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U.S. sanctions against Azerbaijan: a sign that “oil age” is over

The reports that the United States is going to impose large-scale sanctions against some high-ranking Azerbaijani officials, businessmen, special service agents, judges and financiers have surprised many experts. One of them, political analyst Mikhail Delyagin, has told haggin.az that it was a strange turn in the U.S. policy.

They in Baku see the “U.S. Armenian lobby” behind this as well as the wish of some political circles in America to punish the Azerbaijanis for their good relations with Moscow and independent internal and external policies.

Rosbalt has given several reasons why the Americans might want to punish Azerbaijan: “Azerbaijan gave its sky to the Russian military planes flying to Syria, Azerbaijan refused to join the West’s anti-Russian sanctions, Azerbaijan may join the Eurasian Economic Union, Azerbaijan signed an agreement prohibiting foreign military force in the Caspian Sea, Azerbaijan has own “separate” relations with Turkey, Azerbaijan has blocked the work of many foreign NGOs, Azerbaijan is suspected of having given Russian the final say in the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process. Besides, the Americans may simply wish to create a belt of instability around Russia.”

In 2014, the United States were very critical of Azerbaijan’s decisions to close the local offices of Radio Liberty and the OSCE. In an interview to Turan former U.S. Ambassador Richard Kauzlarich said that U.S.-Azerbaijani relations have never been as bad as they are today. In the summer 2015, he said that the key reason for that was Ilham Aliyev, who first wished to become a partner to the United States but then was disappointed with the Americans’ persistence in imposing democracy in is country and criticizing him for human rights violations. According to Kauzlarich, U.S. President Barack Obama has done nothing so far to improve Azerbaijan’s international image. He does not even have a photo of his handshake with the Azerbaijani president.

And the Americans are not alone in their wish to punish Azerbaijan. The Congress’s punitive bill against Azerbaijan has coincided with the Council of Europe’s decision to see if Azerbaijan is implementing the European Convention on Human Rights. According to CE Secretary General Thorbjorn Jagland, the Azerbaijani authorities use the convention arbitrarily – mostly when they want to make opposition silent or to limit the freedom of speech. So, Jagland is going to send his envoys to Baku so they get explanations from the Azerbaijani leaders. Jagland is strong concerned that people in Azerbaijan have no right to speak and regards this as a very serious violation. So, if the United States decides to apply sanctions against Azerbaijan – and if they do, the European Union will be the next to follow suit. Human rights violations are not a sufficient ground for sanctions but the Americans just need a pretext.

The Americans have closely cooperated with the Azerbaijanis for over 20 years already. The latter have given lots of pretexts for being punished throughout this period but the Americans have never considered any sanctions against them. On the contrary, they were strongly committed to make Azerbaijan their key energy partner. But dual standards are the pivot of the Americans’ policy. So, it is quite normal that today they may decide to apply sanctions against Aliyev and to improve relations with Berdymukhamedov and Karimov. For the last two the time of sanctions may come tomorrow. For Lukashenko it is now the time of no sanctions. A very simply policy, isn’t it?

We all know how many big energy projects the West has financed in Azerbaijan so far. The list includes the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline, the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum gas pipeline and the Baku-Akhalkalaki-Kars railway. And now the Congress is considering a bill that may prohibit any energy contacts with Azerbaijan. By the way, this year Azerbaijan’s energy sector has already faced a 21% cut in foreign investments.

This approach is part of some global tendencies. Today lots of international and Russian experts suggest that in the next 20-30 years the world will develop innovative new type fuels. Modern energy production and management technologies will be gradually moving from developed to developing economies. This is expected to lower energy intensify in the world. Recently the UN Secretary General appeared with a call on the UN nations to take measures to improve energy efficiency and to halve the energy intensify of the global GDP by 2050. Europe has already started to transit from conventional to innovative fuels. In Germany, renewables account for 1/3 of all sources, in Sweden for 2/3. This tendency is already covering the other EU nations and is expected to go further to developing countries. In this light, more and more experts are warning that the age of oil is over. So, it was not a surprise when President Obama decided to lift the ban on oil exports from the United States.

The Americans see that in some 20-25 years oil will no longer be the core of the global economy. So, they want to get as much as possible from it. 

In this light, the Azerbaijanis are turning from a strategic partner into an undesirable rival. This is why one of the sanctions suggests blocking Azerbaijan’s access to the IMF, the World Bank and the EBRD – a measure that will limit its energy export capacities.

It seems that the Americans are not afraid that this all can make Azerbaijan closer with Russia – even if Azerbaijan joins the Eurasian Economic Union, on the energy market it will continue being a rival for Russia.

Haqqin.az warns that Azerbaijan may face a long unfair war against one of the strongest powers in the world. We all understand that the United States is not going to war against Azerbaijan but may well plot some military-political complications. No coincidence that one of the sanctions suggests restoring the 907th amendment to the Freedom Support Act – a provision limiting U.S. military assistance to Azerbaijan in view of its aggressive attitude towards Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh. In 2001, George Bush froze the amendment so as to be able to cooperate with the Azerbaijanis in the field of security. If now the amendment is restored, Azerbaijan may lose its last hope to fight Nagorno-Karabakh back.

One of the co-chairs’ proposals is to organize a referendum on the status of Nagorno-Karabakh. Everybody knows what results this referendum will have. U.S. sanctions may speed up this process. The only alternative for the Azerbaijanis here will be a new war against the Armenians. For the Americans this could become a pretext to take Azerbaijan out of the list of the world’s key energy suppliers.

Guy Borisov, EADaily’s political analyst  

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