Caspian Countries Shed Post-Soviet Constraints and Focus on Turkic Cooperation
Sep 28, 2022
August 29, Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan signed a major energy deal, outlining various plans to circumvent Russian trade routes. This deal especially focuses on the manufacturing and distributing of oil and gas, petrochemicals, and renewables. Uzbekistan’s First Deputy Minister of Energy, Azim Akhmedkhadzhaev, and Azerbaijan’s Minister of Energy, Parviz Shahboz, signed the roadmap that outlines “promotion of mutual investments in energy projects (including electricity and natural gas), the exchange of experience in liberalization and the creation of markets, and the participation of the parties in privatization.” Leading up to this deal and foreshadowing the two countries’ uptick in cooperation, on September 22 Azerbaijan’s Deputy Defense Minister, Lt-Gen Nizam Osmanov, and Uzbekistan’s Defense Ministry's delegation on logistics met in Baku to discuss plans for “expanding bilateral logistics cooperation.”
This landmark energy deal, as well as upcoming military cooperation, are important on their own but should not be seen in a vacuum: Throughout the Caspian Region, especially amidst Russia’s war in Ukraine, the world has begun to see an uptick in cooperation among Turkic-speaking countries. Perhaps most symbolic of the uptick in Turkic cooperation came during President of Kazakhstan Kassym-Jomart Tokayev’s first official visit to Azerbaijan in August. During his meeting with Azerbaijan’s President, Ilham Aliyev, the two leaders instead of communicating in Russian, as is general practice, both conversed in their respective mother tongues, relying on the linguistic similarities for mutual comprehension. This statement marked a subtle but clear shift in regional alliances, with the two counties highlighting their Turkic-ties instead of their shared Soviet past. It also further demarcated the two countries as equal partners by dropping the common practice of using Russian as a diplomatic lingua franca.
Turkic countries have also been increasing their cooperation through multilateral platforms. September 7, President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov met with Secretary General of the Organization of Turkic States (OTS) Baghdad Amreyev in Ashgabat. During the visit, they discussed ways in which Turkmenistan can collaborate within the OTS, especially involving economy, transportation, and youth policy. They also discussed the plans for opening a Turkic Investment Fund.
During the 8th Summit of the OTS in Istanbul in November 2021, Turkmenistan officially joined as an observer state. This marked a significant point in historically stand-offish Turkmenistan’s cooperation with its neighboring countries. It made way for new ventures Turkmenistan could engage in with member countries in the fields of economy, trade, investment, ecology, science, and education. Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Vepa Hajiyev of the OTS remarked that the organization “united the Turkic-speaking public and verified that cultural values united the people of the world and strengthened humanitarian dialogue between countries.” This summit also marked a turning point for the OTS in which it solidly demonstrated its viability as a platform for connecting Turkic-speaking countries, as well as for fostering comprehensive cooperation between these countries and the world.
Cooperation stemming from the OTS has accumulated in various, productive multilateral meetings with heads of state from member countries. On June 27, the Foreign and Transport Ministers of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Türkiye met in Baku to mark the first tripartite meeting of the kind. During this significant meeting, the countries were able to come together to discuss plans for developing the Trans-Caspian East-West-Middle Corridor that could secure the flow of energy through the Caspian Sea to the wider region. This meeting culminated in the signing of the Baku Declaration in which the three countries agreed to focus on developing the Zangezur Corridor in Azerbaijan.
The uptick in cooperation among Turkic-speaking countries was also seen following the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Summit in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. On September 23, Uzbekistan’s President Shavkat Mirziyoyev in his phone call to Turkmenistan President Berdimuhamedov expressed willingness to nurture the two countries’ cooperation. Following up on apparent opportunities that were discussed during the SCO, the two leaders discussed upcoming high-level meetings in which “increasing mutual trade volumes; deepening cooperation in industry, energy, transportation, and agriculture; and expanding a cultural and humanitarian exchange program” were to be on the agenda.
Russia’s war in Ukraine has caused a significant shift in geopolitical alliances and priorities. International sanctions, along with dependence on energy supply from and transport corridors through Russia, have triggered a wider international energy crisis. Based on the uptick in relations between Turkic-speaking countries, it has become especially clearer that countries in the Caspian Region are using this time to reassess their positions on the world stage, especially in relation to Russia. By joining together in economic, energy, and political endeavors, especially through the framework of platforms such as the OTS, these countries will achieve more assured sovereignty and self-sufficiency, especially in the face of neighboring Russia’s aggression.