Accessibility links

Breaking News

Caucasus Report: February 3, 2006

3 February 2006, Volume 9, Number 4

AZERBAIJAN STILL LACKS NATIONAL-SECURITY, MILITARY DOCTRINES. Azerbaijan has yet to unveil a new national-security concept, which was to precede the formulation and implementation of a new military doctrine, despite President Ilham Aliyev's orders in early 2005 to begin work on it.

Meanwhile neighboring Georgia, to which Azerbaijani commentators contrast their country's military and its progress toward NATO membership, unveiled a draft National Security Concept for public discussion last May.

Azerbaijan's failure to develop its two initiatives has led to speculation that there are conflicting strategies among Azerbaijan's military leaders, or even evidence that the country is playing NATO, the United States, and Russia off each other as it tries to curry their favor for defense cooperation.

Major Ilqar Verdiyev, a Defense Ministry press office staffer, was quoted by the online daily on 26 November as saying that the security concept is still in the drafting stage. When finished, it will be submitted to parliament before being signed by the president, and only after that will work begin on a new military doctrine, Verdiyev explained.

Presidential aide for military issues Vahid Aliyev had told the daily "Ayna" in April 2005 that both the national-security concept and the new military doctrine would be ready by the summer of that year.

Azerbaijani military expert Yasar Jafarli, who heads the Union of Officers of the Reserve, was quoted by on 26 November as saying that he was concerned that the delay in drafting and adopting the two key documents could negatively affect Azerbaijan's relations with NATO.

Those relations have been strained by the brutal killing in February 2004 by an Azerbaijani officer of an Armenian attending a NATO English-language training course in Budapest (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 February 2004), and by Azerbaijan's refusal to issue visas to Armenian officers scheduled to attend NATO planning conferences in Baku (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12, 14 and 15 January and 13 and 14 September 2004).

Further disagreements with NATO emerged last year during the discussion of Azerbaijan's draft Individual Partnership Action Plan (IPAP), according to the daily "Ayna" on 13 April. The paper quoted unidentified sources in both the Foreign and Defense ministries as saying that those disagreements derived from Baku's stubborn insistence on continuing to adhere to Soviet military standards with regard to military training, staff management, disciplinary regulations, and the development of civil control mechanisms. The paper quoted unnamed experts from the Doktrina think tank as saying that most of Azerbaijan's military legislation has been literally copied from analogous Soviet-era and Russian documents.

This, those experts continued, has given rise to a situation in which individual commanders of military units espouse diverging approaches, with some adhering to Soviet era-standards while others aspire to Western standards. This could result in serious operational misunderstandings and communication failures between those commanding officers in the event of war, the experts warned.

It is, of course, conceivable that published statements implying an inexplicable delay in drafting a national-security concept and a new military doctrine are deliberate disinformation. Azerbaijan is, after all, still in a state of undeclared war with Armenia, and top officials, including President Aliyev and Defense Minister Colonel General Safar Abiyev, have repeatedly reserved the right to resort to a new aggression if it proves impossible to negotiate a peaceful settlement of the Karabakh conflict on Baku's preferred terms.

Meanwhile, President Aliyev has put his money where his mouth is by signing off on successive massive increases in defense spending.

Addressing Defense Ministry personnel last September, Aliyev announced that defense spending had already risen from $175 million in 2004 to $300 million in 2005 and would double in 2006 to reach $600 million, Turan reported on 17 September. But given the long history of endemic corruption within the Defense Ministry, the significance is not the dramatic increase in military spending, but how and where the money will actually be spent.

On the other hand, the failure to draft such basic blueprints could equally reflect either a lack of conceptual modern strategic thinking, or fundamental differences of opinion, or both, within the General Staff.

In recent days Azerbaijani media have engaged in speculation that Abiyev, together with other members of the top brass who received their military training in the USSR, are to be collectively dismissed and replaced with members of a younger generation of officers who have undergone training under NATO auspices, reported on 2 February.

It is worth recalling that Abiyev has served as defense minister for more than a decade (since early February 1995), making him the longest serving defense minister in the entire CIS, during which time he has weathered allegations of corruption and a seemingly inconclusive probe of the ministry's expenditures (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 26 August 1999 and 4 February 2000).

But at press conferences in June 2004 and April 2005 reported by, NGOs alleged that corruption and inefficiency continue to plague Azerbaijan's armed forces. They pointed to large-scale violations of servicemen's rights, including the arbitrary withholding or withdrawal of housing and annual leave, and even of salaries.

In July 2005, a group of 17 servicemen went on trial on charges of bribery, forging documents and abuse of office, ITAR-TASS reported. The trial of a second group of officers on similar charges opened at the Military Collegium of the Court for Severe Crimes on 24 October, reported, and preliminary hearings in a third trial, this time of 18 military personnel, got under way at the same collegium on 16 January.

An alternative, and to some U.S. analysts more plausible explanation for Azerbaijan's failure to draft these key national-security and military blueprints, is a glaring but as yet unformulated discrepancy between the perceived relative importance of cooperation with NATO, on the one hand, and bilateral cooperation with the United States, on the other.

Alekper Mammadov, director of the Center for Democratic Civic Control over the Armed Forces, accused the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry in June 2004 of merely creating the illusion that the armed forces are being reformed to bring them in line with NATO standards. That may well be an exaggeration; but Azerbaijan's NATO IPAP does not give the impression that Baku considers cooperation with the alliance a top priority.

For example, the IPAP envisages only a meager set of steps, such as making available for peacekeeping programs only one infantry company of 120-130 men; a civil defense unit of about 20-30 men; one specialized unit (medical or logistic); and two Mi-8 helicopters.

The U.S., by contrast, is apparently perceived as the partner of choice, insofar as it is already providing more tangible assistance in the form of maritime security training and operations in the Caspian Sea, its counterproliferation effort in the south along its border with Iran, and a new program to enhance border security along Azerbaijan's northern border with Daghestan.

Within the framework of that assistance, Washington will also supply portable land-based radar facilities and provide modern radar facilities for Azerbaijan's Caspian naval bases, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 30 January. That assistance results from Washington's perception of Iran as a security threat, a perception that could change in time, however.

At the same time, Azerbaijan is reluctant to compromise the potential for greater defense ties with Russia by aspiring too enthusiastically to NATO membership or by jeopardizing its existing defense cooperation agreement with Russia. This is because any strategic advantage that Baku can offer Russia -- such as continued use of the Qabala over-the-horizon radar station --- serves to undercut the importance of Armenia to Russia's overall strategic security. (Liz Fuller)

GAS CUTOFF HIGHLIGHTS GEORGIA'S NATIONAL SECURITY FLAWS. For millions of Georgians, much of the first month of the New Year was anything but happy. Braving a cutoff in heating supplies after deliveries of natural gas from Russia were disrupted by explosions that shut down the main pipeline, the Georgian population struggled for two weeks to endure a severe energy crisis amid record cold temperatures and heavy snowfalls.

The crisis was precipitated by twin blasts that heavily damaged the main Mozdok-Tbilisi gas pipeline on 22 January, cutting off gas supplies to Georgia and Armenia. Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and Georgian Foreign Minister Gela Bezhuashvili both implicitly blamed the explosions on Russia. The crisis deepened over the next few days after damage to a gas-compressor station on the Russian side of the Azerbaijani-Russian border reduced emergency supplies of gas from Azerbaijan and high winds and snow incapacitated a high-voltage power line in eastern Georgia.

The short-lived, yet profound, energy crisis has demonstrated the fundamental vulnerability of the Georgian state, especially in the face of Russian pressure and intimidation, raising stark questions about Georgian security in general, and energy security in particular.

Despite being somewhat obscured by the larger clash between Russia and Ukraine over natural gas, the Georgian crisis also holds geopolitical implications for regional security and stability. Of particular concern is Russia's leveraging of energy as a tool of influence.

The first lesson to be drawn from the energy crisis is that the Georgian concept of energy security has been seriously hampered by a mistaken emphasis. To date, Georgian energy security has been defined by a focus on pipeline security, with too little attention devoted to seeking energy diversification, promoting greater self-sufficiency, and pursuing alternative suppliers. Although these strategic needs were clearly articulated in the recently unveiled National Security Concept of Georgia, action has been put off as officials await the completion of the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzerum gas pipeline.

The second factor, the most important consideration for national security, stems from the highly unsatisfactory state of Georgian military reform. There is a profound disparity between the upbeat declarations of the Georgian government and the desolation of the Georgian military. Georgia's pursuit of NATO membership, for example, may be seen more as a delusion of grandeur than a realistic goal.

Officially, the Georgian leadership is committed to transforming its armed forces in order to better defend the country, participate in coalition operations, and make Georgia a viable candidate for NATO membership. To achieve this, Tbilisi has taken some steps toward structural reform and to adopt Western and NATO operational principles, most notably seen in the effort to consolidate civilian control of the military, introduce budgetary efficiency and transparency, and improve financial management.

The current state of the Georgian armed forces still falls far short of the minimum NATO requirements, however. First, the overall reform effort has been uneven. Some senior military leaders have openly opposed it, and reluctance and resistance within the Defense and National Security ministries is widespread. This has been matched by a serious lack of policies to guide the day-to-day activities of the military and mid- and long-term plans to shape and then build the Georgian armed forces.

Second, there are still basic problems with all three branches of the Georgian armed forces. The Georgian Army's doctrine comprises a contradictory combination of U.S. and Soviet military doctrine, with little or no effort to adopt Western doctrine above the level of battalion. To make matters worse, the army has rejected external training programs aimed at closing this gap.

True, there has been some progress to date, as the Georgian Army now employs a mix of conscript and professional (contract) soldiers, with the 1st and 2nd Brigades made up of professional soldiers, and the 3rd and 4th Brigades (created during the integration of the Interior Ministry forces) made up of conscript soldiers. But serious problems with army equipment and maintenance remain unaddressed, and acquisition planning is still deficient.

The much smaller Georgian Air Force, despite a consistently small budget, has seen some improvement since 2000, with an increase in the number of its SU-25 combat aircraft from seven to nine and the planned procurement of three new air-surveillance radars later this year. But overall, the Georgian Air Force is still only capable of providing limited air support to the land forces and basic casualty evacuation and search and rescue operations. The Air Force is further hindered by a complete reliance on Soviet doctrine and Soviet-style organization, shortages of support equipment, and a dependence on the Tbilisi International Airfield as the sole location able to accommodate larger military transportation needs.

The Georgian Navy, in many ways the most inferior component of the armed forces, has no clear mission or operational doctrine, and lacks the most basic resources necessary to maintain seaworthy ships or conduct training missions. The navy is clearly the lowest priority for Georgian defense, in terms of policy, financial support, equipment and facilities.

In contrast, the Georgian Coast Guard, which is part of the Border Guard Department and, therefore, subordinate to the Interior Ministry, is the most effective and impressive force in Georgia today. Responsible for border security, the coast guard polices Georgia's 286 kilometers of coastline, manages the 12 nautical miles of territorial water and the 12 nautical miles contiguous zone, and secures the country's two principal ports, Poti and Batumi, as well as a third port currently under construction just north of Poti.

The limited success to date of Georgian defense reform suggests that the country's strategic orientation toward Europe and the military relationship with the West, mainly through NATO and the United States, has not yielded the hoped-for results. Yet, there is an interesting paradox with Georgia opportunistically exaggerating its vulnerability to Russian pressure in a bid to persuade NATO and the West that it is in their interests to intensify strategic cooperation.

Thus, it is the process of reforming and building the Georgian military, not its eventual success or NATO membership, that is paramount for the present Georgian government because doing so will not only strengthen the central state, but enhance its options for resolving the inherently political problems of the Abkhaz and South Ossetian conflicts by military means. Restoring Georgian control over those breakaway regions would deprive Russia of a permanent source of leverage on Georgia comparable to the stranglehold Russia has had to date over Georgian gas supplies. (Richard Giragosian)

STRAINS WITHIN AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION INTENSIFY. Disagreements over whether or not to participate in the 13 May repeat elections in 10 constituencies in which the outcome of the 6 November parliamentary elections was invalidated now seem increasingly likely to precipitate the collapse of the main opposition election bloc, Azadliq.

Azadliq as a bloc and two of its members -- the progressive wing of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (AXCP) and the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan (ADP) -- declared weeks ago that they will not field candidates in the revote. But there is reportedly disagreement within the third member of the bloc, Isa Qambar's Musavat party, which will make a formal decision at a meeting of its supreme council on 5 February.

Some leading members of Musavat, including Deputy Chairman Rauf Arifoglu, editor of the party's paper "Yeni Musavat," have insisted they have the right to participate in the repeat ballot, although Arifoglu was subsequently quoted by on 27 January as saying that he will comply with whatever decision the party leadership makes. A second Musavat deputy chairman, Arif Hacili, told the same news agency on 27 January that any members of Musavat who do decide to run on 13 May will be disciplined.

Most observers anticipate nevertheless that Musavat 's leadership will decide to participate in the repeat vote, rather than risk splitting the party over this issue. If Musavat does participate in the new ballot, predicted on 31 January, it stands to win a couple more parliament mandates in addition to the three it already has. That, in turn, could entitle it to one of the six seats on the 18-member Central Election Commission reserved for minority parties.

At the same time, a decision by Musavat to field candidates on 13 May would almost inevitably result in the demise of Azadliq as a unified political force.

Both AXCP Deputy Chairman Hasan Kerimov and ADP Deputy Chairman Talyat Aliyev were quoted on 31 January by as warning that if Musavat does make a decision on 5 February to participate in the repeat vote, the party will be expelled from Azadliq. In a 1 February interview with, Musavat Chairman Qambar made the point that Azadliq was formed with the specific objective of fielding joint candidates for the 6 November ballot, and the question whether to transform it into a permanent political alliance, as AXCP Chairman Ali Kerimli has proposed, remains open. He said while Musavat has always supported the idea of opposition unity, the party will not make "erroneous decisions" in the name of that unity. Later in the same interview, Qambar said it is of little significance to Musavat whether or not it remains a member of Azadliq.

Kerimli for his part rejected on 1 February as "premature" the question whether a new opposition bloc will be formed to replace Azadliq, and whether that bloc would include Musavat.

Kerimli argued that "we should do everything in our power to preserve Azadliq," and added that he personally will work to achieve a consensus among Azadliq's members on boycotting both parliament proceedings and the 13 May repeat vote. But National Unity movement leader Lala Sovket Hacjiyeva, who is close to Azadliq, said on 28 January that unnamed opposition leaders are already engaged in talks on forming a new opposition bloc.

The second most influential opposition election alliance, Yeni Siyaset (New Politics, aka YeS) formally announced on 30 January that it will participate in the 13 May revote, and the online daily on 1 February quoted YeS coordinating council member Rasin Hajili as predicting that its candidates could win seven or eight of the 10 vacant seats.

But despite that decision, YeS too is plagued by internal squabbles: Coordinating Council member Eldaniz Quliyev has accused co-founder Eldar Namazov of inconsistency, and both men are reportedly still undecided whether to propose their candidacies on 13 May. (YeS has not yet named any specific candidates.)

At the same time, Namazov has made clear that individual parties that participated in the 6 November ballot under the YeS umbrella are free to decide individually whether to participate in the repeat vote. At least one such party, the wing of the Azerbaijan National Independence Party (AMIP) that remains loyal to AMIP founder and "leader" Etibar Mammadov, plans to make use of that right, Mammadov told on 1 February. Namazov was quoted by on 31 January as saying that YeS intends to transform itself after the May repeat election into a permanent political alliance.

Veteran political commentator Rauf Mirkadyrov suggested on 31 January that the respective tactics espoused by Musavat's Qambar and AXCP leader Kerimli are dictated not so much by the 13 May repeat vote as by the two men's shared aspiration to the role of a single opposition candidate in the presidential ballot due in October 2008. (Qambar aspired to that role in 2003, and Kerimli declined to challenge him for it; Mammadov, however, refused to withdraw his candidacy in Qambar's favor.)

Mirkadyrov pointed out that Kerimli campaigned more energetically and eloquently last fall than did Qambar, and that he demonstrated his readiness at a protest in Baku on 26 November to confront the police and launch a permanent sitting protest. Police intervened, however, to disperse that protest swiftly and violently. But as a result of that gesture of defiance, Kerimli can now count on the support of the more radical "protest" electorate.

Moreover, Mirkadyrov continues, Qambar could face competition from within his own party -- from Arifoglu -- for the nomination as Musavat's presidential candidate. A firebrand orator, Arifoglu was one of seven opposition supporters arrested, tried, and sentenced in 2004 for their alleged instigation of the protest demonstrations in Baku in October 2003 in the wake of the presidential ballot that sealed the transfer of presidential power from President Heydar Aliyev to his son Ilham. (Liz Fuller)