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Former Azerbaijani Health Minister Ali Insanov sits in a cage during his trial in Baku on charges of drugs possession and assault.

A Baku district court has sentenced former Azerbaijani Health Minister Ali Insanov to seven years in prison on charges of possessing psychotropic drugs and assaulting and seriously injuring a prison officer that his lawyers say are both implausible and unsubstantiated by hard evidence.

Insanov, who is 71, rejected the charges as fabricated and politically motivated. He has vowed to appeal his new sentence, which he believes was intended to preclude his release from prison after serving an 11-year jail term and his anticipated participation in the presidential election due in October 2018.

Insanov is a former close associate of Heidar Aliyev, the father and predecessor of Azerbaijan's current President Ilham Aliyev, and a co-founder in the 1990s of the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party. He first fell into disfavor in the run-up to the parliamentary elections of October 2005, when he and several other senior officials were arrested on charges of plotting a coup against Ilham Aliyev, who had succeeded his father two years earlier.

The coup charge was subsequently dropped; instead, Insanov was found guilty and sentenced in April 2007 on charges, to which he pleaded not guilty, of bribery, forgery, and the illegal privatization of state-owned medical facilities.

'Military-Political Regime'

Six years later, in March 2013, the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights ruled that Insanov had been denied the right to a fair trial and that he had been held in inhuman and demeaning conditions in various penitentiaries. The court ruled that the Azerbaijani authorities should pay Insanov 10,000 euros ($10,896) in compensation.

The Azerbaijani government ignored that ruling, however, whereupon Insanov appealed to the Council of Ministers of the Council of Europe. Two months later, Azerbaijan's Supreme Court annulled its own rejection of Insanov's appeal against his prison term and ordered a repeat hearing by the Baku Appeals Court.

The five-week retrial, which Insanov's lawyers and human rights activists said was marred by egregious procedural violations, ended in February 2014 with the judge upholding the original 11-year sentence. Insanov claimed that verdict was dictated by President Aliyev, whom he had earlier publicly accused of appropriating money from the sale of Azerbaijan's Caspian oil and of establishing a "military-political regime."

New Charges

The new charges against Insanov were brought in August 2016, two months after Azerbaijan's Supreme Court upheld the sentence handed down during the retrial and just weeks before his original 11-year prison term was due to end.

The new trial, during which Insanov was constrained to sit in a steel cage in the courtroom, opened on April 8. Insanov's lawyers argued that the prosecution had failed to furnish any evidence to substantiate the charge that Insanov had inflicted a potentially fatal head injury on a much younger prison officer during an altercation.

They further objected that the tablets allegedly found during a search of his cell could not have contained a psychotropic substance because they were colored, not white, the news portal Caucasian Knot reported on April 20.

The lawyers also implied that the new charges were retaliation for Insanov's public backing of opposition candidate Camil Hasanli in the 2013 presidential election.

In that context, they noted that former Economic Development Minister Farhad Aliyev (no relation to Ilham), who was arrested together with Insanov in October 2005 in connection with the purported planned coup, was pardoned and released from prison after expressing support for Ilham Aliyev's candidacy.

The views expressed in this blog post do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL
Georgian Energy Minister Kakha Kaladze (file photo)

In reaching an agreement to purchase gas from Azerbaijan, Georgia has both obviated the need to purchase any additional Russian gas in 2017 and temporarily deflected criticism of a recent deal with Gazprom.

The new agreement with Azerbaijan was announced on April 7 by Georgian Energy Minister Kakha Kaladze, who had incurred harsh criticism and faced claims he sold out his country's energy security after signing a two-year agreement with Russia's gas giant in January.

That deal entailed a phased shift from payment in kind to payment in cash of the tariffs Georgia receives for the transit of Russian gas across its territory to Armenia.

Critics of that deal ignore the fact that the volume of gas Georgia has hitherto received from Russia accounts for just under 10 percent of the total 2.4 billion cubic meters it imports annually; the remaining 90 percent comes from Azerbaijan.

In that respect, allegations by the opposition that the deal will result in a budget shortfall and threaten Georgia's energy security are misleading, especially considering that the amount of imported gas in question is consistent with figures from previous years. By comparison, in 2015, Slovakia and the Czech Republic depended on Russia for over 90 percent of imports; Germany receives some 30 percent of its gas from Russia.

Cash Payment

Kaladze is quoted as saying that, during the first three months of 2017, Georgia received 100 million cubic meters of gas from Russia. That is the equivalent of 10 percent of the first 1 billion cubic meters supplied via Georgia to Armenia, for which, according to Armenian Prime Minister Karen Karapetian, Georgia was to be reimbursed in kind, with the option of purchasing additional gas at the price of $185 per 1,000 cubic meters.

This year at least, however, Tbilisi will not have to do so. Instead, it has reached agreement with Azerbaijan's state oil company SOCAR and with the international consortium currently developing the Shakh Deniz offshore Caspian gas field to supply a total of 2.347 billion cubic meters of gas, adequate to cover its domestic requirements. The price of that gas has not been divulged.

Meanwhile, Gazprom will pay in cash for the transit of the remaining 1.2 billion cubic meters it is contractually obliged to supply Armenia with in 2017, and for the entire sum due in 2018. Kaladze has repeatedly declined to disclose the actual tariff, angering the opposition and NGOs that fear unwarranted concessions to Moscow.

Opposition Initiatives

The Georgian parliament majority has rejected two opposition bids to force disclosure of the terms of the treaty with Gazprom.

The first was a draft legal initiative by the two opposition factions into which the former ruling United National Movement split in January to amend the parliament statutes to permit the creation of an interfactional group that would have access to agreements that constitute a commercial secret.

The second was a demand by one of those two factions to establish a parliamentary investigative commission to evaluate the agreement with Gazprom, the website Civil.ge reported on February 23.

It is not only opposition parties that are alarmed by the possibility that the agreement is detrimental to Georgia's interests.

A poll conducted by the International Republican Institute between February 22 and March 8 reportedly found that 58 percent of the 1,501 respondents took a negative view of the agreement, even without knowing the precise terms, InterPressNews reported on April 5. Only 11 percent expressed approval.

It is still unclear whether, as veteran parliamentarian Gia Volsky has implied, the Georgian government was strong-armed into making concessions in the face of a threat by Gazprom to suspend gas supplies to Armenia via Georgia altogether and instead supply Armenia through an alternative pipeline via Iran.

The views expressed in this blog post do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL.

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About This Blog

This blog presents analyst Liz Fuller's personal take on events in the region, following on from her work in the "RFE/RL Caucasus Report." It also aims, to borrow a metaphor from Tom de Waal, to act as a smoke detector, focusing attention on potential conflict situations and crises throughout the region. The views are the author's own and do not represent those of RFE/RL.

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