Baku, Azerbaijan, Nov. 13
Martin Sieff exclusively for Trend
Concerns that Russia may have aggressive designs on Azerbaijan appear to be greatly exaggerated. Russian President Vladimir Putin has made no secret of his goal of strengthening and re-expanding Russian influence with most of the independent former Soviet republics of the "near abroad" region. However, in the 15 years that Putin has held power in the Kremlin, as a thrice elected president and an appointed prime minister, his pattern of negotiating preferred relationships with neighboring and former Soviet states has always been consistent.
Russia launched a limited invasion of Georgia in 2008 and in 2014 it has outraged the European Union by encouraging and supporting the secession from Ukraine first of Crimea and then of the two eastern Ukrainian provinces of Donetsk and Lugansk.
However in both these cases the Kremlin was reacting to a clear, indeed dramatic tilt by governments, or change of governments, in regions that has historically been part of the Russian state for more than 200 years, but had fallen into the hands of leaders openly and fiercely hostile to Russia.
The Ukrainian interventions did not set off the current civil war and crisis, they were reactions to the crucial event which did -- the toppling of the democratically-elected government of President Viktor Yanukovych on February 21-22 and its replacement with a fiercely anti-Russian regime which lost no time sending its own armed forces in an unsuccessful attempt to repress secessionist forces in the two eastern provinces.
The pattern of setting up secessionist breakaway regions in the Caucasus from Transdnistria in Moldova to South Ossetia and Abkhazia in Georgia, and support for the Armenian-backed Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan was established not by Putin but by the Russian military operating under Russian President Boris Yeltsin back right after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Putin has been strongly supportive of these breakaway regions, but he has only resorted to the expedient of armed force when they were or appeared to be threatened. In general, for 15 years he sought to re-establish and maintain Russian influence by conventional diplomatic and economic means and through such organizations as the Eurasian Economic Union.
Currently, Russia is sending reassuring signals to Azerbaijan.
Russian parliamentarians Igor Morozov and Tatiana Moskalkova told Vestnik Kavkaza on November 12 that relations between Russia and Azerbaijan were instead "experiencing a high point," according to the report.
"The abundance of formats of bilateral cooperation testifies to the rise of Russian and Azerbaijani relations today. There is cooperation on the basis of groups of friendship and on the basis of commissions," it said.
Currently, Russia is preoccupied by the cost of supporting Crimea, and by the continuing widespread military clashes in eastern Ukraine. Economic sanctions imposed by the European Union and the United States have imposed new strains on the domestic Russian economy. With so much on its plate, the last thing the Russian government needs now is to set off a new wave of Western outrage by attacking a major nation, especially a Muslim one, in the Caucasus.
The key guideline for Azerbaijan's leaders in their dealings with Moscow is that Russia remains reactive in its dealings with Baku and other former Soviet republics.
For Baku, keeping a cool head and dealing constructively and cooperatively with Moscow remains the best policy.
Martin Sieff is a national correspondent for the Post-Examiner online newspapers in the United States and a senior fellow of the American University in Moscow.