BAKU: Opp daily speculates on Russian latent interests in Azerbaijan

Opposition daily speculates on Russia’s latent interests in Azerbaijan

Yeni Musavat, Baku
13 Jul 04

One of the issues topping the political agenda of the day is the
frequent visits by different Russian officials to Baku. While analysts
have been putting forward various theories as to the objectives of
such visits, their common belief is that our northern neighbour is
interested in returning to Azerbaijan and at least partly restoring
its lost clout. At stake are primarily geo-economic and
military-political interests.

It is noteworthy that most of the Russian officials who have visited
Baku recently are either former or current secret agents. Yevgeniy
Primakov, Sergey Stepashin and now Vladimir Rushaylo all come from the
same field. This shows the level of the Russian administration’s
interest (President Vladimir Putin himself is a former KGB agent) in
our country.

As for Rushaylo’s visit in the capacity of a CIS official, as he
himself put it, well this can be explained by Russia’s plans to
strengthen its positions on the entire territory of the CIS, including
Azerbaijan. Rushaylo is Moscow’s man, isn’t he?

But what is the Kremlin looking for in Azerbaijan? What is it
concerned about?

First of all, Russia is one of the countries extremely interested in a
dynastic regime in Azerbaijan, because it is much easier to get along
with a “family” regime than with a democratic government. This is
particularly obvious in the example of Georgia and its [president]
Mikheil Saakashvili, as Georgia’s democratic leader has been causing
Russia a real headache of late. Therefore, the “family” regime in
Azerbaijan is becoming even twice as important for Moscow.

[Passage omitted: minor details]

Another interesting aspect is that Moscow has become more active since
the European Union announced the launch of its European Neighbourhood
Policy for the three South Caucasus republics and NATO declared that
post-Soviet republics are in the sphere of its interests. The Kremlin
is smart enough to understand that if such programmes and strategies
are implemented, it will have to pack up and leave not only the
Ukraine and the Caucasus but even Central Asia.

[Passage omitted: Russia’s relations with Georgia]

Let’s return to Azerbaijan, however. One of the factors preconditioning
Russia’s stepped up activity in Azerbaijan is the personality of the
heir. The thing is that while the Kremlin is coming to terms with the
loss of Saakashvili (Moscow is no longer pinning hopes on him),
[Azerbaijani President] Ilham [Aliyev] is clearly Moscow’s
man. Saakashvili is the man of the West and the heir is the man of the
East. In all respects. Obviously, the Kremlin can get along with the
latter much more easily.

Also, it is common knowledge that while the Georgian leader has
enthusiastically embarked on reforms and the protection of the
country’s territorial integrity, the heir can’t stand the word
“reform”, does not fidget with conflicts and instead curtsies to the
North as soon as the opportunity presents itself.

In other words, the visits by the Kremlin officials are in Aliyev’s
interests as well. At the same time, if Russia is not doing very well
in Georgia, then why not make up for that at the expense of

[Passage omitted: repetition]

But it is so good that Azerbaijan consists not only of the regime and
the New Azerbaijan Party. There are strong and influential enough
political forces here which see the country’s successes through
integration with the West. They are highly unlikely to remain
tight-lipped over Russia’s return to Azerbaijan.

If Russia is serious about its intention to return to Azerbaijan, let
it first think about ways of winning back public confidence. This
could be done by showing Armenia its place in the Nagornyy Karabakh
conflict, helping Azerbaijan liberate its lands without any
preconditions and making Armenia abandon its territorial claims. As
far as we can see, Moscow is not preparing to do that. Therefore,
being a friend of the regime does not mean being a friend of