The increase in oil prices caused amendments to the state budget. Domestic agenda was dominated by a large-scale electricity outage in the country and Ganja events. However, in the foreign policy, the president’s visit to France and approved EU-Azerbaijan Partnership Priorities gave some hope for the future.
Domestic policy: Power blackout
In the first week of July, Azerbaijan experienced a countrywide blackout because of the accident at Mingachevir Thermal Power Plant. 39 regions including the capital Baku went through an electricity supply outage. According to the Ministry of Energy and the largest electrical power producer “Azerenerji” OJSC, the accident was caused by the sharp increase in demand for electricity and was “inevitable”. It took several hours to repair the plant, which triggered numerous complaints from the public, especially, on social media.
President Ilham Aliyev formed a commission to reveal the real causes of the accident and held a meeting with the government on this issue. The investigation found that the breakdown was caused by the unsound infrastructure lacking maintenance and necessary upgrade, failure to keep up with modern technical norms, and negligence in energy security field n.The President stressed the need to develop alternative action plans in order to prevent such accidents in the future. However, this situation put the energy security of Azerbaijan and responsible institutions into question.
Armed attack on the mayor of the second largest city
On July 3, there was shooting in front of the administrative building of Azerbaijan’s second largest city, Ganja. The Head of the Executive Authority Elmar Valiyev and his bodyguard were wounded. A 35-year-old Russian citizen and Ganja resident, Yunis Safarov, who was accused of assassination attempt, has been earlier wanted in the case of an attack on a policeman and terrorism. The suspect was immediately taken into custody. The statement published by the Chief Prosecutor’s Office, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and the State Security Service mentions that the perpetrator participated in the Syrian war and took military training there. Besides Safarov, 11 other people were detained over the alleged links to the attack.
The week following the attack, approximately 200 people gathered in the center of the city in support of Safarov and requested to investigate the mayor’s activities. During the demonstrations, two high-ranking police officers were stabbed to death. Police detained 40 demonstrators and dispersed the protest.
Azerbaijani authorities claim the demonstrators “a radical religious group”. However, opposition stated the protests “probably” happened because Valiyev “represents this criminal government and was notoriously known for humiliating the citizens that he was supposed to serve”.
Economy: Changes in the state budget
Azerbaijan Ministry of Finance prepared and submitted state budget amendments to the National Assembly in the first half of June and it is only in early July when President Ilham Aliyev approved the changes. Amendments included developing social protection of citizens, strengthening the defense, security, and tourism sectors of the country, increasing the monetary funds allocated for agriculture, melioration, and irrigation projects. New state budget revenue is expected to be 22.1 billion manats (about $12.98 billion), while expenditures are increasing to 23.1 manats (about $13.57 billion) exceeding the previously approved budget nearly by 10% and 9.8%, respectively. Most part of expenditures is allocated to three large companies: CJSC “Azerbaijan Railways” (100 million manat – $58.74 million), “Azerisiq” OJSC (81.4 million manat – $47.81 million), and SOCAR (963.2 million manat – $565.76 million). In accordance to the proposed changes, funds for defense, security, and tourism, as well as social protection are increased. Overall, state budget revenues in 2018 will be 33.9% more than that of 2017. This increase is the result of the rise in oil prices (from $45 to $55 per barrel) on the global markets.
Foreign policy: Promising meeting
On July 19-20, President Ilham Aliyev paid an official visit to France upon the invitation of Emmanuel Macron. The agenda included cooperation possibilities in the economy and politics. Furthermore, President Macron expressed the willingness of France as the co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group to continue its efforts on finding an optimal and peaceful solution for the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
During his visit, Aliyev also met the President of the Senate, the President of the National Assembly, and the representatives of eleven high stake companies. The President of the French Senate Gerard Larcher explicitly stated his satisfaction with the cooperation of French Lyceum and the Azerbaijani-French University in Baku. He further talked about close economic, political, and cultural relations between the countries and how they can pave the way for positive developments in the process of reaching an agreement between Azerbaijan and EU.
Bilateral relations in transport, construction, banking sector, and military field were discussed with large French companies like Thales International, Iveco Global Bus Sylvain Blaise, and Bouygues Travaux Public Company, along with future projects and investment opportunities. As a result of fruitful discussions contracts exceeding the value of $2 billion were signed.
Another important event in the foreign policy of Azerbaijan in July was the long-awaited end of negotiations over the EU-Azerbaijan Partnership Priorities. These guidelines include four areas of cooperation, namely, strengthening institutions and good governance; economic development and market opportunities; connectivity, energy efficiency, environment and climate action; mobility and people-to-people contacts. The mentioned framework is expected to take bilateral relationships one step further.