President Aliyev’s visit to Hungary: Azerbaijan Emerges as Vital Actor in Eastern European Energy Security (OPINION)
by Vasif Huseynov
President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan paid an official visit to Hungary on January 29-30. This came on the heels of a series of bilateral visits between Azerbaijan and Eastern European countries over recent months. The intensification of ties between these countries serves as testament to the rising significance these countries attach to their bilateral and multilateral cooperation across a range of disciplines, particularly in the realm of energy. The signing of a seminal agreement between Azerbaijan and Hungary pertaining to energy cooperation during President Aliyev's recent visit thus signifies this trend and represents a hallmark of the deepening ties between the two nations.
“Of course, energy is on top of our agenda. And today we will sign an important MoU, which, I think, is a very important step, because this is the first document which will be signed in order to start operation in the area of gas supply,” President Aliyev announced in his meeting with his Hungarian counterpart Katalin Novák. The Azerbaijani gas supplies to the European market plays a critical role in the diversification of the energy sources which is a matter of national security of the regional countries against the background of the Russian-Ukraine war.
Welcoming this contribution of Azerbaijan, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban highlighted that, given the current situation, the most practical solution for diversification is to channel Azerbaijan's energy output to Europe and expressed appreciation for Azerbaijan's commitment to strengthening energy security in Europe.
It is important to note that President Aliyev’s visit took place a day before the announcement of the managing director of the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) about the start of the process to increase the pipeline’s capacity to 20 billion cubic metres by 2027. This is in line with the historic deal signed between Azerbaijan and the European Commission in July last year through which the sides agreed to double the Azerbaijani gas exports. Apart from the gas exports, in December, the leaders of Azerbaijan, Georgia, Hungary and Romania agreed to build an underwater electric cable under the Black Sea bringing green electricity from Azerbaijan to Europe.
In his meeting with President Aliyev, Prime Minister Orban welcomed these developments adding that “both natural gas and electricity coming from Azerbaijan will pass through Hungary, which makes us a winner of this new situation”. He emphasized that energy collaboration in Central Eastern Europe is no longer a localized concern, but rather a matter of European significance.
Azerbaijan has earlier reached a number of agreements with other countries of Eastern Europe to promote cooperation in the energy supplies. For example, towards this purpose, Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov paid a visit to Baku on July 21, three days after the signing of the EU-Azerbaijani gas deal. In early July 2022, following the opening ceremony for the Gas Interconnector Greece-Bulgaria (IGB), Azerbaijani Energy Minister Parviz Shahbazov declared, “Gas exports to Bulgaria in January–June 2022 amounted to 160 mcm [million cubic meters], and it is planned to increase that to 600 mcm by the end of the year. Azerbaijan has been exporting 2.6 mcm of natural gas to Bulgaria every day since July 1.” The IGB connects Bulgaria with the Southern Gas Corridor.
Serbia, which is fully dependent on Russian gas, is another regional country that is currently in talks with Azerbaijan and hopes to import Azerbaijani gas by 2023. The mutual visits by the Presidents of Azerbaijan and Serbia on November 23 and December 21 were primarily focused on this perspective. The sides plan to deliver Azerbaijani gas to this country through the interconnectors to be built together with Bulgaria and North Macedonia.
Azerbaijan plans also to act as an investor in the development of the gas network of the region. Azerbaijan declared its readiness to invest in the development of Albania’s gas transmission system in the course of the visit of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev to Albania on November 15. “A gas network has still not been created in Albania. Azerbaijan could participate in this area as an investor, and we’re ready for that,” President Aliyev told Albanian President Bajram Begaj.
That said, the latest visit of President Aliyev to Hungary testified to the commitment of the sides to further develop their cooperation in the energy sphere. This brings the sides closer not only economically but bears significant implications for their cooperation against the common security and other threats and challenges. In other words, the energy cooperation between Azerbaijan and Eastern European countries forms also a common security environment across the Black Sea.
Vasif Huseynov, head of department at the Baku-based Center of Analysis of International Relations (AIR Center), especially for News.Az