11/01/2013 15:59
Problems of Russia-Azerbaijan relations


Additional motivation was that for prolongation of the agreement Moscow offered Baku far less for rent than it paid before. According to some Russian military experts, the Gabala Radar Station lost its former strategic importance, and over time, its efficiency was reducing, devices were wearing out and breaking down, and it was very costly to replace them that it would have been better to transfer the functions of Gabala radar to a new station in the North Caucasus (Armavir) construction of which has practically already been completed.

Apparently, the Russian government has taken into account both "wavering" position of Azerbaijan, and the opinion of Russian military experts, and stoped using the radar. The Russian Federation sent a corresponding note to the Azerbaijan side, according to which on December 10th, 2012 operation of the station was stopped and respectively, the agreement signed ten years ago was declared expired.

We cannot say that Russia was not interested in Gabala. It was Moscow’s interest that led to a visit to Azerbaijan of the Vice Premier of the Russian Government (curator of the defense sector) Dmitry Rogozin that took place on August 15-16th, 2012, when he met with President Ilham Aliyev. Although, the meeting was confidential, according to leaked information the parties could not agree on the price of the lease.

Azerbaijani political analysts believe that the delay in deciding the fate of the Gabala Radar Station was due to bargaining between Putin and Aliyev, but the role of money in this matter was only formal. The main thing is that both parties have used this military facility to resolve foreign policy issues. Ilham Aliyev’s interest was to force Russia to make a positive step in resolving the Karabakh conflict, and Vladimir Putin sought to use the Gabala Radar Station as a trump card in case Azerbaijan was to really threaten Russia's ally Armenia with a war.

What will happen next? Will the Gabala factor worsen the Azerbaijan-Russia relations? Expert opinions vary. Some believe that this will not worsen the relations, while others, on the contrary, claim that the events surrounding the Gabala radar indicate problems between the two countries, that in the future are likely to multiply. Azerbaijan is leaning more and more toward the West and its cooperation with NATO is deepening. Symptoms of "cooling" of relations between Baku and Moscow are already visible - instead of President Ilham Aliyev the CIS summit in Ashgabat, held on December 5 was attended by Prime Minister Artur Rasi-zade.

The Gabala Radar Station is a complex military facility, operation of which requires a lot of experience and expertise. It is a fact that Baku can not use that facility. They will have to find a new tenant for the station, naturally, among countries - members of NATO. So who will it be - the United States or Turkey?

In 2007, Russian President Vladimir Putin offered his U.S. counterpart George W. Bush to jointly use the Gabala station instead of deploying the U.S. radar in the Czech Republic. The U.S. almost agreed to use the radar together with Russia, but later declined. The same fate befell the initiative of Moscow that was put forward by Russia at the Lisbon Summit in 2010 to make the Gabala station a part of the joint missile defence system.

Turkey is not interested in using the Gabala station as the outdated and also expensive facility would be an unnecessary burden on its economy. This assumption is confirmed by the results of the meeting of President Ilham Aliyev and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, held September 11, 2012 in the town of Gabala, near the military facility. Apparently, during the negotiations Turkey refused the Azerbaijan offer to operate the radar. Obviously, even if foreign tenants are found they cannot, for obvious reasons, fully operate the Russian-made radar and neither will they be able to use it against Russia, as a remote control of anti-missile system is in Moscow.

In the end, it seems, after some time, when Russia takes out special equipment of the station, a question of using this object in the non-military, peaceful purposes will be definitely put on the agenda. In favour of this version speaks the fact that development of tourism and agricultural infrastructure is planned in the Gabala region. There is already a project for cultivation of 52 hectares of the area which is now occupied by the station. As for the building itself, it can accommodate a research institution, or it may become a tourist attraction.

Problem Four: Supply of Russian weapons to Armenia

Another problem in the Azerbaijan-Russia relations is supply of Russian arms to Armenia. By assumption of Azerbaijani experts, at the meeting of Ilham Aliyev and Dmitry Rogozin the issue of the purchase of the Russian arms and supply of Ukrainian arms to Armenia was also discussed. Interestingly, the visit of Russian Deputy Prime Minister was preceded by a scandal regarding military relations between Kiev and Yerevan: as it turns out, Ukraine, that assures Azerbaijan of its friendship (because of future import of Caspian oil and gas) secretly from Baku supplied the BUK missile system to Armenia. But this is nothing compared to the fact that Russia also supplies weapons to Armenia both to equip the Armenian army, and for the 102nd military base in Gyumri. (At present, the Russian base is equipped with Russian anti-aircraft system "S-300" and fighters "MIG-29." Number of personnel of the military base is 5000 soldiers).

The Gyumri military base confirms the presence of Russia in the South Caucasus, which is a dangerous factor for Azerbaijan. Therefore, sensitivity of Baku to the issue of arms supply to its neighbour is quite obvious: Armenia is its enemy and military adversary, and at the same time - the strategic partner of Russia. Let us suppose that Azerbaijan declared war to Armenia. In this case, presumably, the personnel of the 102nd base and weapons will be used against Azerbaijan. All the more that Armenia and Russia are members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), the Charter of which states that in case of declaration of war by a third country to one of its members (take for example Azerbaijan - Armenia) all others (and first of all Russia ) must come to the aid of the victim (Armenia) (against Azerbaijan).

Interesting is the question of equipping of the Gyumri military base. At present, according to Azerbaijani sources, Russia carries out provision of the said military facility with manpower, weapons and other ammunition through the territory of Asia and Iran - due to blockage of the Transcaucasian transport communications passing through the territory of Georgia (the Abkhazian section of the Georgian railway). That is very expensive for Russia. In addition, the transit of military cargo through the territory of foreign countries increases the risk factor. That is why Russia would benefit from restoration of the railway movement on the Abkhazian section, which was discussed by official Tbilisi as one of the key factors in improving the Georgian-Russian relations and the settlement of the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict.

Problem five: Azerbaijan in the context of Russia-Iran relations

If we look at the map of the Caucasus and the Caspian region, we note that Azerbaijan is "wedged" between Russia and Iran. The fact is that in spite of the "cooling" of the recent relations between Moscow and Tehran, the relationship still remains close. On the international arena Russia permanently defends Iranian nuclear projects, Russia is a member of the transport corridor "North-South" in which Iran also is actively involved, positions of Russia and Iran also coincide in the matter of definition of the status of the Caspian Sea. While Azerbaijan has its problems with Iran, namely, the issue of Azeri-language provinces of Iran. In addition, the position of Baku is different from those of Moscow and Iran on the Caspian Sea. Azerbaijan clearly does not like military manoeuvres of the West against Iran in the Caspian Sea. As Baku is concerned that in case of beginning of military actions by the West against Iran Russia will try to use its land and sea territory.

Of course, we should not think that there are just problems in the Russian-Azerbaijani relations solution of which are not expected in the short term. On the contrary, in recent years, after some attempts and bilateral efforts, a number of inter-state disputes were successfully resolved. For example, the question of delimitation and demarcation of the state border, the problem of the legal status of inhabitants of the Russian enclaves in Azerbaijan – Khrakhuba and Uryanuba decision on which had been delayed for years. Also, it should be noted that against the backdrop of the above issues, trade and economic relations between Russia and Azerbaijan are developing very rapidly. In 2011 trade turnover between the countries amounted to almost three billion dollars, which is a significant increase compared to the previous period.

On the basis of the above, we can make a brief summary and some conclusions:

So far Russia's foreign policy toward Azerbaijan has encountered some problems, Moscow has no conceptual understanding of relations with this country, which is a significant barrier in the relations of the two neighbouring countries. Clearly, these challenges have a permanent character;

The most difficult problem is the Karabakh conflict, during the process of settlement of which Moscow resorts to a double standard. Accordingly, if Russia does not change its policy towards Armenia, does not reduce its solidarity with this country, distrust of Azerbaijan towards Moscow will not be neutralized;

It is possible that Russia could use "Iranian lever" against Azerbaijan – to turn a blind eye to "mistakes" made by Tehran in the sphere of protection of the rights of Azerbaijan, and in the discussion of the problems of the Caspian Sea, to counterbalance the position of Baku act in tandem with Iran;

In turn, Azerbaijan has the potential to successfully use the confrontation between Russia and the West, and on this background implement its interests. It is a fact that there is a very strong Armenian lobby in the U.S., at the same time, the West needs Azerbaijan's energy resources, and if Baku once again reaches out to Moscow, thus Aliyev will show the West alternative. But if Russia will continue strategic cooperation with Armenia, Azerbaijan may refuse mediation of Russia and move fully to the West.