Moscow-Baku confrontation

Moscow-Baku confrontation

Pro-western urge along with confrontation with Russia did no good to any of the post-Soviet republics so far.

The relations between Azerbaijan and Russia which have been almost normal during Dmitry Medvedev’s tenure have started to deteriorate; this is happening quite quickly and, interestingly enough, on Baku’s initiative. If the oil and petrodollars can really turn people’s heads, Ilham Aliyev seems to be playing with fire.

PanARMENIAN.Net - Pro-western urge along with confrontation with Russia did no good to any of the post-Soviet republics so far; Georgia, as well as Middle Asian republics present a wonderful example thereof. Yet Baku has no wish to see the reality, and Azerbaijani media, the mouthpiece of pro-government politicians, have launched an active anti-Russian campaign. Interestingly, Baku really believes that the Kremlin constantly demonstrates toughness and even aggression to Azerbaijan because of the independent foreign policy course the latter pursues. Moscow is accused of plotting provocations against Azerbaijan by establishing the Union of Azerbaijani Organizations of Russia. It comprised big Russian businessmen of Azerbaijani origin, including Aras Agalarov, father of Ilham Aliyev's son-in-law. The Union is unofficially dubbed the “Billionaire Club”, and it is powerful enough to make Aliyev feel awkward.

“In addition, Moscow increases the tension along the Azerbaijani borders. It concentrates military troops relocated from Chechnya, in Dagestan, near Azerbaijani frontiers. Russia is building up its navy in Caspian Sea,” the media report. Well, how come the Caspian is viewed to be Azerbaijani sea only? The Russian Navy has been here long ago, when no Azerbaijanis ever existed, but the Caucasian Tatars were there.

“In order to lessen the tension in its ties with Russia, the Azerbaijani government is trying to make some concessions to Moscow. Its Oil Foundation decided to place its stocks in Russian banks in rouble deposits, though the experts say investing in the Russian currency which faces the risk of devaluation is risky. If Azerbaijan wanted to make a political move, it’d better invest in the securities of the Russian companies,” the media said.

Speaking about concessions is ridiculous, like saying that Qatar, for instance, decided to compromise to the U.S. and allowed Washington to do something. However, the interests linking the U.S. and oil monarchies of the Gulf are quite different from those between Baku and Moscow. Here, Moscow is willing to show it is the boss, while Baku is trying to stand its ground. This is a major failure of Dmitry Medvedev’s rule.

In 2013, Russia may close the markets which mainly employ the Azerbaijanis. Moscow mayor Sergey Sobyanin says the process will be finalized by June 1, 2013.

Azerbaijan is going to hold presidential elections next year, and tens of thousands of Azerbaijanis coming back home may cause serious problems for the authorities. A significant part of the population, particularly in provinces, subsists by remittances of Azerbaijani migrants in Russia. Approximately 3 million Azerbaijanis working in Russia send money to keep up their families in Azerbaijan.

The total of their remittances is similar to the state budget allocations for the social sphere, namely the salaries, pensions, and allowances. Azerbaijan’s budget allots about $3 billion to this area annually. If each of the 3 million Azerbaijanis presumably sends $1000 home per year, this makes the same figure of $3 bln. This is the amount transferred by banks only; in fact, the official statistics does not involve the money sent in cash by friends and relatives which is also common practice.

Experts believe that restrictions imposed by Russia will mostly affect Azerbaijan’s regional population, further adding to the deterioration of the social situation in provinces. On the other hand, the return of migrants will challenge the employment issue as well since the people will lack jobs. All this happening ahead of the presidential vote will present another problem for the government and boost the social and political tension.

Besides, according to Azerbaijani political scientists, the Kremlin presses Azerbaijan-related international projects as well. The critics recently targeted the Trans-Anatolian gas pipeline (TANAP) Baku and Ankara plan to construct to transfer Azerbaijani gas to Europe through Turkey. Extension of the lease term of Gabala radar station for another 5-7 years, in line with former financial arrangements, also aims to press Russia. However, the outdated station is hardly a valuable asset for Russia; it has long ceased to be an instrument of pressure or bargaining.

Professor Vladimir Zakharov quotes a very interesting extract from vesti.az: “How will the “cold war” end? Is it caused by involvement of Azerbaijan, the last post-Soviet stronghold of independent policy, into Russia’s sphere of influence, ousting of West from the region, reinforcement of military and political ambitions only, or there are other reasons as well? Further development of processes will show this. However, the tension in the Russian-Azerbaijani relations has other reasons, too.

Russia strives to restore its authority at least in post-Soviet states, since the Kremlin is yielding its positions in Africa and Asia after the “Arab spring”. Azerbaijan is the only spot where Moscow can still gain revenge and strike the West, because Azerbaijan is the only country able to liberate Europe from energy dependence on Russia. This is the reason the West appreciates Azerbaijan now, and statements voiced on various levels come to prove this. Azerbaijan’s energy policy also pursues the same trend; various energy projects focus on supplying the European markets with Caspian hydrocarbon resources. This is an efficient policy; also, it deprives Russia of the opportunity to have significant influence on Europe. Control over the energy sources has been a major reason for conflicts worldwide. This is the main, and maybe the only reason of tensions in the Russian-Azerbaijani relations, and there seem to be no end to this in the near future.”

Karine Ter-Sahakian
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