Azerbaijan’s Democratic Norms and the Future of European Energy

At long last, Europe will be able to move forward with cleaner energy, independent of Russia’s autarchy, to power its industrial base and its homes through the coming decades. The Southern Energy Corridor — the network of new pipes that will bring Azerbaijani natural gas to Europe, denting Gazprom’s monopoly and opening new future lines of natural gas competition, will be effectively green-lit in Baku this month.

Gazprom has taken hits from the American shale gas boom — a boom that is now extending into areas around and in Europe — and this promises to be another punch in the face. It is all the more fitting that the competitive product is coming courtesy of Azerbaijan, who just held free, fair, and competitive elections, undercutting Vladimir Putin’s monarchy-in-all-but-name in Moscow.

Azerbaijan has made enormous strides over the last decade, but it is now a dual symbol: of what a former Soviet state can work to be, and how it can contribute to a European future. The proof of this lies not merely in Azerbaijan’s democratic development, and not merely in the natural resources it is set to deliver to Western Europe in the next five years. Instead, the proof lies somewhat ironically in the potential of the thing.

The Southern Energy Corridor will carry Azerbaijan’s natural gas to Europe; yet it will also be able to carry natural gas from other, unexpected sources, such as the Leviathan field off of Israel’s coast. It will bring gas as it crosses Eastern and Southern Europe to places not currently connected to the Gazprom system. It will bring clean energy into Europe from beyond, and it will yield energy security and ever-denser economic and cultural ties.

This is Azerbaijan’s promise as well, a majority-Muslim democracy in tune with European norms and culture, an ally to the West and a bridge to a dozen other cultures.  As with all such projects, reaping those rewards will yield immediate benefits and even greater ones with long-term work. But in the same way that Gazprom’s once-unshakeable monopoly is being challenged by American ingenuity and Azerbaijan’s fierce independence, so too can old geopolitical norms be made anew.

It is up to the statesmen of Europe to see this. If all goes as planned and the Trans-Adriatic and Trans-Anatolian Pipelines go forward, it will be a sign that those same statesmen, too long in thrall to the idea that the contest between nations has been completely forgotten, have finally woken up to the promise of a new day on their doorstep.

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