Azerbaijan Denies Asking for $4-Billion Bailout
Azerbaijan on January 28 denied reports of having asked for billions of dollars in aid from the International Monetary Fund and World Bank to avert an economic crisis amidst plunging oil prices.
“Requesting a $4-billion aid package is out of the question,” claimed Azerbaijan’s Finance Minister Samir Sharifov. “We ourselves lend money to others,” he said, dismissing reports by The Financial Times and Reuters. Citing the International Monetary Fund, the reports said that the IMF and the World Bank were considering requests from Azerbaijan for loans of $3 billion and $1 billion, respectively.
A decade ago, booming oil and gas sales allowed Azerbaijan to stop borrowing from the IMF, and the Caspian-Sea country began to turn from international borrower to international lender. Low oil prices, though, have depleted Azerbaijan’s wellspring and led to dramatic depreciation of the energy-propped national currency, the manat.
The Financial Times said that the donor groups were scheduled to arrive in Baku on February 4 to discuss options for slowing the country’s economic tailspin. Sharifov ardently denied these reports.
Azerbaijan also has rejected thoughts that the oil-price crunch could force it to scale back on another upcoming mega-vanity project. Plans to host a Formula-1 race in the capital, Baku, this June. remain on track, a project spokesperson insisted, Motorsport.com reported.
Still, after recent national protests, Azerbaijani officials feel pressured to offer explanations for the economic downturn. “The current rate of the manat is fair and there is little chance for further depreciation,” said Ali Hasanov, a senior adviser to President Ilham Aliyev. Hasanov also advised looking on the bright side of the manat’s fall (down some 35 percent depreciation since last year), which wiped out many personal savings. Free-floating currency rates eventually make for dynamic economic development, he reasoned.
Rather than the economy, Hasanov has put down this month's protests to unnamed enemy forces’ attempts to stir unrest.
He sees a conspiracy, as well, in the oil crisis. It is not a coincidence that the oscillations in the oil business began right after the 2008 war between Azerbaijan’s two neighbors, Russia and Georgia, he said. Oil prices recovered, Hasanov recounted, but, then, another big slump hit and, incidentally, right amidst another post-Soviet conflict that also pitted the West against Moscow — the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
“The many conflicts and the involvement of world powers in them, from Ukraine to Syria, are among the reasons for the worsening of the global [economic] crisis,” said Hasanov. There is strong evidence that “instability on the oil market is politically motivated and artificially made,” he concluded.
Giorgi Lomsadze is a journalist based in Tbilisi, and author of Tamada Tales.
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