Why Azerbaijani-Saudi relations are improving

Why Azerbaijani-Saudi relations are improving

By Suzanne Sulika Rothman

Since gaining its independence from the Soviet Union in 1990, Azerbaijan focused its foreign policy efforts on balancing relations between the major powers in the region and building strong ties to Europe. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia fine-tuned its foreign policy to bolster its long-standing alliance with the United States and to cement its influence in the Middle East. As a result, relations between Baku and Riyadh remained in somewhat a dormant state. Until recently that is.

The past six months have seen an increase in the level of cooperation between Azerbaijan and Saudi Arabia. In light of their mutual lack of interest, the question beckons to be- asked: why try now?

The answer may be correlated to Iran's efforts of rapprochement with the West.
Saudi Arabia was one of the first countries to recognized Azerbaijan's independence, and was one of the nations to aid Azerbaijan in the wake of the war with Armenia. Thus, the two enjoyed amicable relations, but were never particularly close. Since Riyadh's declaration that Azerbaijan is its "main partner in the region," in 2012 the tide began to change. Azerbaijan is playing and will continue to play an important role in the international arena in the future. It is a bridge between the East and the West, Saudi Arabia's deputy foreign minister, Prince Khaled Bin Saud Bin Khaled told Trend in June 2012.

In December 2013 the head of SAGIA (Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority), Abdullatif al-Othman, visited Baku and concluded an agreement to invest in Azerbaijan's petrochemical and refining sectors with the Azeri government. The two governments signed a total of twelve economic agreements and put ten more in the works. In addition to bolstering their economic collaboration, Riyadh and Baku ]resolved to upgrade their relationship in the spheres of culture and education.

Economic cooperation between two OIC members who also share an Islamic heritage is not all too surprising and can be viewed as financial pragmatism. However, in addition to the sudden increase in trade and investment, the Saudis and Azerbaijanis began to cooperate on security issues. In April 2014 the General Director of Border Guard of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia visited Azerbaijan to discuss border security agreements.

Additionally, in late 2013 the two governments reached an extradition agreement as part of a security protocol, which also called for a joint fight against crime and terrorism.
Azerbaijan and the KSA's recent upgrade of bilateral relations can be seen as a Saudi effort to diminish Iran's influence in the region and the Muslim world at large.

The Saudis and Iranians have long been regional rivals, with both vying for hegemony. Until now, the Saudi government enjoyed the full support of the United States against the Islamic Republic, but with the election of Rouhani and resumption of talks between Iran and the West the political situation changed. More than ever now, the Saudis view Iran as a threat and are concerned that the US's support is waning.

Disaffected by the U.S.'s recent overtures to the Islamic Republic, Riyadh's likely response to seek new alliances to strengthen its security and augment its clout in the region. Azerbaijan is a particularly attractive ally because it is already a sometimes rival of Iran. Certainly, Azerbaijan's quarrels with Tehran are not at all like the bitter enmity between the Ayatollahs and the al-Saud family. Still, the existence of distrust between Azerbaijan and its neighbor to the south provide an opening for a Saudi alliance. Baku also stands to gain, as Saudi money will flow into its growing economy and strengthen it. Politically, having a wealthy and powerful ally like the KSA will help Azerbaijan attain a more balanced foreign policy vis-à-vis Iran and Russia and not rely on Turkey as its sole true ally.

There are, however, drawbacks. Azerbaijan has demonstrated that its reluctance to defy Iran by supporting its adversaries. When the media reported that Azerbaijan might allow Israel to launch an attack against Iran's nuclear facilities from its bases, for instance, the Azerbaijani government swiftly denied the claims and proclaimed it would never allow its territory to be used by a foreign country to attack the Islamic Republic.

Furthermore, the Saudi government uses soft power by exporting its religious ideology to other countries, including Azerbaijan. In fact, some 200 Azerbaijanis are known to be fighting in Syria, many alongside Sunni forces that are buttressed by the Saudis. The staunchly secular Aliyev government has been constantly resisting such influences, which they perceive as a threat. And the government has banned its nationals from fighting in Syria.

In sum, the latest developments in Azerbaijani-Saudi relations, while not dramatic, should be understood in the context of the geopolitical situation. With Iran currying favor with the West while still maintaining its nuclear program, Riyadh's overtures towards Baku are likely part of its strategy to strengthen its clout in the region and contain Iran's influence.
Suzanne is a Fulbright ETA based in Baku, Azerbaijan. The views in this article are her own and do not reflect the views of the Fulbright Program, the US Embassy in Baku, or the US Department of State.

Dutch Lumidea Engineering may invest in road infrastructure of Uzbekistan
Dutch Lumidea Engineering may invest in road infrastructure of Uzbekistan
Uzbekistan reveals data on its active public-private partnership projects
Uzbekistan reveals data on its active public-private partnership projects
Japan to provide financial assistance to women in rural areas of Uzbekistan
Japan to provide financial assistance to women in rural areas of Uzbekistan
Loading Bars
Latest
Audit Service of Georgia: Total cost of servicing and paying off state debt up
WB reiterates its readiness to co-finance new project in Georgia
Restaurants, public transport reopening in Georgia
Iran reveals its COVID-19 data for May 27
Iran's West Azerbaijan Province outlines main targets in agriculture sector
Dutch Lumidea Engineering may invest in road infrastructure of Uzbekistan
Vegetable sowing nearly complete in Kazakh regions
UK workers covered by coronavirus wage subsidy hit 8.4 million
Cement import by Kazakhstan from Turkey surges
Azerbaijan reveals figures on investment in its fixed assets
Kazakhstan to look for new investor for building polyethylene plant
MP: Armenia has no moral right to make any claims against Azerbaijan on ECHR's decision
Kazakh official talks possible Tengiz field's operations suspension
Export from Iran's Sistan and Baluchestan Province going up
Turkey to resume domestic railway traffic suspended amid COVID-19
Iran's NISOC discloses amount of saved funds
Turkmenistan, WHO/Europe discuss additional measures to fight COVID-19
Iran's product export via Kurdistan Province increases
Kazakhstan sets ceiling gas prices in country's capital, two regions
Upcoming OPEC+ meeting to decide on agreement roll-over, says Rystad Energy
Iran boasts number of oil, gas wells drilled in last two months
H&M set to cancel furloughs for 2,500 at Stockholm headquarters
Russia increases cargo transportation to Turkey
Kazakhstan's Air Astana to buy petrol via tender
Iran Energy Exchange announces products to be on sale May 27
Turkey's steel export to US increases
Official: ECHR decision on Safarov’s case puts no int'l legal obligations on Azerbaijan
Uzbekistan reveals data on its active public-private partnership projects
Kazakhstan boosts fertilizer production as part of industrial modernization plan
Azerbaijani oil prices grow
Japan to provide financial assistance to women in rural areas of Uzbekistan
Uzbekistan to announce tender for toll road construction
TAP receives Independent Natural Gas System Management License for Greek section
Bulgaria to reopen restaurants, bars and cafes on June 1
Iranian currency rates for May 27
Armenia violates ceasefire with Azerbaijan 25 times in 24 hours
Uzbekistan reports 72 new COVID-19 cases
Global consumer spending on oil to fall below spending on electricity for first time
German employment outlook improves slightly
Iran plans to expand greenhouse cultivation
Thailand reports nine new coronavirus cases, no new deaths
Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani congratulates Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev
Turkish ministry bans industrial company from participating in BOTAS' tenders
IT experts talk issues with PayPal entering Azerbaijan's e-commerce sector
US increases import of cement from Turkey
Azerbaijan reveals data on pensions, benefits for 1Q2020
Turkey's cargo deliveries to Kyrgyzstan up as of May 1, 2020
Number of COVID-19 cases across globe up by over 100,000 in past day
G7 summit to be held in late June: White House
Mexico registers 501 deaths from coronavirus in one day, biggest jump yet
Japan to compile $1.1 trillion second extra budget
5.4-magnitude quake hits Port Vila of Vanuatu
3 U.S. soldiers wounded in ambush attack in eastern Syria
73 more coronavirus patients die in Moscow, death toll reaching 2,183 - crisis center
Spain declares 10-day official mourning for coronavirus victims
Oil prices climb, bolstered by ongoing supply curbs
Qatar reports 1,742 new COVID-19 infections, 47,207 in total
Armenia trying to divert int’l community’s attention from illegal occupation facts
Afghanistan to free 900 Taliban, urges ceasefire extension
Azerbaijan detects 132 new COVID-19 cases
Putin says Russia to hold postponed Victory Day parade on June 24
Azerbaijan sends letter to UN due to illegal “elections” in occupied Karabakh
Review of employment activity in Azerbaijan as of May 1, 2020
Uzbekistan siginificantly increases gold exports
Azerbaijan increases import of fruits
Nar 4G users up by 66% over the past year
Georgia reveals ongoing infrastructure projects
UNDP, Switzerland, Austria to distribute protective face shields to Georgia
Electricity generation drops in Georgia
Georgia reports one new COVID-19 case
Volume of loans issued by commercial banks down in Georgia
Tourist flow resumes between Georgia and Czech Republic
TBC Research: PPI increases inflationary pressure in Georgia
Central Bank of Iran reveals inflation forecast
Georgian Jimsher whiskey to be sold in US
Export of Turkey's leather goods to Kazakhstan on the rise
TAV Georgia to expand Batumi Airport
EBRD to finance large-scale project in Georgia
Iran reveals volume of wheat purchased from farmers
Azerbaijan sees growth in retail trade per capita
Iran announces number of dams under construction
Uzbekistan expands supply chain of wild cherries
Azerbaijan increases import of cars two-fold
Italy sees marginal decline of cement import from Turkey
Mudflow protection infrastructure to be built in Turkmenistan
Uzbekistan reveals amount of its transport sector losses due to COVID-19
Turkey reveals data on cargo deliveries to Germany
Azerbaijan records big boost in production of cars
Uzbekistan detects 81 new COVID-19 cases
Malaysia reports 187 new coronavirus cases, no new deaths
President Ilham Aliyev: Azerbaijan is ready for new technologies, innovations
Iran discloses volume of cargo transported by land
COVID-19 cases near 140,000 in Iran
Azerbaijan sees growth in manufacturing of dairy products
India coronavirus cases rise as millions return home
Ukraine looking into importing gas via Southern Gas Corridor
Turkmenistan to take part in meeting of Council of CIS Heads of Government
Kazakhstan's electric power distributing company to buy cables via tender
Kazakhstan's ministry forecasts livestock production increase
Iran’s product export increases via Tamarchin customs
All news