The president of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, became the first head of a Latin-American state to visit Baku since the time that Azerbaijan obtained independence.
In short, Maduro’s visit was in pursuit of political goals dictated by the strategy of the Non-Aligned Movement, which has attracted countries of the Third and Fourth World that advocate opposition to Western open societies.
Azerbaijan was formally the first stop on Maduro’s visit to the oil-extracting region, where he will make subsequent stops in Iran, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. The President of Venezuela wishes to support the recent, preliminary agreement of the OPEC countries to reduce their oil extraction, in order to achieve a certain rise in the prices of “black gold”. An OPEC meeting on this question should take place on November 30, but the majority of experts are skeptical about a consensus in this organization of oil-exporting countries. Iran, as a heavyweight member of the organization, and Russia, as an observer, are sabotaging this idea, based on their own interests and reasoning. But most importantly, the USA and countries with developed economies are uninterested in the growth of oil prices. In this context, President Ilham Aliyev’s affirmations that he is prepared to freeze oil extraction sound ridiculous. As is known, Azerbaijan’s share in world oil extraction is slightly more than half a percentage point, and on top of that, production is decreasing in connection with the depletion of wells. Of course, such a statement from Aliyev needs to be seen as politically motivated in conditions of a deepening crisis in oil-dependent Azerbaijan, and in Venezuela as well.
Relations between Venezuela and Azerbaijan began to be worked out within the framework of Aliyev’s strategy for entering the Latin-American continent and establishing ties between semi-democratic regimes. The degree to which such ties have been achieved with a number of countries is attested by the adoption of documents by the parliaments of Columbia, Peru, Panama, Honduras, Paraguay and Gautemala on the Khojaly Massacre and the occupied territories of Azerbaijan.
In the past, Azerbaijan used the personal, friendly relations of Venezuela’s president, Hugo Chavez, and the president of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, and got involved in swapping operations for the sale of Venezuelan oil to Belarus, which can be seen as the first step in constructing bridges between Baku and Caracas. After subsequently joining the Non-Aligned Movement, Azerbaijan officially used this platform to develop its ties with Latin America and in particular with Venezuela, which now heads the organization and in 2019 will hand over the three-year chairmanship to Azerbaijan.
There is still one more, in no way unimportant detail that is discernable in the two countries’ relationship. Baku is officially filling its arsenal with several practical measures applied by Hugo Chavez and later by Maduro, such as struggle with the opposition, as well as implementation of transitional period programs including state control over price-setting and diversification of the economy and institutional elements. The institute of the vice-president, which Ilham Aliyev introduced not long ago in the course of the referendum, is totally copied from the Venezuelan model. And the current head of Venezuela, Maduro, stepped over into the presidential chair, having been the vice-president, appointed head of the government. Then, using administrative resources, he claimed victory in a contested election with a lead of one percent. Today, Maduro has obtained a certain guarantee of his presidential power thanks to the vice-president he appointed. Even if, during the next year, the opposition in Venezuela gets a referendum for Maduro’s resignation and subsequently insists on this, power will be transferred to Maduro’s appointee for the transitional period.
Bilateral relations between the two countries in the economic sphere are, for the moment, too limited, but in the political realm, Venezuela has already made a choice in favor of Azerbaijan in the South Caucasus region. At a press-conference in Baku, with the Karabakh conflict in mind, Maduro literally said: “Azerbaijan can always rely on our will and support in questions of fulfilling resolutions of the UN Security Council. We were elected to membership of the Security Council with the support of many nations of the world. Within the framework of the Security Council we are doing everything possible for the application of international law. Azerbaijan made an incredibly clear move for the defense of its national interests. Venezuela is our new and reliable friend.”
President Ilham Aliyev, for whom the Karabakh question is one of the priorities of his Latin-American policies, in his reciprocal statement, and drawing on the joint declaration, announced the development of future bilateral relations in the investment and oil sectors, especially in the area of maritime oil extraction: “The primary directions of future cooperation are noted in the declaration – development of political ties, cooperation in the area of economics, investment, cooperation in the energy sector, transport, science, education, environmental protection”.
A review of the Azerbaijani press shows that the visit was perceived as an obligatory, polite gesture, which is deceptive, if we consider in the first place the similarity of the oil-dependent regimes, their difficulties, and also their values and goals, as well as their closeness in the Non-Aligned Movement in their capacities as chair (Venezuela) and rightful heir (Azerbaijan). These relations can be viewed as the next step in Azerbaijan strengthening its position in Latin America, where Armenia has had strong positions historically, especially in such countries as Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay.
However, in the weakness of these relations we clearly see the shakiness of President Maduro’s position, which, in the conditions of a deepening economic crisis is subject to the powerful pressing of the opposition, which holds in its hands the parliament and control over the government. In the best case Maduro will remain until the end of his presidential term, which expires in 2018, but for the perspective future, power will fully illuminate the opposition. Ilham Aliyev’s situation is not so extreme, but all the same his stability will depend on further steps in the realm of diversifying his policies. For now, the economy is falling, the mood of protest is growing, and the conclusions and prognoses of experts are becoming increasingly pessimistic. In such conditions, the strategic stability of the new Azerbaijani-Venezuelan relations can be achieved not via the prism of the interests and approaches of the two regimes, but of the two countries.