EU reaction to Azerbaijan attack on Nagorno-Karabakh muted by growing dependence on Azeri gas

EU reaction to Azerbaijan attack on Nagorno-Karabakh muted by growing dependence on Azeri gas
Azerbaijan gas is proving to be crucial to the EU in its efforts to replace Russian gas exports. / bne IntelliNews
By bne IntelliNews September 21, 2023

The Western reaction to Azerbaijan’s attack on Nagorno-Karabakh this week has been muted by its growing dependence on Azeri gas supplies.

Azerbaijan launched a so-called anti-terrorist operation in the enclave on September 19, shelling cities and towns that rapidly led to Nagorno-Karabakh’s surrender within 24 hours on September 20.

Thanks to the war in Ukraine, the EU has turned to Baku to replace the lost Russian gas deliveries. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen travelled to Baku to sign a 10bn cubic metre gas supply deal last year as the EU scrambled to find new sources of gas.

“The European Union has therefore decided to diversify away from Russia and to turn towards more reliable, trustworthy partners. And I am glad to count Azerbaijan among them,” von der Leyen said in a speech to President Ilham Aliyev during her visit to Baku. “You are indeed a crucial energy partner for us and you have always been reliable.”

IEA chief Fatih Birol said at the time that new supplies of Azerbaijan still fall far short of being able to meet European demand for gas in the long term.

“It is categorically not enough to just rely on gas from non-Russian sources – these supplies are simply not available in the volumes required to substitute for missing deliveries from Russia,” Birol wrote in an article published by the IEA. “This will be the case even if gas supplies from Norway and Azerbaijan flow at maximum capacity.”

The gas deal doubled the supply of gas from Azerbaijan to the EU and committed to an expansion of the Southern Gas Corridor (SGC) to deliver more gas in the future.

“This is already a very important supply route for the European Union, delivering currently more than 8 bcm of gas per year,” von der Leyen said in Baku. “And we will expand its capacity to 20 bcm in a few years. From [2023] on, we should already reach 12 bcm. This will help compensate for cuts in supplies of Russian gas and contribute significantly to Europe's security of supply.”

Azerbaijan’s oil and gas export pipeline routes to the West

Leyen’s deal and personal meeting with President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev was heavily criticised by NGOs for ignoring Azerbaijan’s widespread human rights abuses and brutal authoritarian control of the country.

The attack on Nagorno-Karabakh, which technically belongs to Azerbaijan, but is almost entirely populated by Armenians, has also brought down international criticism, as it appears that Baku is attempting to retake control of the enclave, force the residents out and replace them with Azeris.

Europe gets around 3% of its gas from Azerbaijan. However, as Baku has been piping more gas west to the EU, it has also been importing more gas from Russia in the east, as its domestic gas production is insufficient both to meet domestic demand and its export commitments to the EU. The Azeri gas deal is in fact a backdoor route for Russian to continue its gas exports to Europe, in addition to the ongoing exports via Ukraine and Turkey.

Aliev has been able to take advantage of Armenia’s relative isolation to bring about the attack and recapture of Nagorno-Karabakh. Russia is supposed to provide security in the region under the terms of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO), but has been passive in the dispute, distracted by its own war in Ukraine.