The conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan could draw in other countries as Armenia threatens critical energy infrastructure.

In a major escalation of hostilities, Armenian forces have attempted to attack the strategic Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) oil pipeline running close to the Azerbaijani city of Ganja.

The Azerbaijani foreign ministry, in a tweet, said, that “security and safety risks that [the] Armenian political leadership creates in the region should no longer be neglected.”

By attacking the strategically important city of Ganja, where Azerbaijan's critical infrastructure passes through, Armenia is seeking to choke Baku’s energy supplies to the international markets.

The attack on the region was called by one Azerbaijani analyst as “yet another provocation” by Armenia and an “act of force.”

If one looks at the map, the ‘Ganja Gap’, as it’s called, marks the distance between the area where the fighting is taking place and the Russian border. 

At only 100km, the area is vital in ensuring that global markets are supplied with Azerbaijani gas and oil.

For European countries and Turkey, ensuring that the Ganja Gap is not threatened is also critical to their national security. 

Azerbaijan is one of three countries in which Central Asian energy can make it through to global markets. The other two are Russia and Iran, both countries at conflict with several European countries and the US.

Through the Ganja Gap run three critical pipelines: Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC), Baku–Tbilisi–Erzurum and the Baku-Supsa pipeline.

Pipeline politics

Running at over 1700km, the BTC oil pipeline transports one million barrels per day and if it were to become inoperational, it would cause significant disruption to countries that rely on Azerbaijan for their energy needs.

One such country would be Israel which relies on Azerbaijan for 40 percent of its annual oil consumption.

Israel and Azerbaijan, over the last few decades, have become increasingly close allies. Tel Aviv has supplied Baku with a significant amount of weapons including drones, which Azerbaijan is rumoured to be using in the current conflict with Armenia.

Between 2015 to 2019, a total of 60 percent of Azerbaijan’s arms imports came from Israel, and 31 percent from Russia, according to the Stockholm National Peace Institute. Almost all of Armenia’s arms imports came from Russia during that same period.

The Armenian-backed self-declared Republic of Artsakh controls the Karabakh region, which is internationally recognised as Azerbaijan's territory.
The Armenian-backed self-declared Republic of Artsakh controls the Karabakh region, which is internationally recognised as Azerbaijan's territory. (Enes Danis / TRTWorld)

Crucially, Israel may well be engaged in lobbying efforts to shore up the Azerbaijan narrative in western capitals as it seeks to protect its energy and weapons sale interests in the country.

In threatening to attack a vital strategic pipeline, Armenia is attempting to draw in outside powers to pressure Azerbaijan into a ceasefire and a continuation of the status quo.

The BTC pipeline is owned by a consortium of companies including BP (UK) which owns 30.1 percent; the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan 25.00 percent; Chevron (United States); 8.71 percent; Turkish Petroleum Corporation 6.53 percent; 6.53% Eni (Italy) and Total (France) with 5.00 percent.

The major stakeholders, among others, are an indication of the strategic value that the pipeline holds.

Alongside the BTC pipeline runs another, known as the Baku–Tbilisi–Erzurum pipeline. It transports natural gas to global markets.The

 major shareholders are BP with 28.8 percent; Turkish Petroleum Corporation with 19.0 percent and the state Oil Company of Azerbaijan with 10.0 percent.

Azerbaijan has become the largest gas supplier for Turkey over the last few years.

Any attempt by Armenian forces to attack pipelines critical to Turkey’s energy security could well result in an escalation drawing Ankara in directly.

The Armenian foreign ministry has denied that it has attacked Azerbaijani energy pipelines, however, its claim could not be independently verified.

Moreover, the Armenian military has been occupying 20 percent of Azerbaijan's land mass for the last 30 years, a claim that it denies. The international community and several UN resolutions have urged Armenia to withdraw its forces within its border and stop the occupation of Azerbaijan.

For decades, a fatigue has settled over the international community with little headway being made in resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

An explosive disruption to global energy markets in the midst of a global pandemic, risks causing further economic chaos. Now may be just the time to focus minds.

Source: TRT World