Moscow, Russia – Russia’s attitude towards Georgia, Turkey, Armenia to the West block in which it led the quest to break from Russia. Russia showed its diplomatic flexibility with the signal that it can improve relations with Azerbaijan.

On September 16, 2008, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev paid a one-day visit to Russia at the invitation of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. During this visit, which took place in the shadow of the Russian-Georgian War, it is thought that important negotiations were made between the parties. Russia, which gave important messages to the states of the region with the Georgian War, expected some steps beyond support from Azerbaijan. Issues such as Nagorno-Karabakh, energy projects and Azerbaijan’s foreign policy options were discussed at the meeting. Medvedev declared Russia’s request from Azerbaijan with the statement “Russia and Azerbaijan should adjust the time”. In other words, Russia openly called on Azerbaijan to act jointly. This meant seeking support against energy projects that would bypass Russia and against NATO’s eastward expansion. On the other hand, Azerbaijan sought support from Russia for its territorial integrity.

Although the separatist Nagorno-Karabakh region is an internal problem of Azerbaijan, the problem cannot be solved within the country, making the Nagorno-Karabakh issue the focus of the regional struggle of regional and global powers. Russia’s support to Armenia and the increase of Russia’s influence in the South Caucasus after the Georgian War complicates the solution of the issue without Russia. Russia, who wants to maximize this gain, has some “counter expectations” for the “solution” of the problems.

One of the most important issues in the Aliyev-Medvedev meeting was undoubtedly Nagorno-Karabakh. With the intergovernmental agreement signed between the two states during Medvedev’s visit to Azerbaijan on July 4, Russia recognized the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, and Russia should not have doubted its attitude with this agreement. However, Russia’s role in the past of the Nagorno-Karabakh “problem” showed that this agreement was not enough. Especially after the Russian-Georgian War, Russia’s recognition of the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Azerbaijan, “Would the same scenario be repeated for Nagorno-Karabakh?” raised the question. In response to this, the Russian Federation Ambassador to Azerbaijan Vasili Istratov said, “Russia recognizes the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan” and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said, “There is no parallel between South Ostia and Abkhazia and Nagorno-Karabakh. Russia will continue its mediation for the solution of the problems in the CIS space within the framework of existing agreements and international law ”, while their statements relieved Azerbaijan, they caused criticism in Armenia. After the Russian-Georgian War, war discourses have noticeably lost their importance in Azerbaijan. After the war, Azerbaijan’s statements highlighting the dialogue were a result Russia wanted. At the press conference held after the meeting between the two presidents, Medvedev’s statement that Russia will help in the solution of the problem indicates that Russia has entered a new era in Nagorno-Karabakh policy. If Medvedev’s statement is supported with concrete steps, a new era will be opened in Russia’s Nagorno-Karabakh policy.

The Georgian-Russian War accelerated the resolution process of the Nagorno-Karabakh “problem”. After this war, Russia, like the USA and the EU, increased its emphasis on the solution of the issue as soon as possible, and also started to underline the statements that Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity would be supported. At the same time, mediation initiatives have accelerated and everyone emphasized that the problem should be resolved as soon as possible. After this war, hopes for a solution of the “problem” increased in Armenia and Azerbaijan as well. The economy and energy projects came to the fore rather than the war regarding the solution of Nagorno-Karabakh, and the parties were more careful when explaining their positions on the problem. Despite the deepening efforts of the parties to put an end to the Armenian occupation, the West and Russia continued their work at the individual level. Especially after the Russian-Georgian War, the unilateral visits of the representatives of the Minsk Group co-chair countries raised the suspicions about the existence of the Minsk Group. After the group’s US representative, Mety Bryza, French co-chair Bernard Fasye visited the region individually. Bryza said that the danger to the Minsk Group’s existence stems from Moscow’s disingenuous attitude towards territorial integrity. During Ilham Aliyev’s visit to Moscow, Medvedev declared that the parties should solve the problem through bilateral negotiations and did not emphasize the Minsk Group, causing the comment that Russia was not in favor of the continuation of the Minsk Group. This statement can also be evaluated as Russia’s effort to keep the USA away from the solution of regional problems. Azerbaijan and Armenia, parties of the “problem”, declared that they support the continuation of the Minsk Group.

Not being able to find a solution to the “problem” despite its 16 years of activity, the disagreement of the co-chair states during the Russian-Georgian War, and the support of other regional states’ initiatives after the war raise doubts about the continuation of the Minsk Group’s mediation activity between Azerbaijan and Armenia. In this context, one of the questions whose answers are sought is the questions about the future of the Minsk Group. -Turkey States, Russia, Iran, USA, France- initiatives at the individual level suggests that now freeze the activities of the Minsk Group.

Russia’s expectation

Both as reflected in the press and the experiences gained from Russia-Moldova and Russia-Georgia relations showed that Russia did not support Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity. It is known that Russia has two important expectations from Azerbaijan in return for supporting the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. These expectations can be divided into two as the future of Azerbaijan-NATO relations and Azerbaijan’s position on the NABUCCO Project.

Russia, which does not want to involve NATO in its close circle, has shown that it can go to war on this issue in the Georgia war. In particular, the relations of Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia and Azerbaijan with NATO, which they define as the neighboring countries, worry Russia. Because Russia opposes the membership of the said countries to the organization by using all the tools it has at every opportunity. In this context, the separatist regions left from the Soviet Union became a great obstacle for Russia against countries that wanted to join NATO. Ignoring this, Georgia seems to have paid the price by losing Abkhazia and South Ossetia for now. Russia, which squeezes Ukraine with the Crimea region consisting mostly of Russians and energy trump cards, is tightening Moldova through Trans-Dnyester and Azerbaijan through Nagorno-Karabakh. Russia first signaled in Moldova that these countries will not support the separatist regions if they give up NATO. According to some experts, although Russia recognizes the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, if Georgia gives up its NATO membership, it may change its attitude towards the separatist regions. After the Medvedev-Aliyev meeting, comments that Russia could support Azerbaijan in response to NATO on the Nagorno-Karabakh issue gained weight.

During the Aliyev-Medvedev meeting, on September 16, Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammedyarov visited his headquarters in Brussels and met with NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer. Memmedyarov gave information about the reforms realized by Azerbaijan within the framework of IPAP and expressed his satisfaction with the level of cooperation between the parties. During the meeting, a meeting was held on energy security. The fact that this meeting coincided with the Aliyev-Medvedev meeting was an important development and showed that Azerbaijan will not give up its cooperation with the other side in order to please one side. However, the Azerbaijani officials saying that they do not have a final goal such as membership to NATO and the USA’s rejection of military base demands are welcomed by Russia. Russia also showed its trust in Azerbaijan while making its proposal that Gebele Base can be used jointly with the USA. Nevertheless, Russia wants to see Azerbaijan by its side, worrying that the situation in the region will change after the possible membership of Ukraine and Georgia. Although Baku takes Moscow’s concerns into consideration in Azerbaijan-NATO relations, it seeks to maintain its relations with the organization in order not to lose its NATO trump card completely. However, it is still unclear at what level it will continue its relations with NATO after IPAP.

Azeri factor at NABUCCO

Regional projects that disable Russia do not only mean energy and economic loss for Russia. These projects are the ones that cause the source and route states to break away from Russia and the West to settle more in these regions. Unwilling to accept the geopolitical changes caused by the projects in the region, Russia is faced with another project problem like NABUCCO, while trying to transform projects such as BTC and BTE, which it cannot prevent from being made, into a “hollow pipe pile”. If NABUCCO is realized, Russia may lose its influence not only on South Caucasus energy resources but also on Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan energy resources. The realization of the project will not only change the regional balance further to the detriment of Russia, but will also reduce Europe’s dependence on Russian natural gas, and Russia may have to bear the political consequences of this. Therefore, the NABUCCO project is an energy project with political goals beyond its economy for the parties. The Russian-Georgian War accelerated efforts to realize the NABUCCO project.

Azerbaijan is one of the key countries in the realization of this project in terms of both route and source. For this reason, the hard struggle between the EU, the USA and Russia for the support of Azerbaijan continues. In this struggle, Azerbaijan seeks to maximize its profits by involving its own interests. Although the USA and the European countries that support the project cannot ensure the participation of Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan in the project for now, they plan to fill NABUCCO with Azerbaijani natural gas. Russia, on the other hand, wants to prevent Azerbaijan from participating in the project with its counter offers.

Russia, trying to prevent Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan from participating in the project, previously offered these two countries to purchase natural gas at world market price. In June 2008, Russia’s Gazprom company made the same offer to Azerbaijan in the form of purchasing all its natural gas at world market price, and this offer was made again during Medvedev’s visit to Azerbaijan on July 4. After the Russian-Georgian War, after the US Vice President Dick Cheney’s visit to Azerbaijan, the Russian press wrote that Azerbaijan does not support NABUCCO and will sell all its gas to Russia. This news has not been confirmed by Azerbaijani officials, and Azerbaijani Industry and Energy Minister Natik Aliyev declared that Azerbaijan supports NABUCCO. On the other hand, it was also stated in the news that negotiations for gas purchase between Gazprom and Azerbaijan are still ongoing. Since energy is the mirror of Azerbaijani foreign policy, Azerbaijan wants to keep the balance in this matter. Azerbaijan, which does not want to be dependent on a single route, on the one hand wants to diversify the route, on the other hand, is stuck between the expectations of the West and Russia.

Availability of demands

Gazprom’s proposal to Azerbaijan in the field of natural gas does not appear to be an offer Baku can accept. Russia is looking for a common formula that will satisfy both sides. Because selling all the natural gas it exports to Russia at market price does not seem appropriate not only in terms of Azerbaijan’s relations with the West but also in terms of its own interests. It was seen that Baku considers the pipelines not only economically but also politically and strategically, as in the example of Baku-Supsa and Baku-Novorossisk, route diversification and BTC and BTE. Therefore, it is not thought that Azerbaijan will make a strategic mistake by selling all of its natural gas to Russia, which will make itself and its Western allies dependent on Russia, whose record in energy is not clear. Finding a formula that will satisfy the parties regarding natural gas can reduce the pressure of Moscow on Baku.

Since Azerbaijan has announced long before that it will not be a member of NATO, it is not thought that there may be a problem between the parties. Azerbaijan can also please the parties by keeping its relations with NATO at the top level – peace operation, counter-terrorism cooperation, scientific, nuclear and chemical weapons proliferation, etc.

Whether Russia will support Azerbaijan in the Nagorno-Karabakh issue is the hardest question to answer. It will be difficult for Russia to choose between Armenia, which it defines as its ally in the South Caucasus on the one hand, and Azerbaijan, on the other. Any mistake to be made in this regard may harm Russia’s effectiveness in the South Caucasus. Russia can withdraw its concrete support to Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh and leave the parties alone for a solution. This attitude of Russia will also cause the solution of fundamental problems in Russia-Azerbaijan relations.

While other states that gained their independence from the USSR are defined as pro-Russian or pro-Western, the balanced foreign policy strategy followed is one of the most important features that distinguish Azerbaijan from these states. Aware that being a pro-power creates dependency for a country that has gained its new independence and that it will draw the reaction of the third party, Azerbaijani governments have endeavored to pursue a balanced foreign policy between global and regional powers since the time of Heydar Aliyev. Even though this balance policy succeeded in Azerbaijan’s foreign policy, it sometimes exposed the country to pressure from both sides. In this case, although he had difficulty maintaining the balance, he did not give up on this strategy. Although Azerbaijan plans to overcome the regional changes caused by the Russian-Georgian War with the least damage, the calculations of the global powers make it difficult to maintain this balance.