ECONOMY


Guivami Rahimli: “Meeting world leaders is, of course, a great challenge”

Baku, November 8, AZERTAC

A group of oil workers were recognized by the Government of Azerbaijan for outstanding contribution to the development of the oil and gas industry in Azerbaijan. Among them, BP’s Guivami Rahimli has been awarded the “Taraggi” (“Progress”) medal by President Ilham Aliyev.

Guivami Rahimli has graduated with honours from the Azerbaijan State University of Languages and the Institute of Tourism Management in Moscow, Russia. He attended a course in Peace Research at the University of Oslo in Norway. Guivami joined BP as a government relations expert in 1995 and since then has held various managerial positions in the company, currently serving as Senior Government Affairs Adviser for BP Azerbaijan-Georgia-Turkey Region. Guivami is a recognized industry professional in the field of energy issues and has extensive networks within and outside the Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey region. He has broad experience in subjects related to government relations, social risk management, institutional capacity building and community development. He is also a professor at the Faculty of International Relations and Economy at Baku State University and teaches classes related to energy security, international organizations, multilateral and regional diplomacy. Guivami received his PhD from Moscow State Pedagogical University and regularly writes articles on energy and foreign affairs.

BP veteran, Guivami Rahimli has seen many VIP guests at the Sangachal terminal – presidents, prime-ministers, MPs… AZERTAC has interviewed Guivami Rahimli to learn about some of the most memorable moments of his career which involve educating world leaders about BP’s activities in Azerbaijan and the region.

- What can you say about geopolitics and the main challenges for Azerbaijan after the collapse of the USSR?

- The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 led to challenging times in the early history of independent Azerbaijan. After the collapse of the USSR, Azerbaijan attracted the attention of the big players in the oil and gas industry, especially those from the USA, UK, Norway, France and Japan. It is important to note that the country was still unstable and fragile, and the war in Karabakh tore the nation apart. This posed a risk to investors. Who could conduct negotiations with major players of the oil game with powerful neighbours such as Russia and Iran? Of course, Heydar Aliyev. He had been one of the most influential leaders of the vast USSR empire. His wealth of political experience and personality meant that he was uniquely equipped to lead Azerbaijanis through the many crises facing the country. During these tough times, in 1993, Heydar Aliyev returned to the political arena and introduced a pragmatic foreign policy. It meant building constructive relations with powers like the USA, EU and Turkey, as well as wise partnerships with actors like Russia and Iran, thus balancing the relations with major global and regional powers. Azerbaijan’s multi-vector policy became a state strategy, avoiding allying with any geopolitical bloc but opting for economic, energy and military cooperation with both sides. Heydar Aliyev had a clear vision regarding relations with the main actors and, despite the crisis the country was experiencing in 1994, Azerbaijan signed the Contract of the Century with foreign oil companies to develop the Azeri-Chirag-Gunashli (ACG) fields in the Caspian Sea.

Now, looking back, we can witness the tremendous success Azerbaijan has achieved in building a prosperous nation. The country is widely known as a successful model and maintains a delicate balance in foreign policy, while developing its economy and bolstering increases stability.

- You have met many world leaders at the Sangachal terminal. Why does BP need to host guests at the Sangachal terminal?

- The Caspian oil and gas developments are currently the largest energy developments in the world. They unlock Caspian reserves and deliver them to European and world markets. The Sangachal terminal is a very important strategic hub for the Caspian. It is a place where all export pipelines from BP-operated offshore fields originate. It is unique in terms of being the greatest integrated oil and gas terminal. It plays an important role in global energy security. The BTC oil and SCP gas pipelines, the Shah Deniz 2 developments as part of the southern corridor, which starts from the Sangachal terminal, provide incremental non-Persian Gulf, non-Russian oil and gas supplies and add to global supply diversity and energy security. Sangachal has shown the benefit of being able to build one picture of our long-term oil and gas development options. It creates a greater ‘sense of occasion’ for visiting groups and affords us an opportunity to meet the expectations of external audiences keen to learn more about the developments in this region.

- How many world leaders you have met at Sangachal?

- Quite a few. First of all, these include presidents such as Ilham Aliyev (Azerbaijan), Recep Tayyip Erdogan (Turkey), Mikheil Saakashvili (Georgia), Viktor Yushchenko (Ukraine), Valdus Adamkus (Lithuania), Arnold Rüütel and Toomas Hendrik Ilves (Estonia), Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga and Valdis Zatlers (Latvia), Pascal Couchepin (Switzerland), Roh Moo-hyun (South Korea), Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz (Mauritania), Václav Klaus and Miloš Zeman (Czech Republic), Truong Tan Sang (Vietnam), as well as prime ministers of Hungary, Kazakhstan, Georgia, Belarus, Moldova, Lithuania, South Korea, Jordan and speakers of the parliaments of Turkey, Poland and Afghanistan. Then there are leading political figures like Prince Michael of Kent (UK), the President of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso, OPEC Secretary-General Mohammad Barkindo and many other VIPs.

- Who was the most inquisitive VIP you have ever met?

- President of Estonia Toomas Hendrik Ilves was the most inquisitive. He visited the Sangachal terminal in January 2009, when Europe was suffering from the Russian-Ukrainian gas blame-game which resulted in casualties in the Eastern European countries. Trying to figure out the responsibilities of the supplier and the transit country in their commitments to providing European countries with gas, he wanted to learn more about the Russian-Ukrainian gas export system and how it delivers gas to Europe. The Estonian President received an explanation on how we deliver the Shah Deniz gas to our customers in Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey starting from production to operations, from metering to volume controls, volumes, pipeline exports, integrity of the pipeline system, security, etc.

It was also interesting when President Hendrik Ilves started to explain similarities of Estonian and Azerbaijani languages and cited a few examples.

- Can you describe an episode from your career that will remember all your life?

- During the inauguration ceremony of the Azerbaijan section of the BTC pipeline, I received a short notice to organize a meeting of the presidents of Kazakhstan and Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili and Nursultan Nazarbayev. I went to the project area to set up a conference room for the meeting. Prime Minister Artur Rasizade checked the arrangements and was pleased. A little later, the security services of the two presidents arrived. The young security guys of the Georgian president had no comments to make but the security of the president of Kazakhstan started checking the meeting room, the bottled water on the table, the soap in the toilet. They even removed one of the doors leading to the conference room. I could not conceal my astonishment from the Kazakh security general. “I don’t want any ‘surprises’ like the ones kids get from their toys,” he said. I don’t know whether this was a subtle hint at Georgian security, but I accepted it as an assessment of a job well-done although security all over the terminal was very tight. I often tell this episode to my colleagues.

- You also met President Heydar Aliyev. How did this happen?

- I was honoured to have had several opportunities to meet Heydar Aliyev as president of the Azerbaijan-Norway Friendship Society. The Society was established in 1995 to create bonds of cooperation between Norway and Azerbaijan across a wide range of areas, including culture, education and business. President Aliyev was also among the honoured guests of the Friendship Society. Despite his busy schedule, he received Norwegian guests invited to the Society’s events; these included world-famous archaeologist and historian Thor Heyerdahl, a leading expert on foreign affairs from the Oslo Institute of Foreign Studies, Arne Olav Brundtland (husband of former prime minister Gro Harlem Brundtland), former minister of energy Jens Stoltenberg (later Prime Minister of Norway, currently NATO Secretary General) and Norwegian parliamentarians. Heydar Aliyev valued the Friendship Society’s work to enhance relationships between our two countries and facilitated opportunities to benefit from Norway’s experience. As a result of the Society’s efforts, in 1996 Baku joined the World Energy Cities Partnership, whose members are globally recognised as international energy capitals. The same year, with the President’s blessing, the Mayor of Baku and I attended the annual meeting in the Norwegian city of Stavanger to learn from and engage with the World Energy Cities Partnership. Also, in 1997, President Heydar Aliyev included me in his government delegation during an official visit to West European countries to organize a meeting with the Azerbaijani Diaspora in Norway and neighbouring Scandinavian countries.

- It is hard work to please world leaders. What has been the biggest challenge for you?

- It is a tremendous honour to represent the company in front of distinguished guests, and I have immensely enjoyed my work since day one. Meeting world leaders is, of course, a great challenge. But when you have to accommodate their tight schedules, work under pressure, have accompanying media crews covering the event and, at the same time, you need to draw a picture of what we are doing in this part of the world and deliver the right messages to the audience, the challenge doubles. But when you meet these challenges, you get a real satisfaction. And I have been blessed to have worked with a fantastic team of colleagues. Together, we have seen the astounding growth of the terminal from a relatively small facility to a world-class oil and gas terminal. I feel very proud to have been part of Azerbaijan’s history in the making.

- What kind of relationship does Azerbaijan have with the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC)?

-Following a surplus in crude supply that sent prices crashing in 2014, oil producers from OPEC and non-OPEC countries struck a historic deal in December 2016 to cut output. A deal with 10 non-OPEC members, including Azerbaijan, agreed to reduce output starting from January 2017 to drive oil prices higher after a period of steep plunge. This has been the main driver behind the strong recovery in the price of oil which, today, is around $80 a barrel. Azerbaijan has played an extremely constructive and important role in this and has consistently been one of the highest performing participating countries in terms of voluntary production adjustments. The aim of OPEC is to provide stable prices on oil by controlling the prices through quotas, creating a favourable international political and economic environment for the smooth operation of the oil business. OPEC Secretary-General Mohammad Barkindo visited Baku several times, holding talks with President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev and Energy Minister Parviz Shahbazov. As a result of this cooperation, Baku will host two OPEC meetings in 2019 – a gathering of the Joint OPEC-Non-OPEC Ministerial Monitoring Committee in January and the 6th meeting of OPEC and non-OPEC ministers in the summer.

During one of his visits to Baku in March 2018, I had the pleasure of welcoming OPEC Secretary General Mohammad Barkindo at the Sangachal terminal, showing him the “beating heart” of Azerbaijan’s oil and gas industry, the biggest BP-operated onshore asset worldwide. Later, OPEC Secretary General Mohammad Barkindo shared his impressions in international media and gave extremely positive feedback of what he had seen at the terminal.

- Apart from the oil and gas business, what are the key areas of development for Azerbaijan?

- BP has a long tradition of successful cooperation with SOCAR. We have new exploration projects in our portfolio to continue building on our significant business for decades to come. In spite of new developments, Azerbaijan understands that reliance on hydrocarbons, which have the capacity to decline and the price of which to crash down, is not a sustainable model. Along with other developments in the non-oil sector, Azerbaijan today is becoming a transit hub on China’s new Silk Route. The opening of a new railway last October connecting Baku to Kars in Turkey and further to the Balkans means that the shortest route between China and Europe now runs through Azerbaijan. The EU and China are two of the biggest traders in the world. Another route, the North-South transport corridor, is expected to link Central Asia, Russia and Eastern Europe soon, passing through Azerbaijan. The country started by tapping its rich natural resources underground. Now Azerbaijan is latching on to its most valuable above-ground asset: geographical location.

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