Azerbaijan has been gaining growing attention as an attractive European partner, and Lithuania is one of the European countries that has long been sustaining a friendly relationship with Azerbaijan. Over the past three decades, the two countries have cultivated friendly interstate relations that have developed into a partnership based on shared views on various global issues. They are actively striving to enhance trade and collaboration in various fields, aiming for a whole new level of cooperation. This week’s visit of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev to Lithuania and his attendance at the Azerbaijan-Lithuania Business Forum showcase the positive level of bilateral relations between the two countries.
Azerbaijan and Lithuania formally established diplomatic relations in 1995, four years after they obtained independence from the Soviet Union. Since then, their bilateral ties have been boosted by a series of high-level meetings between the diplomatic representatives and heads of states of the two countries, and Baku and Vilnius have been working together to enhance cooperation and strengthen these ties. The bilateral cooperation between Azerbaijan and Lithuania encompasses several areas of shared interest, including political, economic and cultural relations.
During their post-communist transition, both Azerbaijan and Lithuania have pursued deliberate strategies to distance themselves from the Russian orbit. Lithuania’s integration into the EU and NATO, and Azerbaijan‘s balanced foreign policy with a strong emphasis on political and economic interaction with individual EU and NATO member-states, reflect their shared aim of aligning with Western values and diversifying their partnerships. The reinforced cooperation between Azerbaijan and the EU, particularly in the energy sector, further solidifies their strategic alignment and enhances Azerbaijan’s role as a reliable partner for Europe’s energy security.
Energy is also one of the cornerstones of the Azerbaijan-Lithuania relations, and the major oil companies of the two countries, the Azerbaijani SOCAR and the Lithuanian Klaipedos Nafta, started to cooperate in 2007 within the framework of the joint venture Sarmatia. Azerbaijan has been an important supplier of crude oil to Lithuania. SOCAR has been a major partner in supplying oil to Lithuania’s oil refining company, AB Mazeikiu Nafta (now known as Orlen Lietuva). The cooperation in oil supplies has contributed to Lithuania’s energy security and diversification of its energy sources.
Not only do hydrocarbons play a major role in the energy agenda of the two countries, but also green energy, as it was reminded by President Aliyev during his most recent visit to Vilnius. Indeed, the two countries share a common vision on developing the wind energy sector, which offers prospects for investment both in the Caspian and the Baltic Sea. Moreover, Azerbaijan is set to export green hydrogen to Europe through the Green Corridor, which will comply with the needs of energy diversification of the EU countries.
Both Azerbaijan and Lithuania have been proactively implementing measures to enhance bilateral trade and discover unexplored prospects for economic collaboration. Significant areas of emphasis encompass energy, transportation, agriculture, and information technology. In 2021, Lithuania exported goods to a total value of $41.2 million to Azerbaijan, while the Azerbaijani exports to Lithuania amounted to $15.8 million.The main products traded between the two countries included machinery, electrical equipment, vehicles, mineral fuels, construction materials, and agricultural products. At the Azerbaijan-Lithuania Business Forum, which brought together about 80 companies from both countries, Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda expressed his willingness to explore new opportunities for economic cooperation with Azerbaijan, stating that “Various sectors of Azerbaijan’s economy, such as information technologies, logistics, manufacturing, advanced food industries and renewable energy attract Lithuanian entrepreneurs.”
The two countries are quite similar in their roles in connectivity projects and can boost cooperation in terms of logistics, economy and transport between the South Caucasus and the Baltics. Lithuania is an important player within the Three Seas Initiative, while Azerbaijan aspires to become a crucial link in the Middle Corridor. Perhaps, in the near future Azerbaijan and Lithuania can initiate linking these two projects.
At the political level, Lithuania has consistently maintained a position in support of the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. The country, adhering to the norms and principles of international law and aligning with the broader international community’s stance on the issue, recognizes Azerbaijan’s internationally recognized borders and has reiterated its commitment to the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity. Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the principle of territorial integrity has become very relevant, probably as never before. The latter, or more precisely, support for Ukraine’s resistance, is another common point for Azerbaijan and Lithuania. Baku was one of the first countries to respond to Ukraine’s plea by sending aid within 24 hours of the invasion. Ever since, Azerbaijan has provided Ukraine with essential goods, including free oil products. For its part, Lithuania has sent military aid to Ukraine worth over €400 million.
Despite their smaller margin of error vis-a-vis regionally assertive players, the two countries have been inching towards the geopolitical spotlight even before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Baku and Vilnius have been adamant about neutralizing the negative influence of third powers in the Baltic Sea and the Caspian Sea basins, respectively. Lithuania’s firm stance vis-a-vis Chinese pressures in the context of the diplomatic brawl in late 2021 exposed strategic shortcomings of Wolf Warrior diplomacy in Beijing’s relations with the Central and East European countries and drew support from the other EU member states. Similarly, Azerbaijan’s calculated balancing against Iran’s destabilizing moves in the South Caucasus alerted the Western audience to the importance of more active involvement in regional peace and stability. If Azerbaijan and Lithuania’s warnings about these concerns did not resonate with Western circles before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, after February 2022, these worries have been vindicated, and the two countries have so far emerged as pivotal players in the resistance against negative external encroachment.
Lithuania actively promotes increased collaboration between Azerbaijan and the European Union, particularly in terms of political cooperation, economic integration, and people-to-people contacts, acknowledging the significance of Azerbaijan within the EU’s Eastern Partnership platform and its position as an energy ally. Lithuania has been actively promoting political dialogue, facilitating cooperation on various levels, and encouraging reforms in Azerbaijan to align with European standards. During Lithuania’s EU Council presidency, the Azerbaijan-EU Visa Regime Facilitation Agreement was signed, representing a significant milestone in the bilateral relations between Azerbaijan and the European Union.
Cultural cooperation is also one of the core aspects of the bilateral relations between the two countries. Lithuania is home to nearly 3.000 Tatars and Karaites, two ethnic minorities of Turkic origins. 2021 was declared the Year of Lithuanian Tatar History and Culture, and several activities were held in Baku to spread knowledge about the life and cultural traditions of the Lithuanian Tatars. Moreover, in February 2021, a memorandum of cooperation was signed between the International Turkic Culture and Heritage Foundation and the Lithuanian Embassy in Azerbaijan, with the aim of implementing mutual cultural exchange, protection of the cultural heritage of the minority peoples of Lithuania of Turkic origin.
In conclusion, Azerbaijan and Lithuania have established a shared vision and common objectives on various political and economic matters. Strengthening the cooperation between these two countries has the potential to be mutually advantageous. Azerbaijan could draw inspiration from the positive experiences of the Baltic countries as a blueprint for neighbourhood policy and collaborative efforts. Indeed, the Baltic neighbourhood model has demonstrated that countries can achieve significant progress in political stability and economic development through political will, comprehensive reforms, and enhanced regional cooperation. On the other hand, Azerbaijan’s significance for Lithuania stems from its role as an energy partner, potential trade opportunities, strategic location, and cultural ties. By leveraging these aspects, Lithuania can enhance its economic development, energy security, and regional integration while strengthening its bilateral ties with Azerbaijan.
About the author
Simona Scotti is a Research Fellow at Topchubashov Center. Her main areas of expertise include the geopolitics of the South Caucasus, post-war developments between Azerbaijan and Armenia, Turkish security policies, Italy-Azerbaijan relations, and energy and connectivity.