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Medvedev Heads To Baku Amid Growing Tensions In South Caucasus

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev
By RFE/RL
Amid a colorful firework display, Azerbaijan raised a massive version of its national flag on September 1 that it claims is the world's largest, at 70 meters by 35 meters long and a whopping 350 kilograms.

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, presiding over the unveiling of the $32 million National Flag Square in Baku, said he could foresee the day when the country's blue, red, and green flag would fly freely over all Azerbaijani territory -- including the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh.

"Our flag is our pride and our soul," Aliev told the crowd. "It will fly over Karabakh, Khankendi, and Shusha. And we all should work hard to bring this day closer and we are doing it. Long live Azerbaijan!"

It is in this atmosphere that Russian President Dmitry Medvedev travels today to what is arguably the most powerful of the three South Caucasus countries.

His two-day visit to oil-rich Azerbaijan won't be all smiles and handshakes. While Medvedev's trip formally revolves around a border agreement and water-sharing projects, knottier issues like energy strategy and perceived Russian favoritism in the region are also expected to be on the table.

Originally due in late September, the meeting was bumped forward by the Kremlin, now coming just ahead of a scheduled trip by Aliyev to the United States for the UN General Assembly and meetings with U.S. officials.

"Medvedev's visit is somewhat preventive, to keep Azerbaijan from having closer geopolitical relations with the West," Rasim Musabekov, a Baku-based political analyst, tells RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service. "Russia will try to persuade Azerbaijan with promises or solving some problems. But I believe Azerbaijan will never fall under Russia's sole influence."

Open Sore

One of the problems Baku may be looking to Moscow to address is Azerbaijan's chronic dispute with neighboring Armenia. The two sides remain locked in a historical standoff over Nagorno-Karabakh, the Armenian-majority enclave located within Azerbaijani borders.

Armenia and Azerbaijan fought a brutal six-year war over the territory that ended only with a cease-fire in 1994. But Nagorno-Karabakh's final status remains unresolved, and the situation in and around the enclave remains volatile.

A day ahead of Medvedev's arrival, Azerbaijan announced a skirmish on the enclave's heavily guarded border had left three Armenian and two Azerbaijani soldiers dead. A similar clash took place in June, just days after Medvedev hosted peace talks between Aliyev and his Armenian counterpart, Serzh Sarkisian, in St. Petersburg.

Few observers in the conspiracy-prone region see the timing of the attacks as a mere coincidence. (In addition to Medvedev's visit, today also marks Nagorno-Karabakh independence day, with a number of top Armenian politicians traveling to the enclave's capital, Stepanakert, for celebrations.)

Vafa Guluzadeh, a former presidential adviser on Azerbaijani foreign policy, says he believes Russia's Defense Ministry may have helped orchestrate the fighting in order to weaken Azerbaijani resolve during Medvedev's visit.

"They're orchestrating all the fighting on the cease-fire line. Maybe [the latest clash], coming just before Medvedev's visit to Azerbaijan, is a way of putting political or military pressure on the Azerbaijani side to be more flexible. Maybe it's a hint. [Russia] wants to say, 'We're able to continue our aggression. We're able to continue our occupation of Azerbaijani territory.'" Guluzadeh says. "They are the masters of all the warlords in the Armenian Army. That's why everything that's happening on the cease-fire line is the responsibility of the Russian Federation and its leadership."

Russia's Role

Russia has a long-standing regional allegiance with Armenia, and Medvedev's trip to Baku comes just two weeks after he and Sarkisian signed a deal extending Moscow's military presence in Armenia and pledging to ensure Armenian security.

That deal raised hackles in Azerbaijan, which has periodically threatened to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh impasse by force. Officials in Baku suggested with the treaty, Moscow was handing an unfair advantage to Armenia in a dispute where the Kremlin has sought to portray itself as a fair broker.

Russia has dismissed the notion that the renewed lease in any way changes the equation on Nagorno-Karabakh. (It also denies reports it is selling a powerful antiaircraft system to Azerbaijan.)

In fact, Moscow isn't holding all the cards as Aliyev and Medvedev gather for talks. Russia's lease on Azerbaijan's Qabala radar station, which covers all of Iran and most of the Middle East, is set to expire in 2012.

Elkhan Shahinoglu, the head of the Atlas Research Center, a Baku-based think tank, says it shouldn't be assumed the lease will be renewed.

"The Russian president signing the military agreement with Armenia changed the situation in the region," Shahinoglu says. "For example, we should think twice before extending the lease on the Qabala radar station -- should we do it after this anti-Azerbaijani pact or not?"

Hydrocarbon Clout

Azerbaijan's vast oil and gas reserves also give it considerable leverage in its dealings with Russia. Moscow is eager to cement its monopoly of supply lines to the West, and has sought to thwart European-backed projects like Nabucco, which is designed to circumvent Russian territory and rely on non-Russian suppliers -- including Azerbaijan.

Medvedev, during a trip to Baku last year, signed a deal that gave the Russian energy giant Gazprom first rights to Azerbaijani gas, and the Kremlin says an additional protocol to the deal will be signed during the Russian leader's current visit.

Shahinoglu concedes that Azerbaijan has been willing to play into the Kremlin's hands on certain energy and political matters. Baku -- unlike another South Caucasus neighbor, Georgia -- has never given Moscow cause for alarm by expressing serious interest in Western integration.

But at the same time, Azerbaijan's oil wealth gives it a degree of independence that neither Georgia nor Armenia can match. To date, Baku has maintained a skillful balance between Russia, its traditional ally Turkey, and newer allies in the West.

But Shahinoglu says Azerbaijan has too frequently given Moscow what it wanted -- something that should change if Russia continues to favor Armenia in its relations with the South Caucasus.

"Azerbaijan hasn't favored the Nabucco project because of Russia. Azerbaijan has never openly expressed its NATO aspirations because of Russia. Officials have always said the country is not striving for EU or NATO membership," Shahinoglu says. "I think this policy needs to be changed. Because if Russia openly supports Armenia militarily and politically, we need to reconsider our options."

written by Daisy Sindelar based on RFE/RL and agency reports
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Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: john from: Eugene, OR
September 03, 2010 01:04
criminality stupidity never ends with azeri turks. to to form they LIE about their attack on the Armenian border guard and cover up their heavy casualties yesterday.

by: Tahir Ceferli from: Baku -Basqal
September 03, 2010 08:10
Medvedev's visit to Azerbaijan is not random and, likely, is friendly. And hard for this visit is associated with an increase in tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan and the situation in the region, formed after the signing of long-term military agreement with Armenia.
Why do they need this treaty Russia? First of all, to strengthen its military-political situation in the region. Until then, Armenia could get out of Russian control, which keeps it in the Karabakh leash. The fact is that if it were not for the Karabakh conflict, the peoples of the Caucasus would live in peace and friendship, and would have developed the entire Caucasus region.
The essence of the Karabakh conflict not only in the fundamental problem of Russian geopolitics - in what would be there would not remain in the region. He served as the displacement of the citizens of Caucasian nationality in Russia. If it were not such a move from the Caucasus and Central Asia, the demographic crisis would lead Russia to collapse as the Soviet Union. Statistical indicators of late 80 show: Did not work Russian agriculture, peasants leaving their villages, moved in the main cities. The northern regions of Russia were empty. In large factories and not enough workers. BAM did not work , Russia's nurse black earth was empty, etc.
At this point, began a major political game Kremlin clique - ethnic conflicts in the Soviet Union that were aimed to ensure that the Russian sphere of production of cheap labor. Statistics show that the number of immigrants from the Caucasus republics over more than ten million strong and educated young people mostly male.
These relocation created a gender issue in these republics. Ruthless statistics indicate a female to male ratio 1 / 200, or more than the number that travel in different regions to 600. Now you can go to the countryside in these republics and not meet a single guy.
The above confirms that the incitement of war (the continuing unstable situation in different regions of the former Soviet Union) gives Russia an opportunity to remain in these regions ( Russian leadership, startling new Armenian Karabakh war, forced the rulers of Armenia signed a military agreement, which has turned the republic into a large military garrison of Russia.)
Medvedev is now on a trip to Azerbaijan. To say that this visit - a courtesy visit was naive. Azerbaijan, in contrast to Georgia and Armenia was able to maintain the balance of forces in the region and has not signed any contract binding him to speak on the side of a state. This is a very important moment in the foreign policy of Azerbaijan, which is not even signed the Act on Collective Security Organization (CSTO), so Azerbaijan has great potential for maneuvering to preserve the balance of forces in the region.
The arrival of Medvedev, of course, can be considered friendly for only one reason that the Russian side feels that Azerbaijan - a strong state and its economic potential makes it possible to initiate military action in Karabakh and the release of the captured lands.
The introduction of Azerbaijan in the UN the issue of the occupied territories - the result of his support for the international community and, of course, is over the fact that Armenia recognizes the aggressor, which opens for Azerbaijan has great prospects.
In this scenario, Russia will remain a choice - Caucasian war, which ended that Georgia will also begin a war in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Would Russia then stay in the region? - This question remains open.
Therefore, the Russian leadership will do everything to quickly solve the Karabakh problem to show the peoples of Azerbaijan and Armenia, which serves Russia's peacekeeping mission in the region. Otherwise, the presence of Russia in the Caucasus region question the near future.

by: Tahir Ceferli from: Baku -Basqal
September 04, 2010 08:12

Medvedev's visit to Baku is no accident was covered by all media, whose attention is directed to the reaction of the Azerbaijani side to sign a military treaty with Armenia. Radio Liberty published an article entitled "Peace" base in Gumru, where there are some interesting episodes related to the visit of Russian President. I want to dwell on them. The reporter took a quote correctly the word "Peace" base in Gumru, beyond which lies some military and political goals in Russia.
Given the historical past of the bases in the Caucasus can come to the unequivocal conclusion that it is not irrelevant to the processes occurring within the Caucasian republics, and is directly linked to the military-strategic plans for Russia to maintain military balance in the world and is an outpost of the Russian armies on the border with NATO. Naturally, this imaginary enemy base can not be uniquely Azerbaijani army, because It is not part of the NATO of troops, that is military function of the base is not directed against the Republic of Azerbaijan and other countries that oppose Russia in NATO.
Armenia signed the contract and to set deadlines of the treaty until 2049, actually determined his choice to become an outpost of Russia, in other words, been for the war with NATO-countries-ski, it will receive the first blow, because in fact it is closest to the NATO countries-ski and dangerous military base for the North-Atlantic alliance. The Armenian leadership, consisting mostly of Karabakh, went to the union, to remain in power, where they led a well-thought-out geopolitical game in the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh. " There are currently receiving from this great military-political and strategic dividends Russia, which after the signing of the treaty was definitively established in the region and was able to provide its industrial, scientific and cultural spheres with cheap workers and intellectuals. Pay attention to the statistics of balance of nationalities in the scientific and educational spheres in Russia. Now in Russia more scientists from other national republics than Russian. That is why the Armenian opposition, realizing the destructiveness of this agreement, against the foreign policy of "Karabakh clan, which has closed all doors on the face of the Armenian diaspora , which until this point, relying on the foreign policy structure of the West has a huge impact on decision-making related to Karabakh. Consideration of the occupied lands of Azerbaijan to the United Nations is the first harbingers of destruction of the Armenian foreign policy, the fruits of which necessarily take advantage of the President of Azerbaijan, which has a restrained foreign policy, maintaining the balance of power in the region, which has not been able leadership of Armenia, which is actually a dummy in the hands of Russian politicians . "The database exists to ensure peace, order and maintain stability in the region. No other pitfalls or other considerations do not exist", - Medvedev said at a press conference in Baku, and can agree, given the fact that the "key-Karabakh" are in the Kremlin and the solution of this issue within the competence of Russia. Thus it becomes apparent that Russia, which declared the whole world about their strategic interests in the Caucasus, in any way would help to resolve the Karabakh problem in the interests of Azerbaijan, to make him the assurance of an eternal friendship with Russia.
And if that happens, the base at Gumru will protect the interests of Azerbaijan rather than Armenia.
I want to emphasize is the fact that after signing the contract base in Gumru will be financed from the budget of Armenia, which is mostly made up of investments received from the Armenian diasporas , which is unlikely to agree to this. So that the Armenian leadership should solve another problem: how to keep the West from Russian base on its territory?
Is the West so stupid? And he closes his eyes to it.
In Response

by: nick from: atlanta
September 07, 2010 20:38
same old cheap turkish propaganda.

by: Armenian from: haroutioun@msn.com
September 05, 2010 03:01
Azeris/Turks need to get used to the idea that with or without oil, and regardless of how much Russian behinds they kiss, Moscow will never fully trust them. The Caucasus is one of Russia's most important areas of concern. If Russia looses its grip on the area, it will suffer a geopolitical catastrophe. Armenia is Moscow's insurance policy in the Caucasus. Turks need to get used to the new geopolitical face of the region. God bless Russia, God bless Armenia. Russian-Armenian alliance is the last front against pan-Turkism, American imperialism, NATO expansionism, Islamic fundamentalism and Globalism.
In Response

by: Lee from: Germany
September 05, 2010 14:56
Thank you haroutioun@msn.com or should I say "Vladimir Putin" for your blatantly one-sided, myopic, simple and conspiratorial summary of a rather much more complex problem.

For your insolence we will soon be dispatching sharks with laser beams to radiate all Russian and Armenian underwear.

~NATO
In Response

by: shawn from: AZ
September 07, 2010 20:43
LOL. Go back to first grade. you're a failure through and through.
In Response

by: joe from: xx
September 07, 2010 20:41
GREAT analysis of the situation. The best i've see sofar.

by: Erik from: Berlin
September 05, 2010 20:58
The only reason Azerbaijan has not launched war to regain control over Karabakh is because of Russia. The Russian Federation is the reason Azerbaijan lost control over the region and thus the key lies with Moscow. Without Russia - Armenia would be overun in Karabakh in just a few weeks. The Armenian army is just a myth, thats why Yerevan signed the updated military pact, in hopes for some security guarentees which Armenia itself is incapable to provide.
In Response

by: RD
September 09, 2010 02:24
Eric, a very wise man once said; "it is better to remain silent and make people wonder if you are a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt". You have removed all doubt by opening your mouth and everyone definitely knows you are a fool. The fact of the matter is that the only reason Ilham Aliev has not re-started hostilities with Armenia is because he has some undamaged brain neurons. He knows that wars are easier to start than to finish successfully. Azerbaijan currently enjoys some sympathy internationally for losing NKR. If it re-starts war with Armenia, it will be regarded as a war mongering nation, it will lose political support internationally, it will put its infrastructure, foreign investments and economy in danger, and may even lose another war, which will mean the end of the Aliev dictatorship in Azerbaijan. So many risks, so many things that can go wrong. I hope Ilham is not as stupid as he looks.

by: Felipe Munoz from: Chile
September 08, 2010 22:35
NATO countries as Germany are so ridiculous when having so much hope about the loyalty of Turkey, as well as Azerbaijan. The last aproaches between Turkey and Iran, the Flotilla conflict between Israel and Turkey and the last trilateral meeting between Turkey-Azerbaijan-Iran; shows something that should be of concern for the so-called West: A new geopolitical reality is beginning in the whole Middle East and Caucasus. Meanwhile NATO is begging the ''loyal'' Turkey, this one is starting to build '' their own interests map''. Believe me, Turkey no longer wants to be viewed as ''a loyal NATO country'', and has started to play the game of 'The Regional Power', as like Russia. When Turkey realizes that the West has no trully power to surrender Iran, they will reinforce their 'New Regional Strategy'; where Iran, Azerbaijan, and the Middle East will be the core of their ''interests''. Obviously, the West and Israel will feel themselves ''Double-Crossed'', but it'll be too late. For me personally, Russia and Armenia are more trustworthy than Turkey and ''Caucasian-Turkey''... Because at least you know how they 'play the game'. However... Who knows what Turkey is planning?... (And obviously Azerbaijan), Why Turkey treasoned Israel?, What´s behind the new 'friendship' between Turkey-Iran?. So Lee and Erik, DO NOT DREAM TOO MUCH about your ''trustworthy'' Turk-Duo (TUR-AZ), or you'll feel the same pain that Israel felt when Turkey stabed in their back!
In Response

by: Sohrab from: Baku
September 22, 2010 19:30
Felipe, interesting analysis from Chile. :)
It would be much harder for me to comment on colombia-venezuela conflict from here

by: Garen Mailyan from: Glendale
September 14, 2010 08:19
Viva, Armenia. Praise to Jesus Christ - God now and God forever. No islam and no freemason can kill Armenia. Armenia is eternal - like THE GOD that it worships. Shame on all Jews and Christians - nominal or otherwise, who support muslim nations of turkey and azerbaijan over Armenia. Long live Armenia - Biblical kingdom of Ararat, where the entire humanity found its refuge after The Flood. Love you Armenia, my love and my precious special sweatheart. Many are your haters, but The Lord Jesus is with you. He chastens and corrects you, and it is painful, but HE LOVES YOU. So do I. Viva Armenia - precious nation, beautiful people - hated by the devil, by muslim, by mason and by other false religonists or otherwise confused people, but LOVED BY CHRIST. Russia or no Russia - CHRIST will never forsake HIS beloved nation. If it was not Russia - GOD would appoint a different helper for Armenia for HE LOVES ARMENIA - the first nation regarded as such in The Bible - Genesis 8:4.

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