AZERBAIJAN-RUSSIAN RELATIONS SINCE 1991. 10.01.2001
Azerbaijan always was and still is within the zone of Russian strategic interests. During some periods of time, influence of Russia to Azerbaijan increased, during others - decreased. But one fact is staying unchanged. Russia, understanding of course, the strategic political and economic importance of Azerbaijan in region, never lost this country from its attention.
In this work we would consider the contemporary history of interrelations between Azerbaijan and Russia, geopolitical attitude of both countries toward each other, the problems which arise during this process, such as the issue of Caspian Sea and Daglig Garabagh conflict question, and also perspectives which can be seen in the future of this relations. So, what Azerbaijan should expect from its northern neighbor - Russia?
DYNAMICS OF AZERBAIJAN-RUSSIAN RELATIONS SINCE 1991
In order to answer to the main question of our work, we should pay attention to main historical aspects of Azerbaijan-Russian relations. The history of this relations can be divided into several main stages, beginning from the collapse of USSR and gaining of independence by former soviet republics.
From 1991 to 1993 the leadership of Russian Federation was hardly engaged in its own problems and had no special requests toward neighbor countries. But by the pass of the time, in accordance with its gaining some stability and power, Russia more and more tried to involve its former satellites into its own orbit. For example, when Russia made more than unsuccessful attempt with the creation of Commonwealth of Independent Countries (CIS). Although in its name was the word "independent", of course Russia was not willing to see members of this commonwealth really independent.
And exactly beginning from that time of 1993 starts another stage of Azerbaijan-Russian relations. It was that time when new Azerbaijani government of Popular Front refused to join to CIS and attempted to behave as equals with the Russian leadership, and this strained relations between countries. And as a result, this government was overthrown and the new, more moderate regime of Heydar Aliyev came to power. The role of Armenian and Russian special services in this case is enough clear for everyone and even is described by famous Russian scientist - Alexander Dugin, who is in close relations with Russian military officials.
The third stage of relations between Azerbaijan and Russia since 1991 begins with the start of the first war in Chechnya. The leadership of Russian Federation which suffered a great defeat at the internal level for "restoration of constitutional order" in Chechnya, was for a definite time left aside of active foreign policy. That was a period of decline in the policy of Russia toward Azerbaijan. But in 1999 began the new stage of war in Chechnya, more successful for that time. Also from that tome began the new active stage of foreign policy toward Azerbaijan. That coincides with Vladimir Putin's coming to power, who is grown from Russian security services and is aggressively set politician. The role of those services in Azerbaijan-Russian relations "cannot be" valued and overestimated, in some definite sense of course.
Thus, the basis of Azerbaijan-Russian relations in last ten years was lying in internal state of those countries, in the source of their leadership. That is, in accordance with situation inside of Russian Federation and with whom is in its leadership and how aggressive it is set against neighbor countries, especially Caucasian region.
AZERBAIJANI STANCE TOWARD RUSSIA
In order to define attitude of Azerbaijan toward Russia, we should review main aspects of relations, what is positive for Azerbaijan, and what is negative.
When analyzing pluses in relations between Azerbaijan and Russia, it is very difficult to find at least one important aspect, which can be put into the basis of positive relationships. Unless, may be economic cooperation and the fact that more than a million of citizens of Azerbaijan is living and working in Russia would lead to successful economic relations between this countries. But even taking such a scarce community of interests between two states, Azerbaijan is ready for deepening of relations, but Russia is continuing to apply its own old principle of "everything or nothing."
What concerns minuses for Azerbaijan in relations with Russia, they are too much for being the reason of Azerbaijan's avoiding of any relations, excluding official one. From political point of view, whichever would be the government in Baku, the main direction toward full independence for country is taken and would be developed in future. That fact disturbs very much the main directors of Russian policy. So, Russia insists on that all its allied countries should have minimum freedom in their foreign policy. In religious, cultural, ethnic and linguistic aspects Azerbaijan and Russia has almost nothing common. Even if take economic factor in relations of Azerbaijan and Russia, then, for example, concerning the question of Caspian oil, it is more separating parties than uniting them in economic attitude, as it is described above.
The main deal is that Azerbaijani people know the cost of "friendship" with Russia. This "friendship" cost it more than a century of pain and oppression. Many people can argue that people is not playing a major role in foreign affairs of a country, but the case of Azerbaijan and Russia is a special one. But this the essence is that it was violent subordination, not voluntary alliance. The country which just earned its freedom and independence, the people which is blaming in all of its troubles Russian state, could not take a pro-Russian orientation. Even if nostalgic memories about "soviet paradise" would be too strong in Azerbaijan, this country gained its independence on the wave of national enthusiasm, and that led to National Front's coming to power. And with the pass of the time, the old generation which remembers "happy times of USSR" would pass away and the new generation of young people would come to its place, free of any nostalgia and arouse on freedom and independence.
One of the main factors of not-returning of Azerbaijan and some other former Soviet Union countries to the zone of influence (subordination) of Russia is that countries like Armenia was "favorite sons" of their father - Russia, and countries like Azerbaijan - vice versa. Moscow always, even when Azerbaijan showed most loyal feelings toward center, didn't forget that exactly here may begin the collapse of the empire. And that's why Azerbaijan stayed always the main source of raw materials for Russia and at the same time as the most "unloved son". The cruel repressions of Moscow affected Azerbaijan particularly strongly, and it is natural that people wouldn't forget it so quickly. If we will take just only the "black January", that is the massacre of innocent people by Soviet army and Armenian dashnaks in Baku in January 1990, that will be enough to recall those indelible sign of pain and grief, which even till now is not leaving the mind of Azerbaijanis. Thus, for Azerbaijan both in moral and material sense it is impossible to return to the past.
RUSSIAN STANCE TOWARD AZERBAIJAN
The feelings of majority of Russians after collapse of Soviet Union are very anxious. Not so long ago it was a super power of the world, and all neighbor countries were very afraid of Russia's force or even were under its control. But now this country lost the majority of its allies and all lands outside of Russia. Moreover, now Russia itself is face to face with the perspective of break-up of its own territory. And it is natural that such a crucial loss would hurt Russians pride and self-esteem. In front of their eyes, during several years, this super power lost almost all of what was gathered and captured for centuries. And that's why after some period of romantic, "freedomfull" years at the beginning of 90's, now Russia is more and more falling into state of revenge and big hopes for greatness of their country. There are people who are critically set toward such ideas, so-called call "democrats", but they are in minority in society and in government, too.
From the point of Russian ruling circles, the worry of spread of Western influence to Caucasus, and particularly Azerbaijan, can be understood. Russia always considered and now considering Transcaucasia the zone of its own interests and would never easily agree to give away this region to Western powers. There are a lot of issues, which greatly influence attitude of Russia toward Azerbaijan in region. This are Daglig Garabagh question, accompanied with Armenian factor in relations of two countries, ambitions of Russia, Caspian status and oil question and so on.
It is interesting that even during the most hard and difficult for itself period of the beginning of 90's, Russia somehow was able to keep here its influence by originating and escalating of Daglig Garabagh war by Armenia against Azerbaijan, and also by support of different rebellions inside of Azerbaijan. At the same time Russia itself was faced with the threat of splitting during war in Chechnya. So for some person who looks to that period of Russian history, it can seem that Russian special services are working independently of Russian government. Because while such clashes were taking place inside of Russia, its state security service were making great efforts in order to make clashes inside of other countries. On some definite period it worked. For example, during the presidency of Ayaz Mutallibov, which was clearly Russian-oriented and even is living in Moscow now.
But Russia cannot understand that Azerbaijan cannot return to past. That's why the interrelations of that two countries is almost always strained. Russia wants full and unquestioning influence on all Transcaucasia, acceptance by Azerbaijan as its elder brother and great friend. But Azerbaijan offers an equal cooperation and cannot understand Russian policy. Why in relations with Russia, Azerbaijan must always be "under" and Russia - "above"? Why they cannot just live and exist as equal partners? Why Azerbaijan should humiliate itself like Armenia and accordingly get worthless "presents" from Russia, while Azerbaijan is one of the most perspective energetic exporters of the future and can get great benefits from that.
And according to that attitude of Russia toward its former "subordinates", now this countries cannot accept the status of inferior. Those countries who accept such a status (Armenia, Belarus, etc.) are perceived by Russia as friends and brothers, and those who don't accept - as enemies (Azerbaijan, Ukraine, Georgia). Of course, no one tells it clearly as it is, but there are things that need not to be told so that everyone would understand it. Russia cannot make it up with the status of "just a neighbor", for Russia the neighbor countries can be only friends, and if not - enemies. "Who is not with us, those are against us." This is a famous phrase which is transforming into the motto of Russia in the international arena.
It turns out to us that Russia generally can't or don't want to live in normal, good-natured relations with those of neighbors who do not accept its rules of relations. This can be also applied to the war in Chechnya. Russian officials are systematically making threats and accusations of Azerbaijan and Georgia in provocation of terrorism on Russian territory. In ground of such proclamations they bring, in first case - religious and ethnic close relations of Azerbaijan and Northern Caucasian nations, and in second case - territorial boundaries of Georgia and Chechnya. Even sometimes they apply second ground to Azerbaijan, too, although there doesn't exist any boundary between Azerbaijan and Chechnya. And the most interesting is that after such actions Russian diplomats are trying to smooth out their cruelty. But why they make such accusations to someone and then try to take them back? Again and again the old empire syndrome is showing up itself in actions of Russian politicians.
A paradox situation turns out - from one side President of Russian Federation Putin is attempting to take from the West the initiative of negotiations between presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia. On the other side the Ministry of Defense of the same Russian Federation escalates the situation in region by above- mentioned proclamations of "prevention". How, after such steps from the side of Russia, there can be any closeness and cooperation between countries? The words of Russian officials is not corresponding to their actions. As it is mentioned above, it turns out to outsider look that Russian military leadership is completely independent from the political leadership of their country and is making opposing actions to the words of their political leaders. But maybe this is just a visibility, which is maintained in order to make others to believe in "innocence" of top leaders of the state.
This fact of mismatch between policies of different Russian official circles is noticed by Timothy L. Thomas and John Shull in their article "Russian national interests and the Caspian sea". They accept that "Russian leaders recognize that US and Turkish influence has increased greatly and that these countries now threaten Russian interests in the Caspian." But at the same time they note that "strangely, however, there appears to be no singular, coordinated Russian policy pursued in this region. Rather, different ministries are pursuing different policies."
ARMENIAN FACTOR IN AZERBAIJAN-RUSSIAN RELATIONS (DAGLIG GARABAGH QUESTION)
Russia has in this region a loyal ally - Armenia, which always represents here Russian interests. Using Armenia as counterweight and irritator in region, Russia is trying to maintain control over Azerbaijan and cut it of USA's ally in region - Turkey.
Armenia which, unlike Azerbaijan, does not possess any rich energetic and other resources, within USSR was always supported materially by Moscow. And it is natural that Armenia would be happy to return to "the warm place" in the hands of "elder brother" - Russia, and it is naturally that in this country nostalgic memories are more strong than in Azerbaijan for example, because Armenia has got exhausted economy and immigrating population. And it is not occasional that in Armenia there are great support to left-wing parties by population, such as communist parties and others.
This country declares to whole world that Azerbaijan and Turkey is keeping it in blockade but it is clear that Armenia is keeping itself in blockade by unleashing a war against Azerbaijan and making provocative steps toward Turkey in the question of so-called "armenian genocide". And it is natural that Armenia was left aside of all regional transit ways and other projects. They want to participate in all projects in the region, especially oil ones, and at the same time don't want to go to any compromise in the question of settlement of Daglig Garabagh conflict. That would ensure the peace and stability in region and at the same time future benefits for Armenian people. This is one of the peculiarities of two-faced character of Armenian policy, and their way of thinking in general. That can be shown also in the foreign policy of that country which is maintained in two opposing directions: Russian and Western. Sometimes they have difficulties in choosing, when faced with the concrete choice - either-or, and don't want to give up any side.
In Daglig Garabagh question almost all argumentation which is used by Armenian scientists when referring to historical facts, is based on falsification and firmly speaking on adorning of this facts. This scientists are always trying to create an image of suffering nation, which everyone in the world is offending and hurting, and therefore everything what is done from their side is in the purpose of self-defense and protection from hostile neighbors. That concerns also above-mentioned so-called "armenian genocide" question and Daglig Garabagh conflict. But the reality is that Armenian state on the territory on which is now situated in Caucasus, was created in 19th century on Azerbaijani territory by Russian empire. The policy of creating future ethnic conflicts maintained by Russian Empire and USSR, as its successor, brought to such situation, when nations which were living here together for many years are now perceiving each other as enemies.
It is clear to everyone that Russia is standing behind the Daglig Garabagh conflict. Without any material and military support of Russia, Armenia could never maintain such a war in Daglig Garabagh and capture the territory of Azerbaijan Republic. Russian soldiers and fighters of OMON - Russian special purpose forces, are openly talking on Moscow television about their fighting merits got in Daglig Garabagh, Abkhazia and other "hot points" of former Soviet Union. Naturally emerges question: what were they doing in this "points"? And the answer emerges, too. They were protecting interests of definite groupings which is taking their source in Russian special services - well-known KGB. And after all of this Russia is a participant of peaceful settlement process of the conflict, being the co-chairman of the Minsk group of OSCE, the group which is the initiator of negotiations between Azerbaijan and Armenia. At the same time with this "peacemaking activitites" Russia plays another role in region, strictly opposed to the first one. Russia is sending more and more arms to Armenia, explaining that with the need of supporting its only military base in Transcaucasia, which is based in Armenia.
Azerbaijan fairly expects the resolution of Daglig Garabagh conflict from Russia, because it is clear who spins out its resolution. Russian geopolitical scientist Alexander Dugin even doesn't try to hide it. He cynically offers to resolve this conflict peacefully for all sides if Azerbaijan would reject the current orientation in foreign policy and take the Russian one. Here is his own words: "With the possible change of orientation of Baku from Ankara to Tehran (and consequently to Moscow - P.T.)... the Daglig Garabagh question would be resolved very quickly... Otherwise, that is if Azerbaijan would keep its pro-Turkish orientation, this "country" (!- P.T.) would be a subject to division between Iran, Russia and Armenia." That is the perspective which Russian strategists are preparing for Azerbaijan. Not optimistic one for Azerbaijan. So, if Azerbaijan would not take our position then it would be divided. Very interesting point of view. Of course, one may argue that this is just a subjective opinion of one Russian scientist. But it cannot be doubted that in mind of any of top level militaristic official of Russia, this opinion is not occupying the last place, taking also into consideration that the advisors of Dugin to his book about geopolitics are high-rank officers from General Staff of Russian Federation.
CASPIAN ISSUE OF AZERBAIJAN-RUSSIAN RELATIONS
Another point of contact of Azerbaijan-Russian relations is the issue of Caspian Sea. For the last several years the question of the status of Caspian Sea could not be resolved by leaders of states located on its coast. The main problems which arise around this status is coming from big powers of the region - Russia and Iran. They are trying to delay the resolution of this dispute in order not to give Azerbaijan chance to get big profits from oil and gas fields which situates in its own national sector of the Caspian. And the problem is that there are a lot of variations of dividing or not dividing the sea and countries themselves several times changed their views. The main problem is whether to view the Caspian sea as a lake or as a sea. Because it would apply different norms of international law on this water reservoir. In this sense Russia's starting the construction of a navy base in Dagestan which is near Azerbaijani oil fields must be a signal for Azerbaijan. Russia has already a base in Astrakhan and this is enough to control all Caspian basin, but policy dictates its own conditions.
But the uncertainty which is created by the Caspian status problem in basin is not disturbing Azerbaijan to begin the exploitation of oil and gas resources in its part of the shelf. Thus, Azerbaijan is realizing one of the most significant and great oil projects of 20th century in this region. And naturally Russia is disturbed by that it is left aside of this projects. Very often Russian officials are accusing Azerbaijan in that more expensive western ways of oil transportation are chosen by Azerbaijan on the basis of political, but not economic motives. The main assumption is that there already exist northern routs, going through Russian territory and therefore more profitable for Russia. They claim that it is not effectively used and some agreements between countries are violated by Azerbaijani side. But they forget to note that this route is systematically sabotaged by Russia and less qualitative Russian oil is mixed with high quality Azerbaijani oil. Thus, the companies which buy this oil is getting not exactly that oil which they exploit in Baku. How they can talk about violation of some agreements in such case? It is also an interesting point of Russian policy.
This point is also viewed by US Senator Sam Brownback in his article "US economic and strategic interests in the Caspian Sea region: policies and implications". He notes that "Russia has clear and natural economic and commercial stakes in the region and should be encouraged to recognize these interests. Involving Russia in the economic development and success of the region will also help the Russian economy prosper... At the moment, however, Russia is blurring the distinction between influence in the region and interest in the region..." He also notes that leaders of Russia is calling " on Russian security organs to find 'ways and means' to 'counterbalance' (read undermine) US 'intervention' in the region." That are clear examples of disruptive statements and activities in which Russian leadership is engaged in region. All this activities is directed not to allow Azerbaijan and other Caspian littoral countries independently exploit their energetic resources.
In conclusion, I want to consider the possible scenarios of future dimensions of Azerbaijan-Russian relations. In turns out that there are probably three basic directions, which Azerbaijan may choose in its policy toward Russia.
The first can be seen as realization of dreams of such Russian strategists, like above-mentioned Dugin. Russia would restore its influence, control over its former satellites and would "swallow" all of them, including Azerbaijan. Or Azerbaijani leadership would itself try to make closer its relations with Russia. This can be as a response to the pressure of West according democratization of society in Azerbaijan, or a pro-Russian government would come to power, which is doubtful in view of Azerbaijani nation's unwilling of such a government. That point is closely discussed above.
The second perspective is realization of such American strategists' dreams, like Kissinger or Brzezinski. The USA would win the battle for domination in world and "the new world order" would be established. And Azerbaijan finally would become a completely loyal ally of Turkey and the USA in region.
And the last possible scenario is that Azerbaijan would continue its policy of formal cooperation with both sides and not joining any alliances. That is possible if the current state of "peaceful" balance between different poles of the world would remain in the future. And Azerbaijan could not become fully pro-Western or pro-Russian. But history shows us that such a balance cannot be long-lasting and cannot provide a basis for stability for foreseeable future. Sooner or later one side would be tempted to violate that balance.
In such case perspectives of normal, friendly Azerbaijan-Russian relations seem unreal and illusory, but, of course, not hopeless. If Russia would leave its old "invader" policy and pass to new policy of "equals", based on the principle of equal partners, and (the most important) would convince all other countries that have not so pleasant memories about relations with Russia, including Azerbaijan.
But in spite of it, we see that Russia is more and more falling into a state of aggression. What a impetuous change to 180 degrees made Russia in its policy during last ten years? This can be clearly seen on the example of president Yeltsin at the beginning and end of 90's. Romantically mooded and ready even "to give as much independence to its republics as they can take with them" at the beginning, and threatening by fist and accusing of the West at the end. How strong impulse is coming from the center of the Eurasian continent, according to "continentalist" theory of geopolitics, that such a "wonderful" transformation occurred during short period of time.
1. Timothy L. Thomas and John Shull, "Russian national interests and the Caspian sea", Perceptions, Vol. IV, No. 4, December 1999 - February 2000, p. 82-83.
2. Alexander Dugin, "Osnovi Geopolitiki", Moscow: Arctogaia center, 1999, p. 243.
3. Sam Brownback, "US economic and strategic interests in the Caspian Sea region: policies and implications", Caspian Crossroads, Fall 1997, Vol. 3, issue 2.
4. Gorkhmaz Askarov, "Border Games in the Caspian Sea: Newly Independent States vs. Russia and Iran Co.", Caspian Crossroads, Winter 1999, Vol. 4, issue 2.
5. Parviz Tahirov, "Rossiya: krukh ili vozrojdeniye?", http://www.tahirov.com
6. Parviz Tahirov, "Restoration of Azerbaijan's independence", http://www.tahirov.com
Copyright© by Parviz Tahirov
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