One was expecting breakthrough results from Vladimir Putin's visit to Azerbaijan. Putin arrived in the country in the company of six key ministers. However, nothing has been said either about the prospects of Azerbaijan's accession to the Customs Union, or the Eurasian integration. There are tense relations between Russia and Azerbaijan practically on all issues.
Putin previously visited Azerbaijan seven years ago. This time, he arrived together with the following ministers: Foreign Affairs Minister Sergey Lavrov, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, Energy Minister Alexandra Nowak, Emergency Situations Minister Vladimir Puchkov, Transport Minister Maxim Sokolov, Economic Development Minister Alexei Ulyukayev, as well as General Director of Rosoboronexport, Anatoly Isaikin, and the chairman of the Russian delegation on multilateral talks about the Caspian Sea, Igor Bratchikov. Putin was also accompanied by the head of Rosneft Igor Sechin and the head of Lukoil, Vagit Alekperov. This impressive list prompted serious discussions and results.
"The talks will not touch upon only the issues of military and technical cooperation. It will be a very serious discussion of the issues that may relate to Azerbaijan. Example, the state of affairs in the Caspian Sea with increased military activity, the Iranian issue, current events in the Middle East, and most importantly, the resolution of the Nagorno- Karabakh conflict. It's hard to think about the regulation of this conflict without Russia's participation," Rasim Musabekov told News.az on the eve of Putin's visit.
However, the serious faces of the presidents of the two countries at the press conference and insignificant results of the meeting showed that a constructive dialogue failed to take place. The only contract that was signed was the one between Rosneft and the Azerbaijani state oil company SOCAR about joint venture on a parity basis.
Rosneft and SOCAR have agreed to cooperate in the field of marketing and sales of hydrocarbons and petroleum products, as well as about sharing a number of infrastructure projects, such as pipelines and terminals. "Within the scope of this agreement, we plan to collaborate on a number of issues, including swap transactions and the joint use of infrastructure," told the chairman of the board of Rosneft, Igor Sechin.
But even here, it will be difficult to negotiate. In Azerbaijan, Western oil companies dominate - BP, Statoil and Exxon Mobil. Azerbaijan creates competition for Russian gas companies in Europe and enjoys full understanding there. Azerbaijan does not want to transport its oil and gas through Russian pipelines, and agreed to supply most of its gas to the new Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) in Europe from 2019.
"As for pipeline games, our country share different interests at this point. Azerbaijan is interested in supplying energy along the shortest route to Europe and it is looking for such ways. Russian, certainly, doesn't like it, but that's not a separation barrier - that's competition," Vladimir Zharikhin, deputy director of the Institute of CIS countries told Pravda.Ru.
Zharikhin added that one should not expect a breakthrough on the Karabakh issue, since it is only possible on the trilateral basis with the participation of Armenia. This is a fair assertion, however, it is difficult to say, on which direction Putin was expecting to reach progress with Azerbaijan. Probably it goes about the incorporation into the Eurasian Association and the Customs Union. Thus, the director of the Center for Political Studies, Elkhan Shakhinoglu, believes that "Putin has two suggestions to Ilham Aliyev. Azerbaijan should become a member of the Eurasian Association and the Customs Union - the brainchild of the official Kremlin. Putin does not want Azerbaijan to become a sphere of influence of the West. Russia wants Azerbaijan to advocate Russian interests in the Southern Caucasus," the analyst told "REX" news agency.
Azerbaijan has long staked on strategic partnership with the United States, which Azerbaijani Defense Minister emphasized on August 14th at a meeting with the commander of the National Guard of the State of Oklahoma (USA), Major General Myles Deering. This partnership confirms the role of Baku as an important logistics center for the transit of cargoes to Afghanistan, plus there is U.S. military presence on the territory of Azerbaijan.
Baku also makes attempts to create a military alliance with Ankara and Tbilisi. A deputy of Milli Majlis, a member of the Parliamentary Committee on Defence and Security of Azerbaijan, Zakhid Orudzh, stated that Azerbaijan and Turkey had started to create a unified army on NATO standards in the context of "one nation, one army." In turn, Georgian Defense Minister Irakli Alasania said that the efforts "of Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey will focus on creating a trilateral format of cooperation in the military industry," Trend news agency said.
In this context, Azerbaijan's initiatives to purchase Russian arms would be the only possible way for military and strategic cooperation. However, such initiatives are sporadic and are primarily focused on the replacement of obsolete small arms. Nevertheless, even these insignificant transactions cause a storm of protest in Armenia, Russia's ally in the Collective Security Treaty Organization.
The causes of cold attitude of Azeri President Aliyev to Putin's initiatives to strengthen integration are connected with Kremlin's possible backdoor participation in the upcoming October presidential election, as people say in Azerbaijan. Azeri analysts see writer Rustam Ibragimbekov, who holds dual citizenship, as Putin's candidate.
Not that long ago, Ibragimbekov was unanimously elected as a single candidate from all opposition parties that had united in the National Council of Democratic Forces. "Our authorities are very concerned in this regard. Therefore, Putin's visit is highly important. This is an indication of the fact that even if there were discrepancies between the leaderships of Azerbaijan and Russia, these problems have been resolved," Azerbaijani political scientist Natig Dzhafarli said in an interview with Radio Liberty.
Is it really so?
After Putin's visit to Azerbaijan, there where more questions left than answers. The most important one of them is whether Azerbaijan is a partner of Russia, or does it follow the West in politics? In spite of the fact that the relationship between Azerbaijan and Armenia remains uneasy, and Armenia is a military ally of Russia (as part of the Collective Security Treaty Organization), the relations with Azerbaijan remain at quite a good level, including commercial relations.
"Both the Russian Federation and Azerbaijan, being oil-producing countries, have common interests. They do not like energy packages proposed by the European Union. The positions on the problem of the Caspian Sea are alike too, in contrast to those of Turkmenistan and Iran. There are points of conflict, and there are points of contact," Zharikhin told Pravda.Ru. Well, if that is a perspective, then it it is not for the delegation that Putin brought to Azerbaijan.