Azerbaijan is rushing to the West: why did Baku need Albania and what does Iran have to do with it?

Caucasus (, - The economic and political processes in the Transcaucasus, in which various players take part, are reflected in the processes taking place in other parts of the world. This time, the first official visit of the President of Azerbaijan to Albania on November 15, which practically coincided with the decision to open an Azerbaijani embassy in Tirana, turned out to be such a unique event.

We are interested in the speeches of the President of Albania Bayram Begay and Ilham Aliyev before the press. So, Begay in his speech voiced the interest of Tirana in cooperation with Baku:

“Albania is extremely interested in expanding cooperation in energy, infrastructure, tourism, agriculture and industry. Of course, in the energy sector, the Ionian-Adriatic gas pipeline, connecting Albania, Montenegro, Croatia, increases the geopolitical significance of our countries, demonstrates the diversification of gas supplies at the regional, including the European level. We know that your country has experience in investing in this area. Albania is also very open to and ready to use transit opportunities on its territory. We consider it possible to fully use our gas infrastructure for this purpose.”

In addition, the President of Albania mentioned tourism and culture as areas for cooperation. At the same time, Begay told Aliyev "that Kosovo is very important for Albania and it is important not only for stability, but also for the progress of the entire region." The Kosovo theme in this case has political and legal significance. Unlike Turkey, its main ally, Azerbaijan does not recognize the independence of Kosovo. Baku refuses to recognize the independence of Kosovo, not because of a special love for the Serbs or a commitment to the inviolability of borders, but because of the unresolved Karabakh conflict. Nevertheless, official Baku's refusal to recognize the state of the Kosovo Albanians does not prevent Albania from recognizing the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and advocating the implementation of UN Security Council resolutions on Karabakh. So Begay noted the cooperation of Albania and Azerbaijan in the UN and the Council of Europe.

For his part, Ilham Aliyev recalled that in 2022, former Albanian President Ilir Meta and Prime Minister Edi Rama visited Azerbaijan. The President of Azerbaijan also touched upon Albania's position on the Karabakh conflict:

"We highly appreciate the statements of Albanian officials both during the occupation period and during the second Karabakh war, their support for the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan."

At the same time, he named areas in which Baku and Tirana could cooperate:

“However, in addition to the energy sector, there are other very good opportunities for cooperation - mutual investment, joint activities of Albanian and Azerbaijani companies, the creation of joint ventures, tourism, agriculture, modern technologies.”

And yet, Aliyev could not fail to mention the energy sector:

“...Azerbaijan and Albania are participants in the TAP project, and our countries have played a very important role in the implementation of the Southern Gas Corridor. Albanian representatives have always been very active in the many meetings of the Southern Gas Corridor Advisory Council held to date under the chairmanship of Azerbaijan and the European Union. Today, Azerbaijani gas also contributes to the energy security of Europe. In July of this year, a memorandum of understanding on strategic cooperation in the field of energy was signed between Azerbaijan and the European Commission. According to this memorandum, we intend to double gas supplies to Europe by 2027. Naturally, this gas will pass through the territory of Albania and, thus, additional support will be provided, a contribution will be made to the energy security of Europe. We have very rich gas reserves. The issue of doubling both the TAP and TANAP gas pipelines is currently being discussed. That is, this project - the Southern Gas Corridor - has been in operation for only about two years, but the expansion of each of these pipelines, which are an integral part of this project, is already being discussed. That is, this indicates that there is a great need for this, there is a demand. Azerbaijan is already recognized and regarded by the officials of the European Union as a reliable partner, and we, of course, are well aware of this responsibility.”

Moreover, the President of Azerbaijan declared his readiness to help carry out the gasification of Albania:

“Albania has not created a gas network to this day. Azerbaijan can also take part in this area as an investor, we are ready for this.”

However, the most unusual thing in Aliyev's speech is the mention of Albania in the context of Azerbaijan's relations with NATO:“I want to touch on one more issue: Azerbaijan has a platform for close cooperation with NATO. We have been actively involved in NATO operations in Afghanistan for many years. We can say that we were among the first non-NATO countries to join the peacekeeping mission. We were one of the last two countries to leave Afghanistan - those two countries were Turkey and Azerbaijan. All other NATO members left before us. That is, I want to say that this is also a manifestation of our responsibility. Albania, as a member of NATO, has also always provided great support to the relations between NATO and Azerbaijan.”

Let's analyze this in more detail. Azerbaijan itself, despite its declared neutrality, is actively cooperating with the North Atlantic Alliance. Not later than on November 21, the "Days of NATO", designed for 4 days, started in Baku. NATO Days includes meetings with senior military officials and briefings. Albania is of particular importance as a conductor of Euro-Atlanticism to the Islamic world.

Historically, Albanians did not follow Islam very strictly, preferring syncretism in the form of a combination of Christian (Orthodox and Catholic) and Muslim traditions. The positions of religions were especially undermined during the era of the dictator Enver Hoxha, during which in 1967 all churches and mosques were closed in Albania. However, in 1991, a revival of religions began, including Islam. Being formally Muslims and actually having two states - Albania and Kosovo, the Albanians have always been oriented towards the West. It is no coincidence that since the 1990s, Albanians have been the main conductors of American influence in the Balkans (there is a relatively large Albanian diaspora in the United States itself). Many Albanians and people with Albanian roots also live in Turkey. Consequently, the strengthening of Azerbaijan's ties with Albania will also affect Turkey, whose citizens of Albanian origin will do everything to ensure that Ankara does not turn off the Euro-Atlantic path and does not decide to become a new center of power, alternative to the West, Russia, and China.

The Albanian-Azerbaijani rapprochement is especially noteworthy given the political situation in the world. More recently, on September 7, Albania severed diplomatic relations with Iran due to alleged Iranian cyber attacks on Albanian digital infrastructure. As we have already noted, the Albanians are the main support of the United States in the Balkans. And since 1979, Iran has been a headache for the United States, which does not hide its support for any opponents of the ayatollahs.

But Azerbaijan has recently been supporting opponents of the ayatollahs with information and openly agitating for the separation of the so-called South Azerbaijan from Iran. It is indicative that the deterioration of relations between Baku and Tehran coincided with the establishment of cooperation between the US and Azerbaijan (see US wants to destroy Iran, crush Armenia and weaken Russia with the help of Azerbaijan). However, recent events suggest that from a political point of view, Azerbaijan's rapprochement with the United States is linked to the West's long-term strategy against Iran. So, on November 21, Michael Doran, a senior researcher at the Hudson Institute, visited the smart village of Agadly in the Zangilan region and talked to reporters. So, he stated:

“Armenia should agree to peace, open the [Zangezur] corridor, stop mining territories, delimit the border and work on normalizing relations with Azerbaijan… Yes, there was a war in which Armenia lost, but now, I think, it is also interested in establishing peace… As an American, I look at the liberated territories in terms of strategic value. When I get back to the US, I will talk about it."

Most importantly, the American welcomed the development of trilateral cooperation between Azerbaijan, Turkey and Israel and made a harsh attack on Iran:

“The regime in Iran is now weaker than it has ever been, and Azerbaijan is a rising power. I do not know how soon this will happen, but the population of South Azerbaijan will have closer relations with Azerbaijan. It will be good not only for Iranian Azerbaijanis, not only for Azerbaijan, but for the whole world… The US does not want to aggravate the situation with Iran at the present time. But Iran's military cooperation with Russia will make the imposition of US sanctions against Iran inevitable."

Professor of the Naval postgraduate school (USA) and member of the American Political Science Association Brenda Shaffer, who visited the banks of the Araks River near the Khudaferin Bridge, expressed the same spirit. She stated:“I have never seen anything like it. What is happening now in Iran is an exceptional event, because the population is not only demanding a change in policy or candidate or because of the elections, people are demanding a completely new system of government ... We are standing right here, there in the province of Ardabil, East Azerbaijan. These dramatic events take place just a few meters from us, not only in large cities, but also in small villages, small places. I think it's because people see how some groups have freedoms while others in Iran can't have schools in their native language. And this applies to more than half of the country's population. For example, in Azerbaijan there are schools in other national languages, while in Iran it is forbidden for certain groups, such as Azerbaijanis or Balochs.”

Moreover, the American, who prepared the book “Iran is more than Persia” for publication, let slip about the strategic goals of those forces in the West who supported Azerbaijan in 2020 during the second Karabakh war:

“I believe that Azerbaijan's victory in the second Karabakh war had a great impact on the growth of self-consciousness, self-identification of Azerbaijanis in Iran. Many have become more active, feeling proud of Azerbaijan's achievements during the war.”

Therefore, the intensification of cooperation between Baku and Tirana fits very well into the general rapprochement of Azerbaijan with the US and the EU. Albania also organically looks in this political configuration, as it has excellent relations with the United States, Turkey, and Israel. Consequently, Azerbaijan is not only a country that is an alternative supplier of energy resources to Europe, but also one of the bastions of the West, along with Albania, promoting Euro-Atlanticism in the Islamic world. In a word, the development of cooperation between Azerbaijan and Albania is a natural part of the US strategy directed against Iran and negatively affecting Russia.

Azerbaijan is rushing to the West: why did Baku need Albania and what does Iran have to do with it?