Azerbaijan and Russia aren't competing to export gas

Axar.az presents the article "Azerbaijan & Russia aren't competing to export gas to Europe" by political analyst Andrew Korybko.

Bloomberg published a story last week that was misleadingly headlined “Russian Gas Gets New Rival in Europe as Caspian Field Starts” to announce the start of Azerbaijani gas exports to Europe through the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP). The editorial angle wrongly describes Azerbaijan as Russia's “new rival” for exporting gas to Europe, but this interpretation isn't consistent with the facts. While reporting that “Azerbaijan will ship 10 billion cubic meters of gas to Europe every year over the next quarter-century”, Bloomberg curiously failed to mention the amount that Russia exports each year, only writing that it “accounts for about a third of the region's gas supplies.”

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty was more accurate with its reporting. In its article titled "Azerbaijan Kicks Off Gas Exports To Russia-Dominated European Market”, the outlet included the crucial fact that Russia “plans to raise gas exports to Europe, including Turkey, to 183 bcm in 2021 from more than 170 bcm this year.” Considering this, Azerbaijan's planned gas exports to Europe are at least 17 times smaller than Russia's, which cannot in any way result in them being rivals. It's important to clarify this since the false perception of them being energy competitors has a political angle to it, the traditional one of which has already been discredited after last year's Patriotic War.

Some observers have long thought that Azerbaijan poses a threat to Russia's leading position in the European energy market by virtue of its enormous Caspian Sea reserves. They heavily imply, if not outright state, that this is an issue of serious national security concern for Russia since it could directly impact the budgetary revenue that it derives from such sales. The resultant innuendo is that Azerbaijan's energy cooperation with Europe is dangerous for Russia, which hints that Moscow will do all that it can to subvert this. Believers in this theory were convinced that this would take the form of Russia supporting Armenia over Azerbaijan in the event that they ever had another large-scale conflict.

That expectation was proven false after Russia remained impressively neutral during the Patriotic War and even convinced Armenia to accept the terms of the ceasefire agreement that it brokered which greatly advance Baku's interests. This outcome flies in the face of what some observers thought would happen, which proves that their assessment of Russia and Azerbaijan as energy rivals was wrong. Not only do the facts contradict that theory as was earlier established in this analysis, but Russia isn't even all that dependent on energy exports as it used to be. As proof of this, President Putin announced during last month's year-end press conference that “As much as 70 per cent of the Russian federal budget comes from non-oil and gas revenues now.”

He continued by adding that “This means, well, we are not entirely off the so-called oil and gas needle, but we are starting to get away from it. Even if someone still likes to think of Russia as a petrol station, they no longer have real grounds for that. Even though the dependence is still strong enough, and we have to bear this in mind.” In other words, energy exports no longer occupy as important of a role for the Russian national budget as before. Furthermore, although Russia is expanding its pipeline capacity to Europe through the Nord Stream II and Turkish Stream pipelines, it's also diversifying its clientele by selling more to East Asian and South Asian nations.

Altogether, this makes energy sales to Europe less important than they used to be, hence why Azerbaijan planning to sell 17 times fewer resources to that market isn't an issue of serious significance for Russia. Nor, for that matter, is it a reason for Moscow to regard Baku as a “rival” and -- like some wrongly predicted -- undertake hostile moves against it. The indisputable fact is that Russian-Azerbaijani relations are better than at any moment in history, and this is due to Moscow's balanced diplomacy during the Patriotic War and its lack of concern about Baku's comparatively small volume of gas exports to Europe. Nevertheless, this worries some forces who thought they could divide and rule those two by fearmongering about their false energy rivalry.

Whether it was Bloomberg's intent or not, its misleading description of Azerbaijan as Russia's “new rival” in the headline of its recent article about the TAP and curious omission of crucial facts about Russia's energy exports to Europe in that same piece fulfil that role. The false perception that the reader has after reading it is that those two are competing to export gas to Europe, but that isn't true whatsoever at all since Azerbaijan's planned exports are at least 17 times less than Russia's. It's very important that everyone is aware of this in order to set the record straight and finally discredit this false narrative and everything that it wrongly implies in the political sense.

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