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Guy Borisov: Ilham Aliyev is trying to sit on a “Turkish ottoman” and on a “Russian lavka” at one and the same time

Deputy Head of the Azerbaijani President’s Administration Novruz Mamedov said that it was not due to own strengths that Armenia was managing to retain Nagorno-Karabakh. “Armenia is decaying and not only Armenia but also the forces it relies on. Were it not for external support, we could close this chapter in some three months,” Mamedov said.

Obviously, he meant Russia. This fits well into Azerbaijan’s attitudes towards the Nagorno-Karabakh problem and Russia. It is not the first time that an Azerbaijani official blames Russia for “supporting” Armenia. For the first time such charges were voiced right after Azerbaijan’s loss in its war against the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic in 1994, when the Abulfaz Elchibey regime found it beyond its strength to admit its responsibility for the loss. Elchibey’s successor, charismatic Soviet-time leader Heydar Aliyev was strong enough to admit it and to sign a ceasefire treaty in Bishkek.

Unfortunately, Aliyev’s son, Ilham, has committed to oblivion much of what his father did and has not inherited any wisdom from him. As a result, his team keep talking about a new war and keep blaming Russia for supporting Armenia. But Mamedov’s words were too exotic even for them. It seems that he has forgotten that Russia is selling Azerbaijan lots of weapons (to the great displeasure of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh). So, it cannot be blamed for being prejudiced towards Azerbaijan. Yes, the Azerbaijani have long been criticizing the OSCE MG co-chairs for their inefficiency but this is the first time they said that they would not like to see Russia in the group. Their logic is clear: once Russia goes out of the group, they will solve this problem in just three months. So, can such a “prejudiced” country be neutral?

It seems that they in Baku would love to see Turkey in Russia’s place. In early Dec, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu visited Baku, where he said that Turkey would do its best to give Azerbaijan back the territories occupied by the Armenians. And he meant not only the territories around Nagorno-Karabakh.

This approach nullifies the mediators’ efforts to settle the conflict. But this is exactly what Azerbaijan wants. No coincidence that Aliyev assured his Turkish guest that in Turkey’s conflict with Russia Azerbaijan would always be on Turkey’s side.

Aliyev and Davutoglu paid lots of compliments to each other. And Mamedov’s words are a kind of a follow-up on their dialogue. They in Moscow could not but neglect such statements. Russia’s Ambassador to the OSCE Alexander Lukashevich called Davutoglu’s words “destructive.” “The Minsk Group have a number of members, including Turkey, but the key actors there are its co-chairs, Russia, France and the United States. So, any attempts to support just one of the parties to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict are destructive and unpromising,” Lukashevich said.

Mamedov’s words are also destructive – for by attempting to insult Russia by saying that it is decaying, they in Baku are increasing the risk of instability in the South Caucasus and a new war in Nagorno-Karabakh. And this also discredits Russia’s efforts to integrate the South Caucasus into its Eurasian Economic Union project – for why should “prosperous” Azerbaijan be partner to “decaying” Russia?

Mamedov’s words were a surprise for the Kremlin as officially Aliyev’s regime is trying to camouflage its antagonism against Russia and to maneuver between the roles of a “good neighbor” for Russia and a “loyal younger brother” for Turkey. But the longer Aliyev tries to sit on a “Turkish ottoman” and on a “Russian lavka” at one and the same time, the sooner he will lose his foreign political weight.

Guy Borisov, political analyst at EADaily

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