptional cases" - another indication that Berlin is vigorously pursuing cooperation with Baku.[3]

"Southern Gas Corridor"

Azerbaijan is particularly important because of its role in Germany’s energy supply. In 2016, that country was Germany's fifth largest oil supplier, even ahead of Nigeria, Algeria and Iraq. In addition, its geographical location facilitates oil and gas transport to Europe through the South Caucasus and Turkey bypassing Russia. When the Nabucco gas pipeline project failed - which was supposed to follow the same route [4], and had also been supported by leading German transatlanticists, such as the former Foreign Minister Joseph Fischer - the EU focused its Southern Gas Corridor (SGC) project on completing several individual lines, particularly the Trans-Anatolian Pipeline (TANAP). TANAP prolongs the South Caucasus Pipeline - in operation since 2006 - which transports gas from Baku via Tbilisi to Erzurum in Turkey and on up to the Turkish-Greek border. When the TANAP, crossing Turkey, was inaugurated this past June, the SGC project, so massively supported by the EU, finally materialized.[5] Contrary to the Nabucco pipeline project, where Germany's RWE energy group had had a 20 percent share, the majority TANAP shares are held by Azerbaijani and Turkish state companies. Western companies are only playing a minor role in the pipeline project.

Bypassing Russia

Based on the operation of the "Southern Gas Corridor," Berlin is now setting its sights further to the East. A senior German official told the British press that the Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea reached in early August between the Caspian littoral states, could be a "first step" toward the construction of a pipeline from gas-rich Turkmenistan to Azerbaijan.[6] Turkmenistan has the world’s forth largest gas reserves. The long-term goal of accessing the Central Asian gas reserves - bypassing Russia - would be reached with a pipeline from Turkmenistan through the Caspian Sea to Azerbaijan and on to Europe, through the "Southern Gas Corridor." According to government circles, Merkel plans to discuss this issue during her visit in Baku.

Strategic Partnership Agreement

The German-Azerbaijani cooperation could also be integrated into a wider EU context. Since last year, the Azerbaijani government has been showing great interest in the reformulation of a Strategic Partnership Agreement with the EU. The reformulated agreement in question is intended to be much more extensive than the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement Azerbaijan signed with the EU in 1999. Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev called it "a new format of cooperation."[7]

"German Standards"

Parallel to cooperation efforts with the EU, Baku has established its own financially strong lobby in Germany. In the fall of 2012, Azerbaijan's state-financed student network supported a regional meeting of the Baden Wurttemberg Christian-Democrat "Junge Union" youth organization with a financial grant.[8] In 2014 and 2015, Azerbaijani agencies paid - via the company "Line M-Trade" - Bundestag parliamentarian Karin Stranz (CDU). Strenz, (from Mecklenburg), is the only German parliamentarian to vote in the European Parliamentary Assembly against the demand that the Azerbaijani government should finally release its political prisoners.[9] Prior to this vote, she called Azerbaijan's government-staged elections "free." The CSU politician Eduard Lintner, who had served as Parliamentary State Secretary in the Ministry of the Interior from 1991 to 1998, heads the Line M-Trade company. In 2013, Lintner went on a state-paid visit to Azerbaijan as an election observer, and praised the poll as up to "German standards."[10] Unlike Italy, where similar lobbying cases have been investigated by law enforcement, Germany has yet to open investigations on corruption charges for Azerbaijan's CDU and CSU lobbyists.[11]

Between the Great Powers

Following the Armenian-Azerbaijani war over Nagorno-Karabakh in 1994, authoritarian Azerbaijan had, for many years, maintained exclusive relations with Turkey, but above all with the USA. However, in the course of the 2014 Ukraine Crisis, relations soured dramatically between Washington and Baku. Azerbaijani top representatives accuse the US government of plotting to promote "color revolutions" also in their country along the lines of that in Kiev.[12] This is why the government in Baku began to strengthen its ties with Russia. Azerbaijan's foreign minister announced in 2016, that Azerbaijan does not exclude the possibility of a Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) membership.[13] Azerbaijan is also forging closer ties to Russia in the fields of foreign and military policy.[14] Also in 2016, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) accorded Azerbaijan the status of a dialogue partner, thereby, according to experts, sending a clear message to NATO that Baku would prefer to rely on close relations with China and Russia.[15] Alongside her talks on possible gas supplies from Turkmenistan, Merkel may also be seeking closer ties between Azerbaijan and Germany.

 

[1] Severin Weiland: Fall Weiler belastet Merkels Aserbaidschan-Reise. spiegel.de 22.08.2018.

[2] Michael Kindsgrab: Mit keinem anderen Staat der Region hat Deutschland umfangreichere Wirtschaftskontakte wie mit Aserbaidschan. baku.diplo.de 16. September 2017.

[3] Rheinmetall bandelt trotz Embargos mit Aserbaidschan an. n-tv.de 27.06.2018.

[4] See also Das letzte Kapitel.

[5] Ilgar Gurbanov: Azerbaijan's Cooperation With the EU: A Pragmatic Focus on the Benefits. jamestown.org 28.06.2018.

[6] Guy Chazan: Merkel backs efforts to find alternatives to Russian gas. ft.com 21.08.2018.

[7] Ilgar Gurbanov: Azerbaijan's Cooperation With the EU: A Pragmatic Focus on the Benefits. jamestown.org 28.06.2018.

[8] Wolfgang Messner: Aserbaidschan finanziert den Landestag der Jungen Union mit. stuttgarter-zeitung.de 26.10.2012.

[9] Hannes Munzinger/Bastian Obermayer/Pia Ratzesberger: Die Aserbaidschan-Connection einer CDU-Abgeordneten. sueddeutsche.de 19.09.2017.

[10] Luke Harding/Caelainn Barr/Dina Nagapetyants: Everything you need to know about the Azerbaijani Laundromat. theguardian.com 04.09.2017.

[11] Sebastian Meyer: LobbyControl fordert Rücktritt der CDU-Bundestagsabgeordneten Karin Strenz. lobbycontrol.de 23.04.2018.

[12] Richard D. Kauzlarich: The Heydar Aliyev Era Ends in Azerbaijan Not with a Bang but a Whisper. brookings.edu 13.01.2015.

[13] Gosan Godjaev: Azerbaijan In EAEU: Is It Possible? eurasiareview.com 18.02.2018.

[14] Aleksandra Jarosiewicz: In the clutches of the Kremlin - Azerbaijan's security policy. osw.waw.pl 14.09.2016.

[15] John C. K. Daly: Implications of Azerbaijan Moving Closer to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. jamestown.org 29.03.2016.