Strange Love: The US and Azerbaijan

Russia, Saint-Petersburg
Date: 2004.04.02 11:23

Strange Love: The US and Azerbaijan

The main topics of discussion during US Deputy Secretary of State Richard
Armitage’s visit to Baku revolved around energy projects, the situation
surrounding Iran, and the transfer of American troops to Azerbaijan. As to
the last, the talk concerned American military bases on Azerbaijani soil,
though the command on both sides prefer to call them, vaguely, ‘mobile

The militaries reach agreement It is unlikely that anyone doubts that the
visit of Defense Minister Safar Abiev to the United States and the visit to
Azerbaijan of ‘the principal lobbyist for the ruling Azerbaijani clan’ (as
many characterize Armitage) were closely linked. It is not at all
coincidental that Armitage arrived in Baku on the same day that Abiev’s
visit to the United States ended. According to the press service of the
Azerbaijani defense ministry, during his visit Safar Abiev had meetings in
the White House, the Pentagon, the State Department, Congress, the Central
Command of the US Army, the National Guard command, the UN, as well as at
the Military Foreign Language Institute. A meeting devoted to analyzing the
possibilities for strategic cooperation between Azerbaijan and NATO was also

On the eve of Armitage’s trip to Azerbaijan, a group of American generals
visited the country to decide the question of placement in the country of
‘mobile groups,’ while in Washington the terms of an American military
presence in Azerbaijan were being decided. It was left to Richard Armitage
to put the finishing touches to the new official relations between
Azerbaijan and the United States. Thus, the US has entered into a long-term
strategic relationship with a new partner in the antiterrorism coalition. In
the opinion of analysts, this was made possible by the existing social and
political situation in Azerbaijan.

Guarantees above all Immediately following the presidential elections in
Azerbaijan in October 2003, many American media directly accused the Bush
administration of supporting a semi-monarchical regime. Pretty much at every
session, Democratic congressmen rubbed it into Republican heads that the
leader of the Azerbaijani government was the son of a champion of
authoritarianism and a former KGB general. They said that after North Korea,
Congo and Syria, the ‘virus of succession’ had to be ‘frozen.’ However, as
the result of Bush’s efforts that disease had surfaced in a completely
unexpected place – on post-Soviet territory. And today, the successes of
Ilham Aliev, with the hand of the White House behind them, are being closely
followed by the presidents of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and
Kyrgyzstan. Indeed, they are doing so not alone but in tandem with their
ambitious offspring.

Thus, President Bush, together with the Aliev family’s best friend, Richard
Armitage, bring out the bank scales and ask – who but the ruling family is
able to guarantee the security of the USD 12 billion invested in
Azerbaijan’s Caspian region by American citizens? And, indeed, this trump
card can’t be hidden from anyone in the US, as the idea of making money and
the guarantee of the security of their capital investments is a local id?e

In the opinion of the editor-in-chief of the disgraced Azerbaijani journal
Monitor, Elmar Guseinov, this is a good card, and one which conceals the
personal interests of the president himself, as well as all the zealous
officials at the US State Department. And Mr. Guseinov has every reason to
make such a claim.

It should be remembered that the late Geidar Aliev in the summer of 2000,
four months before the US presidential elections, visited the United States
at the personal invitation of George Bush-senior at his ranch. They fished,
rode around in cars, in speedboats. Following this visit, the choice of
partners for the development of Azerbaijan’s oil fields underwent a slight
revision. Practically all operations – from geological exploration to the
creation of an infrastructure – were given over to American companies that
in one way or another were associated with the Bush family. And then the
elections came, and it turned out that the patriarch of Azerbaijani politics
had put his money ‘on the right horse.’

And here is what the head of the Azerbaijani party Umid (Hope) Igbal
Agazade, currently in jail under suspicion of organizing mass unrest
immediately following the October 15, 2003, elections, had to say about
Richard Armitage: ‘Two years of co-chairmanship in the American-Azerbaijani
Chamber of Trade and Industry were not wasted. He has here an enormous
financial network, which can be of great benefit after he leaves government

In other words, it is not impossible that Armitage is simply preparing an
’emergency landing field’ in case of an election defeat of the incumbent US
administration in November by Democrats, and his inevitable retirement
should that occur.

On the utility of the opposition The arrival of Armitage will also be
remembered for the ‘angry reaction’ of the Azerbaijani opposition to the
visit. However, local analysts generally consider the complaints of the
opposition unwarranted. For the entire duration of the Bush administration,
not to mention during the ‘golden’ period of Bill Clinton’s rule, the
opposition received fairly large amounts of money for organizational
purposes, the rallying of members, constructive initiatives, and so on. And
where did it spend it? On cars, security, the rolls and relatives.

Every leader of the four main opposition parties (NFA, Musavat, PNNA and the
Democratic Party) liked to imagine himself as a shadow president. Meanwhile,
immediately following the presidential elections in Azerbaijan, the
brother-in-law of the main contender, Ilham Aliev, won a tender for the
creation of several industrial facilities in Afghanistan. It is probably
pointless to speak of who disbursed the money and for what.

If in the time of Gaidar Aliev the opposition walked around Baku with flags,
demonstrating its strength and the numbers of its followers, then
immediately following October 15 it became clear that its muscles were
swollen by the presidential administration itself. In contrast to Gaidar
Aliev, his son wants quiet. During his visit, Armitage met with the main
figures of the Azerbaijani opposition, in the opinion of observers in order
to stimulate at least some semblance of opposition activity. Or else to
outsiders it might seem as if 100% of the Azerbaijani electorate had voted
for Ilham Aliev.

Analysts likewise contend that during his visit, Armitage explained to
President Aliev the advantages of allowing the electorate to let off steam.
Let them march around with flags, shout, write letters to international
organizations. Only the governing regime will benefit.

Reviving GUUAM One of the main themes of the discussions was the future of
the organization with the awkward-sounding name GUUAM, which comprises
Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan and Moldava. At first, the main
preoccupation of GUUAM was the question of security, and the main meetings
within its framework occurred between ministers of defense.

Practically every member of GUUAM has problems with the presence of Russian
forces — Georgia would like to see Russian bases quit the country; Moldava
has a long-standing conflict in Pridnestrovie, where elements of the 14th
Russian Army remain; Azerbaijan has a long-term conflict with Nagornyi
Kharabakh and with Armenia, which is supported, and will continue to be
supported by Russia, and Ukraine has an unresolved conflict with Russia over
the Black Sea fleet.

That is why the idea of jointly opposing Russia’s military and political
ambitions with the help of GUUAM appears to the leaders of its member
post-Soviet states to be so attractive, and even more so as it is supported
by the United States, NATO and the Organization for Security and Cooperation
in Europe. For example, here is what the United States State Department
coordinator for aid to Europe and Eurasia, William Taylor, had to say on the
subject: ‘GUUAM has enormous potential, inasmuch as that organization unites
the important countries of the region. The initiation of important projects
must come from those same member-countries that form the membership of the
organization. For its part, the United States is prepared to offer its
support, including financial support of concrete projects, within the
framework of GUUAM. The United States is prepared to support, in particular,
projects for the creation of borders and customs controls within the
framework of GUUAM. In addition, our country is likewise interested in
receiving observer status in GUUAM. As concerns the possibility of American
support for the oil pipeline system within GUUAM, we would like to see
several pipelines alongside the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline in this region. In
connection with this, the idea of establishing a pipeline corridor within
GUUAM is especially important for us.’

In this way, the theme of GUUAM is especially ticklish for Russia. What will
the reaction to it be among Russian politicians and businessmen? Let us
address the one and the other. The Russian ambassador to Ukraine, Victor
Chernomyrdin, like practically all Russian representatives, in contrast to
the serious Americans, waves aside this problem as he would a fly: ‘I
consider that this organization is at the moment in its preliminary stages,
and that no concrete projects have as yet been proposed as a part of GUUAM.
In fact, if GUUAM proposed a project interesting to Russia, we will
absolutely participate. For example, we participate in energy projects
everywhere, and I do not think that a single serious energy project within
GUUAM can work without Russia’s participation in that organization. And
Russia has no intention of joining. I do not consider GUUAM within its free
trade zone to be a competitor to the East Asian Economic Union.

The Kuwait syndrome Another theme which represents an enormous interest for
Azerbaijani public opinion is Washington’s relationship with Teheran. After
all, Iran not only borders Azerbaijan, but more than 80% of the Azerbaijanis
in the world live there, with cultural demands that the government does not
take into account. For 200,000 Armenians there are schools in their mother
tongue, and the same goes for as many Jews. But for 30 million Azerbaijanis,
not one.

That is why in Baku they so attentively follow the steadily growing tensions
between their powerful neighbor and the superpower across the ocean. Still,
in any event they try to relate ‘with understanding’ to the positions of
both sides, remembering the ‘Kuwait syndrome’ (the Kuwaiti economy has not
yet reached the level it had reached before the invasion by Iraq in 1990).

As is well known, the Americans are not happy about the nuclear cooperation
between Teheran and Moscow, in particular the construction of the atomic
energy plant at Bushehr. In addition, the CIA regularly uncovers in Iran
members and even leaders of terrorist organizations freely walking the
streets. It is said that American agents have even uncovered the authors of
major terrorist acts.

In several leaks to the American media, it has been confirmed that a whole
range of figures in the American president’s entourage advocate practically
a government-organized coup in Iran. As they say, let’s see what happens.
One thing can be said for certain: it is far from a coincidence that
American analysts and politicians use the term ‘South Caucasus’ when
speaking of the region. It is by far a broader term than the Russian
understanding of the Caucasus. Hiugut Salmanov, Baku Translated by Alex

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