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Turkish Premier In Baku Seeking Caucasus Stability Pact

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan (file photo)
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has arrived in Baku on an urgent and brief visit to to meet with President Ilham Aliyev.

Following the events in Georgia this month, the big question for Erdogan and Aliyev is how to guarantee security along energy export routes passing through the Caucasus from the Caspian basin to Europe.

Of immediate interest to both leaders is the quick resumption of oil exports via the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline linking Azerbaijan to Turkey via Georgia. That pipeline has not been functioning since August 6, after an explosion along the pipeline in Turkey. Turkey is working to repair the pipeline and it could be back in service in the next few days. But there will be questions about its future security, given that Georgia last week accused Russia of attempting to bomb it. Testing on the pipeline's Georgian section began on August 18.

Another oil export route -- the railway link from Azerbaijan to the Georgian Black Sea port of Supsa -- will also be on the agenda for Erdogan's meeting with Aliyev. That pipeline was the back-up route for oil exports -- some 90,000 barrels per day -- until a key Georgian bridge was blown up in an area occupied by Russian forces. Oil from Supsa was shipped to Turkish ports.

Erdogan visited both Moscow and Tbilisi last week, so the Turkish prime minister arrives in Baku after some hectic shuttle diplomacy. Ankara is calling for the establishment of a Caucasus regional stability and cooperation group to prevent any more conflicts, such as the recent fighting between Georgia and Russia. Erdogan proposed the idea during his visits to Russia and Georgia and is expected to do so again in Baku.

Aliyev will also be looking for Turkish support for Azerbaijan after watching what happened in neighboring Georgia. Baku has refrained from much public comment about the Georgian-Russian conflict. But for Baku -- which, like Georgia, is a former Soviet republic -- fighting in the Caucasus that involves Russia must make the Azerbaijani government nervous and it wouldn't be difficult to guess where Baku's sympathies lie. Turkey, as a NATO member and formerly a regional power in the Black Sea region, could offer Azerbaijan some comforting security assurances.

For Turkey and Azerbaijan, the stakes are high since both countries see themselves as energy export hubs for the future. The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan and the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum natural-gas pipeline are only the first of what Ankara and Baku hope are many oil and gas pipelines that will be built in the next decade to bring Caspian oil and gas to Europe with Azerbaijan and Turkey making a profit as transit countries.

But the recent Georgian-Russian conflict will give potential investors reason to pause over the possibility that more conflicts may be coming in the Caucasus. That could be a blow to U.S.-EU plans for the Nabucco gas pipeline project, which proposes bringing an additional 31 billion cubic meters of natural gas to Europe when it is fully functional in 2020.

RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service Director Kenan Aliyev contributed to this report
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