Problems of Russia-Azerbaijan relations. Part I
08/01/2013 16:13
Simon Kiladze

The level of Russia's relations with countries of the South Caucasus can be divided into three categories: with Georgia – minimum (confrontational), with Armenia - maximum (strategic), and Azerbaijan - moderate (good-neighbourly).

Minimum, moderate and maximum levels of the official relations of Moscow-Tbilisi, Moscow-Yerevan and Moscow-Baku are due to many factors, among them - contemporary and historical geopolitical reasons:

As for Russia's relations with Georgia, it is about the specifics of creating the original basis laid under the influence of heavy geopolitical situation two and a half centuries ago. The genesis of this basis had been developing at more or less ascending line (development, because of the interests of the empire, became "unwanted integration" - annexation), later it underwent transformation (artificial Soviet sovereignty) and, finally, in the period of classic sovereignty, moderate progressive-conflicting form of relationship of the nineties was replaced by regression – it became radically antagonistic. Although, against the background of the change of the government in Georgia in October 2012 the regressive process slowed down to some extent, but there is still a long way to go to normalization.

Almost the same line can be traced in the evolution of relations with Armenia - although, unlike Georgia, prior to the annexation voluntary aspiration of Armenians to integration with Russia (due to threats from Turkey) was stronger. In the end, starting from the period of independence in the nineties the Yerevan-Moscow relations became strategical and allied.

As for Azerbaijan, the Russian interests in the eastern part of the South Caucasus were originally implemented, mainly on the basis of relations with Iran – taking into account wars and peace treaties. We can say that up till the nineties of the last century - except a brief period of 1918-1920 - no drastic negative processes were noted between Russia and Azerbaijan. The situation changed dramatically during the collapse of the Soviet Union, when Azerbaijan became a sovereign state, and with it emerged border and territorial disputes that rapidly developed into an armed conflict. Since that period the importance of Azerbaijan to Russia was sharply increased due to two main reasons:

First – geo-economical. Components: the Caspian oil and gas fields, which could be a very useful source of energy to Western Europe (as it happened later); implementation of the transport corridor "North-South" to intensify Russian-Iranian relations;

Second - geopolitical. Components: separatism (armed conflict with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh), militarism (the question of biggest arsenals and military bases of strategic purpose, including military aircraft bases belonging to the former Transcaucasus Military District, and the problem of redeployment of the Caspian Fleet from Baku to Makhachkala; and finally, the question of top-secret radar station near the Azerbaijani city of Gabala. The Azerbaijan factor for Russia in the issue of Iran should also be taken into account.

These reasons with their components are consistently acute and have a significant impact on both the regional and global policies. Russia, as an active player on the regional and global level, needs positive development of relations with Azerbaijan. Although the problems of relations between Moscow and Baku are due precisely to divergence of interests in a number of cases.

Problem one: Destructive role in the Karabakh settlement

The Nagorno-Karabakh problem has grown into the Armenian-Azerbaijani military conflict. Two neighbouring states to this day remain enemies. Russia is a co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group, the main goal of which is settlement of the Karabakh conflict on the basis of international law. The first step should be the release of the Armenia-occupied territories. At the same time, Armenia is a strategic ally of Russia in the Caucasus, which is expressed in a wide range of political, economic and military aid. Here arises a natural and logical question. Whether Russia can be a fair and impartial arbiter in settling problems of Azerbaijan - especially the Karabakh conflict? It is doubtful ... Despite peaceful statements of Moscow, despite the fact that through the mediation of Russia a meeting was held between the presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia, despite the fact that allegedly Russia has made great efforts to solve this problem - the conflict continues. It is obvious that Russia will not betray its main strategic ally - Armenia. Given this, Azerbaijan has every right not to believe assertions of its northern neighbour and accuse Russia of inciting separatism and this is what it practically does.

Problem two: transportation of the Caspian oil and gas to Europe

Since the nineties of the last century, Baku oil exports to Europe have been carried out only through the territory of Russia (via the Baku-Novorossiysk oil pipeline). Of course, Russia has received certain financial gain - even though money for it was not as important as the route itself. For Moscow the pipeline that passed through the North Caucasus was a certain leverage of political and economic influence on Azerbaijan. It is clear that after the launch of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline relevance of Baku-Novorossiysk weakened and, eventually, the pipeline has almost lost its importance. Accordingly, Russia has lost its leverage. And one more thing - Azerbaijan is unhappy that Russia is interfering with construction of Trans-Caspian gas pipeline, designed to export Turkmen gas to Europe via Azerbaijan. Although it is true that the question of the pipeline, it would seem, recently has lost its urgency - but the question of Caspian energy remains a very annoying problem in Russian-Azerbaijani relations. Moscow is known to bear grudges.

Problem three: military-political dimension of Gabala

The Gabala Radar Station that is Daryal-type and was built in the period of the Soviet Union - in 1985 – has started to take a major role in the missile defence of Russia starting from 1992. With the help of this military facility the Russian Ministry of Defence is able to effectively control the area within a radius of 8,000 kilometres. This is enough to detect missile launches in the Indian Ocean. Accordingly, the "eye" of Gabala radar fully covers the entire territory of Turkey, Iraq, Iran, India and all countries of the Middle East. Another advantage of the Gabala Radar Station is that it not only captures the missile launches, but also tracks trajectory of their flight, allowing neutralization of the threat.

After the declaration of independence of Azerbaijan Moscow offered Baku to lease the Gabala Radar Station to Russia. A draft of the agreement was drawn up and it was signed on December 9th, 2002. According to the document, the station received the status of "military information-analytical center", was the property of Azerbaijan and was leased to Russia for 10 years (with possible prolongation). The rent was $ 14 million a year. The operation of the station was carried out by about 1,500 Russian soldiers (a military settlement nearby housed members of their families). Currently, the agreement has expired.

Interestingly, the question of denunciation of the agreement on Gabala has repeatedly been the subject of debate in the political circles of Azerbaijan, in the parliament and internal party discussions. The thing is that the military facility is an environmental hazard, because it has a powerful radio-electronic emission. In addition, according to the Azerbaijani authorities, the rent was greatly undervalued (Baku believes that Russia was to pay Azerbaijan not 14 million, but much more - $ 150 million). Another argument in favour of the opponents of the Gabala station - the West, especially the NATO member-states, privately called for Baku to oust the military "eye" of Russia from the territory of Azerbaijan, all the more that Turkey – a state akin to Azerbaijan - is a member of NATO.

So this was these environmental issues and some pressure from the West that at the time prompted Azerbaijan to slow down in the matter of prolongation of the agreement.

To be continued…

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