Staunton, February 19 – The Azerbaijani navy is seldom given much attention at least in comparison to that country’s increasingly powerful land forces. But that may be about to change given expanded cross-Caspian trade between Azerbaijan and Central Asia and Baku’s concerns about the possibility of attacks on those links and its energy infrastructure in the Caspian Sea.
Up to now, the Azerbaijani navy has had primarily a coastal defense and search-and-rescue mission (ru.qaz.wiki/wiki/Azerbaijani_Navy). But this week, Baku announced that it was expanding its focus to include “the defense of energy infrastructure in its operational zone in the Caspian Sea” (report.az/ru/armiya/v-svyazi-s-nachalom-novogo-uchebnogo-goda-v-vms-azerbajdzhana-provodyatsya-meropriyatiya/ and casp-geo.ru/vms-azerbajdzhana-gotovyatsya-k-zashhite-energeticheskoj-infrastruktury-na-kaspii/).
Besides the ever-present possibility that the navy’s commanders want to boost their influence and power, there appear to be two reasons for this shift. On the one hand, in the wake of Azerbaijan’s land victory in Qarabagh, some in Baku may be worried that there could be terrorist-type attacks on its infrastructure in the Caspian to weaken Azerbaijan and Turkey.
And on the other hand, it is clear that Moscow and Tehran are anything but pleased with the expansion of economic ties between Azerbaijan (and Turkey) and Central Asia and have forces in place on the Caspian that could be used to discourage or disrupt the flow of trade across the Caspian in order to boost their own plans for north-south arrangements (cf. jamestown.org/program/growing-azerbaijani-central-asian-ties-likely-to-trigger-conflicts-with-russia-and-iran/).
Nothing in the Azerbaijani navy’s announcement indicates that any such attacks are imminent, but it seems clear that at least some in Baku are nervous about the potential for them, especially as trans-Caspian links are critical for the hopes and plans of both Baku and Ankara to expand their roles as regional powers.
Turkey already has a major shipbuilding industry; and it is not impossible to imagine that Ankara may seek to help Azerbaijan by supplying its expertise to developing the capacities of the Azerbaijani navy in the coming months. If that happens, the Azerbaijani navy and its possible competition with Russian and Iranian forces are both likely to become more important.