Azerbaijan’s Role as Energy, Security Provider Increases

One issue of paramount importance in the advance of free markets and democracy is material security — not material comfort, not material largesse, but material security. Wars do not all arise from privation, but markets break and are overrun, and democracy never grows, where men and women starve or shiver in the cold.

This is something we in the West largely forget, because we are blessed, even the poorest among us, with a level of material security unparalleled in human history. But the means by which we enjoy that security are often forgotten.

A great deal of time and energy is spent on Ukraine as the home of the pipelines through which Europe is extorted by Gazprom, but even now, others are working to blunt the Russian stranglehold on natural gas in Europe. So it is that Turkey and Azerbaijan are going forward with a new gas pipelines that will, if successful, carry Azerbaijani natural gas into the European heartland:

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and Azeri President Ilham Aliyev signed the deal at an Istanbul ceremony to launch a project, set to be completed in six years, to pipe 16 billion cubic metres of gas a year from Azerbaijan’s Shah Deniz II field.

“Today’s signing is the most important step in completing the legal framework for this project,” Erdogan said in a speech at a signing ceremony. “This project won’t just deepen ties between our countries, it will create an organic tie between Azerbaijan and Europe via Turkey.”

Turkey has a 20 percent stake in TANAP, while Azerbaijan’s state oil company SOCAR holds 80 percent. In March, a Turkish Energy Ministry official said Turkey may raise its 20 percent stake in the project.

Construction is expected to start at the end of 2013 or in early 2014, and the project’s first phase is seen ready in 2018.

Under the project, some 10 bcm of gas is planned to be shipped to Europe, while Turkey will get the remaining 6 bcm. The project is designed to be expandable to 30 bcm and ultimately 60 bcm.

This is no small thing. Russia relies on its natural gas monopoly to exert both direct and indirect pressure on its neighbors. The extent to which Russia’s influence shows can be measured by the criticism Ukraine has received for prosecuting its former prime minister and Iceland its former PM, as my colleague Matthew Lina has discussed at length.

Azerbaijan has not merely expanded its capacity as an energy security provider, but also one of political security and international security provision as well. With the Iran nuclear crisis continuing to escalate and Syria’s civil war beginning to reach out into the region as a whole, Baku’s role as an island of stability and close relations with the West is vital to maintaining order in the region. And its release of anti-government protesters shows a commitment to its frequently-halting, all-too-often stumbling, but nevertheless inexorable movement toward democracy.

Material security is not only a precondition of democracy; it thrives in it as well. Baku is learning this lesson over time. Hopefully, Europe will as well.

 

Image Copyright Shutterstock.com/Ruslan Nabiyev