By Claude Salhani - Trend:
The story told is that when God asked St. Patrick to travel to Ireland in order to convert the inhabitants to Christianity, St. Patrick initially refused, saying that the island was inhabited by snakes.
''If you don't go I will give you bad neighbors," God is reported to have said.
This can also be said of Azerbaijan when it comes to Armenia.
Recent history between the two south Caucasus nations is rather negative to say the least. Putting aside the bad blood that has developed after Armenia acted aggressively at the break up of the Soviet Union and occupied the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, raided villages and towns slaughtering civilians, the ongoing state of no conflict but no peace either is in fact quite provocative and the risk remains of the conflict erupting into a renewed round of violence.
The Azerbaijani Ministry of Defense reports say Armenian troops are attacking Azerbaijani positions almost every day; and on some days, more than once killing soldiers guarding the front lines.
But right up there next to the importance of having good neighbors comes the importance of having good friends, of which Azerbaijan has quite a few. Not only are they good friends, but they are good influential friends. As is the case with Kazakhstan.
For example, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev has clearly emphasized his country's position regarding the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. President Nazarbayev asked his Armenian counterpart to comply with the UN principles concerning the officially recognized borders before joining the Customs Union. President Nazarbayev reiterated support for the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan.
Indeed, as Azerbaijan has been struggling to remind the international community of its ongoing efforts to reclaim Nagorno-Karabakh, today still occupied by Armenia, the Azerbaijani president has been actively working behind the scenes garnishing among friends, seeking support for his country's cause.
A story that appeared in the Azerbaijani media on Wednesday citing Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who while a visit to Azerbaijan was quoted as saying that Armenia is to be accepted into the Eurasian Economic Unit, however it would be the Armenia recognized by the UN. Meaning that the occupied territories would not be included as part of Armenia.
"Armenia's decision to join the Eurasian Customs Union should come as no surprise," said Martin Sieff, senior analyst with The Globalist in Washington, DC and an expert on Russia and the former Soviet space.
"Economically, Armenia is almost totally dependent on Russia," Mr. Sieff told Trend.
Indeed, politically and strategically Armenia has consistently looked to Russia for protection. Since the collapse of communism Yerevan has been a loyal member of the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO).
Russia is still very present in the region more so in some countries than in others.
It would have been perhaps a tad advantageous if the United States maintained better relations with Moscow. But Washington and Western European allies continue to treat Russia as an outcast.
"It is extraordinary that U.S. policymakers continue to ignore their need to restore a constructive dialogue with Russia," said Sieff.
The position of U.S. ambassador to Moscow remains vacant several months now since Michael MacFaul's sudden departure.
"That is a condition that never happened once during the entire Cold War," pointed out the Washington analyst.
Lavrov made the remarks at a briefing in Baku after a meeting with his Azerbaijani counterpart, Elmar Mammadyarov.
"Integration processes are taking place in the territories of the countries included in the Customs Union. Nagorno-Karabakh is not one of them, but it is a subject of negotiations, which are conducted on the basis of agreed principles," the minister said.
Lavrov also said Armenia has previously stated that it is taking part in these integration processes within the UN-recognized borders.
The conflict between the two South Caucasus countries began in 1988 when Armenia made territorial claims against Azerbaijan.
As a result of the ensuing war, in 1992 Armenian armed forces occupied 20 percent of Azerbaijan, including the Nagorno-Karabakh region and seven surrounding districts.
The two countries signed a ceasefire agreement in 1994. The co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group, Russia, France and the U.S. are currently holding peace negotiations.
In other words - or rather in political parlance -- this is Russia telling Armenia that Moscow does not recognize Armenia's occupation of the territories in question and that it backs Baku's claim.
Armenia has not yet implemented the U.N. Security Council's four resolutions on the liberation of the Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding regions.
It would appear that Azerbaijan not only has bad neighbors but that those neighbors live in a rough part of town.
Claude Salhani is senior editor at Trend Agency in Baku and a political analyst specializing in the Middle East, Central Asia and terrorism. You can follow him on Twitter @claudesalhani
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