Why Brexit is Bad for Azerbaijan

by Eldar Mamedov

The Brexit crisis could create geopolitical headaches for Azerbaijan at a time when Baku is worried about keeping the country’s leaky economy afloat.

The Azerbaijani government so far has not officially commented on the Brexit situation. Reflecting the official attitude, Rasim Musabayov, an MP, said he did not expect Brexit to have a significant impact on EU-Azerbaijan bilateral relations because they “were not close to begin with.”

That may be true in a narrow sense, but there are a couple of big reasons why Brexit could have unwelcome implications for Azerbaijan.

First, it is reasonable to expect that the Brexit vote will prompt the EU to become more introverted, as it must concentrate more on its own survival in the coming months and years than in projecting influence eastward. That is unfortunate given that in recent months Brussels and Baku had started to take steps to place relations back on solid ground after going through a period of prolonged mutual antagonism.

The chief catalyst of rancor was Azerbaijan’s poor rights record. Over the past few years, President Ilham Aliyev’s administration embraced authoritarianism, and took steps to muzzle all forms of dissent, including independent journalism. Baku’s crackdown prompted criticism from the EU, along with individual member states. Accordingly, relations took a nosedive.

In the months prior to the Brexit vote, a thaw appeared to be taking shape. Federica Mogherini, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, visited Baku in early 2016. Not long after that visit, the Aliyev administration released some prisoners who the international community classified as political detainees. Then, in mid-June, the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee gave its consent to the framework agreement on the principles of Azerbaijan’s participation in Union programs, after it had been stalled for a year because of human rights concerns.

Now, while contacts on the expert and bureaucratic level should continue, Brexit likely means any major EU diplomatic initiative in the EU neighborhood will be put on hold.

The Brexit vote is also not good news for those hoping to find some way of getting the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process back on track.

The early April flare up in fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh reinforced the case for the EU’s deeper engagement in conflict-resolution efforts between Armenia and Azerbaijan. But it is now unlikely that the EU will embrace a larger role in the Karabakh peace process – at least over the near- and medium-term.

Another unwelcome implication for Azerbaijan is connected with separatism. Brexit could well lead to a fresh referendum in Scotland on the matter of independence in Scotland, and, given the scale of Scottish support for the EU, it is easy to imagine that another referendum would produce a “yes” vote that results in the breakup of the United Kingdom. Such an outcome could further embolden those who argue that the principle of self-determination should take precedence over a state’s territorial integrity. This would be a blow to Azerbaijan’s official position on Karabakh.

It is understandable why the Azerbaijani government is not giving the Brexit crisis much thought at the moment. Baku has bigger problems, namely the poor state of the economy: the State Statistical Committee reported in June that Azerbaijan’s economy contracted by 4.2 percent during the first five months of 2016, compared with the same period the previous year. The downward trend is expected to continue for at least the rest of this year.

But Azerbaijani authorities may soon bemoan Brexit. It will make it more difficult for them to achieve two major goals: economic stabilization and a Karabakh settlement to their liking.

This article reflects the personal views of the author and not necessarily the opinions of the European Parliament. Reprinted with permission from EurasiaNet. Photo: Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev.

Eldar Mamedov

Eldar Mamedov has degrees from the University of Latvia and the Diplomatic School in Madrid, Spain. He has worked in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Latvia and as a diplomat in Latvian embassies in Washington D.C. and Madrid. Since 2007, Mamedov has served as a political adviser for the social-democrats in the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament (EP) and is in charge of the EP delegations for inter-parliamentary relations with Iran, Iraq, the Arabian Peninsula, and Mashreq.



  1. The ONLY REASON anyone coddles this despotic thug leader is because of OIL!..Until corrupt king Aliyev is overthrown there will be no peace. He’s President of Azerbaijan for life..

    LETS BE CLEAR: Azerbaijan is a made up country invented in 1918. Karabakh, REALLY ARTSAKH, is ancient Armenian lands populated by Armenians for many millennia. Artsakh was included in this new Muslim Gas station outpost of Azerbaijan, in the TREATY OF KARS, between Joseph Stalin’s Bolsheviks and the Kemalist Turks in Oct 13, 1921. THIS IS LILLEGAL and doesn’t make it “PART OF AZERBAIJAN”.. In early 1990’s, Karabakh, like Azerbaijan voted for a legal referendum to be free of the old crumbling Soviet instilled yoke and so did Karabakh, Instead Azerbaijan made territorial; claims against Karabakh, started mass pogroms of Armenians in Baku, Sumgait, where Armenians were killed in the streets by AZERI GOVERNMENT ORGANIZATIONS… and then started the first war by bombing innocent unarmed civilians in Stepanakart. . Azerbaijan LOST THE FIRST WAR AND LOST MORE TERRITORY. No Armenian from Karabakh will EVER AGREE TO BE A PART OF AZERBAIJAN. It will never go back. He needs to get used to it.. Hopefully the economic down turn from an economy based on now plummeting oil, can dislodge the dictator tyrant Aliyev and bring REAL PEACE AND stability to the region.

  2. President Ilham Aliyev, 54, has ruled since 2003, when he took over from his father, Heydar Aliyev.

    Although the president’s annual salary is just over $200,000, he and his family have an opulent string of properties and businesses, according to reports by the independent Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project.

    A 2009 U.S. diplomatic cable disclosed by WikiLeaks and reported by Foreign Policy magazine compared President Aliyev’s administration with the Corleones, the Mafia family from the “Godfather” movies.

    In 2010, The Washington Post reported that Aliyev’s three children owned $75 million worth of Dubai real estate, including nine waterfront mansions purchased in a two-week period in 2009 in the name of the president’s then-11-year-old son. The recently disclosed Panama Papers revealed the Aliyevs’ ownership of a wider array of companies and real estate, and even a huge gold mine.

    The US-based rights watchdog Freedom House estimates there are still more than 80 political prisoners in Azerbaijan, while at least five reporters remain jailed on a range of charges, including alleged hooliganism and drug-related offences.


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