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Azerbaijan Country Report

Country Risk Level

High

Overview

Executive Summary

Oil- and gas-rich Azerbaijan has been ruled by the Aliyev dynasty since 1993. President Ilham Aliyev wields most political power in an authoritarian system that tolerates no opposition. This is reflected by the systematic government crackdown against dissidents.In 2016, Aliyev demonstrated his willingness to use force through controlled escalations to change the status quo in the unresolved conflict with Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave. The skirmishes on the border with Armenia in Tovuz district in July 2020 signal that Azeri government is prepared to pressure Armenia militarily to extract concessions in OSCE-mediated Nagorno-Karabakh talks.Azerbaijan is positioning to become the regional energy and transportation hub on the East-West (Azerbaijan-Georgia-Turkey) and North-South (Russia-Azerbaijan-Iran) trade routes. An ongoing rapprochement with Iran and growing strategic partnership with Turkey assist this endeavour.Azerbaijan currently faces an economic shock, akin to the 2015 economic fall. With energy accounting for over 90% of total exports, Azerbaijan will enter into recession in 2020, damaged by the collapse of crude oil prices due to the coronavirus pandemic, and the Saudi-led oil price damping. External demand will further worsen by the severe economic contraction in Italy, Azerbaijan’s key energy export destination. Despite proclaiming a switch to a free floating regime during 2015 financial crisis, the Central bank of Azerbaijan will continue to heavily manage the manat’s exchange rate in the coming months by burning through its hard currency reserves. This costly measure will push back the inflationary risks for now. However, should the crude oil prices fail to recover to around USD40/bbl mark beyond the second quarter, the central bank will be under pressure to allow the manat’s free float. This is likely to trigger a repeat of the 2015-16 turmoil of high inflation, severe shortages of external liquidity and banking-sector bailout.

Operational Outlook

Azerbaijan made some progress in developing infrastructure as part of a push to reduce the economy's hydrocarbon dependence. The combination of oil price collapse and COVID-19 willput significant financial pressure on the government in 2020. This is likely to manifest in spending cuts that will affect infrastructure upgrades. In the past five years the ICT sector has expanded considerably, absorbing USD2 billion in investments and resulting in Internet penetration of almost 80%. Opening of ASAN service centres reduced corruption at lower levels but bribe-taking at high level of state institutions remains very problematic.

Terrorism

Sunni Islamic radicalism has been increasing, both in the traditionally Shi'a Azeri population, and Sunni ethnic minorities. The government's harsh measures to combat it, including criminalisation of non-state-sanctioned religious activities, contributes to radicalisation. Local militant groups generally lack capabilities to target state institutions, Western diplomatic assets or critical energy infrastructure. The potential threat posed by the return of fighters from Syria has been so far effectively mitigated by the security forces. Security co-operation with Israel poses risk of Iran activating its proxies in Azerbaijan, but given the ongoing Azeri-Iranian rapprochement, that is unlikely at present.

Crime

High

Negative economic consequences from oil price collapse and COVID-19 are likely to raise the overall crime level, as burglaries and petty theft will probably become more frequent. Azerbaijan is one of the main transit countries for Afghan opiates on their way to European and Russian markets and contraband of narcotics represents the main source of income for organised criminal networks. Although violent crime targeting foreigners is rare, domestic entrepreneurs are subjected to both extortion and racketeering. Death and injury risks are particularly high near the Armenian-controlled breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh due to ceasefire violations, including regular gunfire exchanges.

War Risks

Border skirmishes with Armenia in Tovuz district in July 2020 reflect war risks that Azerbaijan faces over the Nagorno-Karabakh region and seven adjacent districts of Azerbaijan, which are occupied by Armenian forces. In contrast with controlled escalation in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone in April 2016, the skirmishes took place at the internationally recognised Azerbaijan-Armenia border. This is likely to imply that Azerbaijan is willing to expand military pressure against Armenia beyond Nagorno-Karabakh to extract concessions in OSCE-mediated talks. However, Russia’s military presence and defence commitments to Armenia and Armenia’s ballistic missile arsenal are likely to deter Azerbaijan from an all-out war with Armenia.

Social Stability

High

The onset of the COVID-19 virus in 2020 has allowed the authorities to step up harassment of civil society by using the pretext of quarantine violations to go after opposition activists and dissidents. The USD1.47-billion anti-crisis programme reduces the probability of economically motivated anti-government protests. The atomised opposition cannot mobilise public support on a scale that will threaten President Ilham Aliyev's rule. The scuffles with riot police and vandalism of the parliament building that accompanied the spontaneously organised mass pro-war rally in central Baku on 14 July 2020 demonstrated the extreme sensitivity of the public towards any type of military confrontation with Armenia.

Health Risk

Vaccines Required to Enter the Country

No vaccinations are required to enter the country.

Vaccines Recommended for All Travelers

Routine vaccinations: Consult your doctor to ensure all routine vaccinations - such as for diphtheria, tetanus, polio, tuberculosis, influenza, measles, mumps, pertussis, rubella, varicella, etc. - are up to date (include booster shots if necessary).

Vaccines Recommended for Most Travelers

Hepatitis A: The vaccine is given in two doses, six months apart, and is nearly 100 percent effective. The WHO recommends the vaccine be integrated into national routine immunization schedules for children aged one year or older.

Vaccines Recommended for Some Travelers

Hepatitis B: The WHO recommends that all infants receive their first dose of vaccine as soon as possible after birth, preferably within 24 hours. The birth dose should be followed by two or three doses to complete the primary series. Routine booster doses are not routinely recommended for any age group.

Malaria: There is a low risk of contracting malaria. As such, doctors usually advise travelers to take precautions to prevent mosquito bites rather than prescribing antimalarial medications.

Rabies: The rabies vaccination is typically only recommended for travel to remote areas and if the traveler will be at high risk of exposure (e.g. undertaking activities that will bring them into contact with dogs, cats, bats, or other mammals). The vaccination is administered in three doses over a three-to-four week period. Post exposure prophylaxis is also available and should be administered as soon as possible following contact with an animal suspected of being infected (e.g. bites and scratches).

Natural Risks

Azerbaijan is located in an active seismic zone and the country is regularly hit by earthquakes. In the first half of 2017, the Republican Seismic Survey Center of the Azerbaijan National Academy of Science, the country's main research center on earthquakes, reported some 800 quakes, although all were relatively minor. The last major earthquake occurred in 2012 in the northwest of the country, leaving 15 people injured and causing major damage to infrastructure and buildings.

Extreme weather patterns are common in Azerbaijan. Floods and rain-induced landslides are frequent, particularly in the Great and Little Caucasus mountain ranges, which cover half of country. In June 2016, severe flooding in the Goychay, Shamakhi, and Ismayili districts caused a major landslide which seriously damaged infrastructure (e.g. bridges) and agriculture as well as cut off access to affected villages.

Azerbaijan is also prone to droughts.

Transportation

The reliability and safety of public transportation is not guaranteed and tourist infrastructure is not well developed outside the following areas: Baku, Quba, and Lankaran, and along the coast of the Absheron Peninsula, which extends into the Caspian Sea.

Highways and major city roads are in good condition, however outside of Baku there is generally insufficient street lighting and signage. Rural roads are largely unpaved. Driving can be dangerous due to reckless drivers and poorly maintained cars. Extreme care on roads is advised, particularly during the winter as roads are inconsistently cleared of snow or ice.

Although travelers are advised to avoid the public bus network in Baku due to safety concerns, the capital's metro system offers an inexpensive and safe public option for transportation. Police patrol each metro station regularly, carrying out bag checks, and security cameras operate on a regular basis.

If using a taxi, use established companies and/or professional private drivers to avoid the risk of being overcharged. It is better to negotiate the fare before beginning a trip in a taxi. Use of purple, London-style taxi cabs, which use meters, is also advised (although passengers should ensure the meter is activated). Uber has recently been launched in the country.

Practical Information

Climate

Azerbaijan's climate is tempered by the Caspian Sea and the country's reliefs protect it from Siberian winds. Winters are cold (0°C in January) and summers mild (25°C to 30°C). The country receives its heaviest levels of rain in mountainous regions as well as the Lankaran region (which has a humid subtropical climate); conditions in the rest of the country are relatively dry.

Useful Numbers

Country Code: +994
Police: 102
Fire Dept.: 101
Ambulance: 103

Electricity

Voltage: 220 V ~ 50 Hz

Outlets:

Risk Level
Critical High Medium Low Minimal