The state visit of Geidar Aliyev, the President of Azerbaijan, to Russia dissipated the shadow of distrust that had appeared between the two countries. At least this is what Russian observers say. Yet there is a tangible if background presence of Turkey in the relationship, nothing too simple about it. One couldn't but wonder why the face of the President of Russia caught by the cameras during a meeting on domestic and foreign policies in the Kremlin was anything but complacent. The visit of the head of Azerbaijan to Russia began on January 24. As he walked off the gangway at the airport, he was met by Mikhail Kasyanov, the Prime Minister of Russia. Observers see this as a sign of very high importance to Moscow of the relationship with this Caspian former Soviet republic.
Geidar Aliyev visited the Putins at home, was received in the St. George Hall in the Kremlin and talked with the President of Russia eye-to-eye later to be joined by the ministers. Still later, President Aliyev had a press conference where he gave his rather optimistic assessment of relations between Moscow and Baku, underlining the special personal role of Vladimir Putin who filled the words 'heading for strategic partnership' with actual content.
News media busily discuss the signing, during Mr. Aliyev's visit, of a number of documents reportedly reflecting a true progress in the bilateral relationship. The greatest significance is rightfully given to the agreement on the status of Russia's radar installation in Gabala, Azerbaijan, and the never before expressed preparedness of Russia to consider her participation in the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline project.
Really, the significance to Russia of the radar installation in Gabala is hard to overestimate, the radar beams reaching as far as the Gulf of Persia. That is truly the region where the key issues of all future world order are being determined. A great variety of players are in a great hurry to assure themselves a place on the Persian game field because who is late is out. This is to say that the area has become the focus of the greatest geopolitical tension.
There is oil involved in the game and the price of failure is extremely high. The construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, which was initially intended to circumvent Russia while transporting Caspian oil and which attracts a lot of interest on the part of many, including, or shall we say - primarily the U.S., is a pitch in that very same ballgame.
Commenting on this aspect of the talks between Russia and Azerbaijan, the Srana.Ru website referred, by the way, to 'official Azerbaijani sources' in saying, 'Recently, Richard Cheney, the U.S. Vice-President, stated that the U.S. was prepared to invest $2.5 milliard in the Baku-Ceyhan project. When commenting on this, Natig Aliyev, the head of the State Oil Company of the Azerbaijani Republic (SOCAR), said, ' The statement made by Mr. Cheney, the U.S. Vice-President, came as another instance of the political support for the construction of this pipeline. I do not believe he would say this unless supported by financial institutions'. There was something else in the statement Natig Aliyev made on the day President Geydar Aliyev arrived in Moscow. He said, 'We believe that all issues concerning the financing of the construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline will be settled before this coming summer'. (www.rusenergy.com) So seemingly, there is a good reason to celebrate the obvious success of the Russian-Azerbaijani talks. The only thing that still stays the celebration is the doubt as to the glistening coin of the diplomatic success having no reverse side. And this doubt is in no little way connected with Turkey.
Early in December, while speculating about the possible outcome of the announced visit of Geydar Aliyev to Moscow, analysts wondered if the two Presidents would be able to come to terms as concerns the radar installation in Gabala. Some said, 'Baku may agree to Moscow's demands as to the radars while the latter may remove its objections as to Turkish military bases in Azerbaijan'. (Strana.Ru) Incidentally, Turkey has been long trying to sign security cooperation agreements with Azerbaijan and Georgia. Some news agencies even said the exact addresses were known of Turkish military bases to be deployed in Azerbaijan soon. The places named were Baku and Kurdamir. Whether the agreement as to radars in Gabala is just the tip of an iceberg and whether Turkish military bases are truly about to be deployed in Azerbaijan, we will know soon. However, news media are reporting that Russian-Turkish consultations at the level of ambassadors were held in Moscow, with much less noise, exactly on the first day of the visit of Azerbaijani President. All the Foreign Ministry of Russia said about the agenda was 'certain agreements have been reached, concerning the furthering of cooperation between our two countries as goes struggle against terrorism'.
On January 26 a delegation of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Turkey arrived in Tbilisi for a four-day-long visit. News media report that it included the Head of the Logistics Service of the General Staff, the head of the Command Services and the Chief CO of the Planning. The delegation was received by the Minister of Defence and the head of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Georgia.
By the way, Turkey, the country so close to deploying her military bases in Azerbaijan, is a member of NATO. So what she does is, at the very least, approved by Washington. Also by the way, on January 10, President Bush signed an amendment suspending sanctions against Azerbaijan, approved by both chambers of the Congress. The U.S. further rescinds the ban against extending military assistance to Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia, although assuring there is no question yet of selling arms to them.
So why is it that the face of the President of Russia was anything but complacent while he discussed domestic and foreign policies at the meeting in the Kremlin?