Sweden-Switzerland Trade Relations_What it means for Azerbaijan

Geneva, January 6, 2020

Mariya Khan-Khoyskaya Martignoli

Swiss Azerbaijanis Coordination Council member

Mariya Khan-Khoyskaya Martignoli is a member of the Caucasus Exchange Network, who is a coordinator  of Swiss-Azerbaijani relations. When consulted regarding the unique relationship between Switzerland and Sweden, and how it might affect the relationship of both the strongly-affiliated European nations with Azerbaijan, Khan-Khoyskaya Martignoli presented this research commentary. 

Image submitted by the guest. 

Sweden and Switzerland’s diplomatic relationship is over two centuries old – after Sweden’s recognition of Swiss neutrality in 1817, the early consular establishments in Oslo and Geneva were founded in 1847 and 1867, respectively.

Both Sweden and Switzerland are on the list of genuinely neutral countries and, as per the official data from the Swiss Federal Council, maintain excellent and entirely problem-free relations with each other. Both of them are proud in their pursuit of similar foreign policy goals, especially with regards to human rights respect, peacebuilding, environmental challenges, climate protection, and development cooperation. 

Sweden is Switzerland’s most important trade and investment partner in the Nordic region. According to the UN COMTRADE data, in 2019 Sweden exported US$1.8 Billion of a wide variety of goods to Switzerland that include precious stones, machinery, electrical, electronic equipment, pharmaceutical, and optical products, iron, steel, paper, and furniture.

The import figures are almost just as high – in 2019 Sweden imported US$1.14 Billion of Swiss goods including machinery, organic chemicals, clocks and watches, edible preparations, and of course, pharmaceutical products ranking on the top of the list. 

Sweden-Azerbaijan relationship

Swedish-Azerbaijani history runs way back in- and all that was thanks to Azerbaijani oil. The XIX century was the dawn of the modern oil era when the world discovered the gigantic benefits of this precious substance and shifted its focus to the countries that were rich in it.

After the two XIX century wars between Persia and Imperialistic Russia and with the victory of the latter, the whole of Northern Azerbaijan and of course, the oil-rich Baku province came under Russian control.

As this highly promising market expanded, Sweden comes into action as the first foreign investor in Baku oil: the Nobel brothers, Alfred, Ludvig, and Robert settled in Baku and founded The Nobel Brothers Petroleum Production Company in 1879. The Azerbaijani oil market was booming – in the year 1901, 11 million tons of oil were produced here, which made over 50% of the world production! 

Modern diplomatic relations between Sweden and Azerbaijan started shortly after Sweden recognized the independence of Azerbaijan in January 1992. The Embassy of Azerbaijan in the Kingdom of Sweden was opened in 2008, whereas the decision to open a Swedish embassy in Azerbaijan was made in June 2013 and the actual opening took place almost a year later, in March 2014. 

The economic relationship between the two countries continued to develop successfully with Sweden being an active intermediator in expanding cooperation between the European Union and Azerbaijan, namely through the Eastern Partnership that celebrated its 10th-anniversary last year.  

Within the framework of this partnership, the EU and the six Eastern countries of which Azerbaijan is part of a focus on working towards stronger economies, stronger connectivity, larger business opportunities, enlarged academic possibilities. The trade between the EU and each of the six Eastern countries has only increased and together they make the EU’s 10th trading partner, which is naturally remarkable.

According to the UN COMTRADE, in 2019 Azerbaijan imported from Sweden $US 32.47 million of goods among which are vehicles, machinery, optical equipment, dyeing extracts, pharmaceuticals, and plastics, and exported US$392.99K of textile, vegetable and fruit, carpets, coffee, tea, spices, some machinery and articles of apparel. Moreover, during the official visits of the Swedish ministers to Azerbaijan, they always underlined that Swedish companies supported the idea of investing in Azerbaijan in different fields such as infrastructure (railways, roads, airports), health, education, environment. 

Currently, there are about 30 Swedish companies that operate in Azerbaijan, and that number is only destined to grow, as both countries expressed their mutual interest in expanding their economic relations, as it was confirmed by Ambassador Christian Kamill, Sweden’s first resident Ambassador to Baku during his meeting with the President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev in September 2020. 

Besides that, Sweden is one of the permanent members of the OSCE Minsk Group that was created in March 1992, around one month later after the bloodiest massacre of the First Karabakh war – the Khojaly genocide.

This OSCE Minsk Group was off to a good start – 4 UN Security Council resolutions of 1993, as well as 3 UN General Assembly Resolutions of 1993, 2006 and 2008, expressed their grave concern over the situation in Karabakh, reaffirmed the continued respect and support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Azerbaijan within its internationally recognized borders, recognized the alarming situation with the Azerbaijani refugees and IDPs and expressed its support to the international mediation efforts, in particular, this Group to settle this conflict.

During the September 2020 meeting between the Swedish Ambassador and the President of Azerbaijan mentioned above, the President reminded that in 2018 Azerbaijan signed strategic documents on partnership priorities with the EU and particularly expressed the fact that in this document the EU supported that basic principle, the fulcrum around which the whole Karabakh conflict revolved – the respect of the territorial integrity, sovereignty, and inviolability of Azerbaijani borders. President Aliyev underlined that for Azerbaijan it was a very important sign of a fair approach to resolving that decades-long conflict to which Ambassador Kamill answered that he listened very carefully and indeed expressed his readiness to do his part in building closer economic ties between the two countries. 

In the past, namely in 2017, Swedish Ambassador to Azerbaijan Ingrid Tersman was enthusiastic about the Southern Gas Corridor and the TAP projects that, as per her words were “strongly supported by the EU that seeks a stronger relationship with Azerbaijan in the energy issues… Azerbaijan is an important partner for the EU in the energy sector. It’s another issue of connectivity where Azerbaijan becomes a stronger partner, a stronger country in the region and also a stronger partner for Europe.” 

All that proves that Sweden’s great interest in Azerbaijan lies not only for the economic (read, financial) reasons but also in political – the Nordic country was obliged by its duty to the OSCE Minsk Group to mediate on the Karabakh conflict. In the early days of the war, namely on 1 October 2020 during the video meeting of Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Sweden Ann Linde, the parties agreed that it was very important to make full use of the existing potential of the promising economical climate between the two countries.

When Minister Bayramov briefed his colleague about the aggressive policy of Armenia against Azerbaijan and stressed the need – that ever-lasting need that Azerbaijan has been repeating recurrently over the past 3 decades and that is written black on white in the 62/243 UN Resolution – “the immediate, complete and unconditional withdrawal of all Armenian forces from all the occupied territories of the Republic of Azerbaijan”, Minister Linde noted a peaceful solution to the conflict and the efforts of the OSCE Minsk Group, as well as the fact that both states should respect the main principles of the Helsinki Final Act of 1975. 

Diplomacy towards Azerbaijan: Sweden vs. Switzerland

While some Swiss politicians and some Swiss media shifted their focus from neutrality towards partiality and inequitably narrowed such notions as “human rights”, “self-determination”, “territorial integrity” while basing themselves on, surprising as it is, on all kinds of distortions of geopolitical and historical facts which resulted in a very much biased approach towards the Karabakh conflict, Sweden remained diplomatically correct and politically neutral even while describing the events of the Second Karabakh war in the media, including how they pictured the third parties that were verbally or in act involved in it: Russia, Turkey, France. The sources were accurately and detachedly describing things and facts as the Karabakh’s non-recognition as an independent state even by Armenia itself, calling the Armenian forces located in Karabakh their true name which is “separatist”, the Armenian bombings of the major Azerbaijani cities and the fact that they were deliberate.  

In sharp contrast with the Swiss media, the Swedish mentioned the 30’000 dead in the First Karabakh war underlining that the majority was Azerbaijanis, the mention of the name “Khankendi” next to “Stepanakert”, an interview with two local women, of Azerbaijani and Armenian origin who expressed their views on the conflict, the pain and fear they shared and the differences they had… In short, it gave a fairly good impression of Swedish mood bearing much greater neutrality and detachedness on the conflict in comparison to its “neutral” Swiss sister country.  

All that gives an even greater hope that Sweden will pursue this heartening approach towards Azerbaijan which will be only beneficial for both countries as far as all fields are concerned, including the gas industry. 

European biases vs vacuum in the South Caucasus

When we look back at these decades that passed since the first Azerbaijani refugees were forced to flee from the territories, first from Armenia, then from Karabakh and the seven regions and how things turned out to be in this 2020 Karabakh war and the reaction of the world, especially Europe towards it, many questions come in mind and they remained unanswered: 

If both Armenia and Azerbaijan were to respect the OSCE peace talks and find out a pacific solution to the Karabakh conflict, then how come that after the first 4 UN resolutions noted with alarm the invasion of Azerbaijani territories by the Armenian armed forces, nothing was explicitly done against the aggressor state?

If the international community, embodied by the UN, reaffirmed the “inalienable right of the population expelled from the occupied territories of the Rep. of Azerbaijan to return to their homes and recognized the necessity of providing normal, secure and equal conditions of life for Armenian and Azerbaijani communities in the Nagorno-Karabakh region of the Rep. of Azerbaijan” (quoting UN Res. 62/243, 2008), then how come the when the Second Karabakh War erupted, the world mostly concentrated only on the “normal, secure and equal conditions” of the Armenian community of Karabakh, ignoring (on purpose or by mistake?) not only that this community was artificially increased by the illegal settlement policy of the Armenian government, putting Armenian refugees from the Middle East, namely from Syria and Lebanon and completely forgetting about the major community – the Azerbaijanis that used to live there?
If according to Sweden and, I believe, to the international community as well, the Helsinki Final Act of 1975 must be evoked, then how come its Decalogue was brazenly violated by the Armenian government, and no actions were taken to immediately undo that?

Why the dun was still in the mire for all this time?

The aggressor state, Armenia, was invited to take part in peace talks that simply did not produce any fruit because Armenia didn’t want to recognize the simple truth which is: it violently invaded foreign territories and committed crimes. Instead, the Armenian authorities just locked up in a shell-like a person who committed a crime but doesn’t want to admit it.

The world acted out as a very polite, very patient, and diplomatic psychologist – drew up resolutions that called, recalled, affirmed, and re-affirmed the grave concern that what the criminal did is not normal. It’s blindingly obvious that peace talks and reasoning are the best solutions in all difficult situations. The question here is – until when should the patience last? When would the judges take a look at the evidence and sentence the wrongdoer? How long these peace talks that bore no fruit, that were undermined by the Armenian authorities should have continued? 

Let us not forget that during all these years a million people were suffering, displaced, and disgraced. That the occupied lands were mostly kept desolated and land mined, and partly illegally settled. That the natural resources were being illegally exploited. That historical artifacts were shamelessly destroyed, disfigured, or unapologetically sneaked out of the occupied lands. All that was happening while the innumerous peace talks were taking place. 

During these decades and the Second Karabakh War itself, Europe seemed to be more occupied besides other things by its fear of Islamism – an issue that has nothing to do with Azerbaijan and Armenia – that it tried so hard to patch it on to the Karabakh conflict.

 All Azerbaijan ever wanted was peace and the acknowledgment that no country in the world, including Azerbaijan, wants foreign heavily armed separatists on its territory. 

Please correct me if I am wrong. Some countries in Europe, unfortunately, chose the runaround policy when some direct questions were asked, jettisoning the same old trite statements that frankly meant almost nothing, thus themselves creating this diplomatic vacuum that Russia and Turkey stepped in to fill. And when that happened, it startled and somewhat frightened them greatly. Why? I guess the answer is – politics. 

In conclusion, I’d like to address myself to the whole international community. You’ve all seen the desolation of Karabakh and the seven adjacent regions. In the name of all that is sacred or, let’s call it rather, in the name of common sense –

What country on Earth would ever sanely benefit from the ruins? Isn’t it just so much smarter to contribute to the development of such a beautiful region, to invite foreign investors and work together towards its better future, especially that we are all facing alarming environmental challenges? What kind of peace, prosperity, security, and happiness is possible for any involved country, including Armenia when the region in question was rotting and stuffed with landmines?

When a place is insecure and unguarded when diplomatic efforts are constantly undermined, who else could make a profit of this situation if not only the dark powers?