Books on Azerbaijan
Update No: 333 - (25/09/08)
Azerbaijan is in a highly volatile state. There
are presidential elections in October. Yet externally the world around it is
The Baku-Moscow axis under strain
The August war between Georgia and Russia has changed everything. The
Caucasus is now most definitely menaced with a new take-over by Russia.
Russia has re-absorbed Chechnya. It has established key beachheads in Georgia,
Abkhazia and South Ossetia, whose ‘independence’ it now recognizes, although
defacto they already were Russian colonies anyway. It has a client state in
Armenia in unlawful possession of 20% of Azeri territory. The situation could
not be more menacing.
It is in this context that one should appraise Azerbaijani President Ilham
Aliyev’s visit to Moscow on September 16. It was notable mostly for what he
did not say. Russia has pressed Azerbaijan to sell a large volume of natural gas
to the Kremlin-controlled conglomerate, Gazprom. But Aliyev and his Russian
hosts did not announce a gas purchase deal following their talks.
Aliyev me t with President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin
during his day-long stay in Moscow. Medvedev indicated that the discussions were
merely informational. Azerbaijan has been a Western ally so far in the Caspian
Basin energy game.
West or East?
The Kremlin is trying hard to woo Baku away from the West. "We had to check
positions taking into account problems which appeared in the Caucasus after the
Georgian aggression. I informed the Azerbaijani president about steps that
Russia undertook to provide security in South Caucasus," Medvedev said.
Aliyev, like other regional leaders, is trying to avoid being backed into a
situation where he would have to declare his preference for one side or the
other. In Moscow, he was careful not to say anything that might offend Moscow.
Here is an example: "There is a necessity to consolidate efforts, in order
to provide peace and predictability," he said. "We need to diminish
tension. All problems have to be solved peacefully."
Aliyev avoided commenting generally on Georgian-Russian tension, and
specifically refrained from any comments concerning Russia’s decision to
‘recognize’ the separatist territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
The key question
Baku’s sensitivities are heightened by concern over its own separatist
enclave, Nagorno-Karabakh. Some Azerbaijani officials are evidently concerned
that if Baku expressed support for Georgia, then Azerbaijan’s own efforts to
regain control of Karabakh would suffer.
During the Moscow visit, Russian officials reassured Aliyev that he need not be
concerned about Karabakh - yet. Medvedev stressed that the Kremlin did not see a
connection between Karabakh and Georgia’s separatist entities.
"Russia’s position has not changed," Medvedev said, referring to the
Karabakh peace process. "We also support continuation of direct talks
between the Azerbaijani and Armenian presidents."
Neither Aliyev nor Medvedev touched on the possible Russian large-scale purchase
of Azerbaijani gas. Experts in Baku believe that Aliyev’s administration has
yet to reach a decision on the matter, and is playing for time.
On September 12, Elshad Nasirov, the vice president of Azerbaijan’s State Oil
Company (SOCAR), said that "Azerbaijan tries to fully depoliticize the
issue of export destinations for the "large gas" which is expected
after 2013." According to Nasirov, Azerbaijan’s choice will mostly depend
on commercial factors. "All destinations [of gas export] are equally
possible and we will mostly consider the net-profit for SOCAR and its
partners," he said.
Gazprom is reportedly willing to pay Baku $300 per 1.000 cubic meters. Nasirov
added that Western Europe, Russia and Iran all remain possible export
destinations. He added that even exports to Asia via Turkmenistan could become a
Aliyev and Medvedev also had no comment on a Turkish initiative to establish a
"Caucasus platform for security and cooperation." That concept was
raised by Turkish President Abdullah Gul during his recent visits to Yerevan and
Reflecting on the visit, some Baku experts said they did not expect Baku to make
up its mind on the gas-purchase question until after presidential elections in
the fall. "Aliyev is hardly ready to answer these questions," said
Rauf Mirgadirov, a political columnist for the Zerkalo newspaper, referring to
the issues of gas purchases and Azerbaijan’s security cooperation with the
Indeed, to try to maintain room for manoeuvre, Baku continues to explore ties
with NATO. Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov went to Brussels on
September 16 to take part in discussions over NATO representatives.