Last week, some mass media reported that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is planned to pay a visit to Azerbaijan in mid-February. This will be a special visit fundamentally differing from all the previous ones, considering the tensions in the relations of Russia and Turkey after the shoot down of the Russian warplane and the talks about possible direct military clash of the two countries.
The strain in the relations of Russia and Turkey after Turkish Air Force shot down Su-24 over Syria has affected the situation not only in the Middle East, but also in the territory of the South Caucasus. It is no secret that Turkey’s key ally in the South Caucasus is Azerbaijan, while Russia’s strategic partner is Armenia (Yerevan is a member of the Eurasian Economic Union and the Collective Security Treaty Organization).
Despite its allied relations with Ankara Baku has good relations with Moscow and it has not supported the West’s sanctions against Russia. Quite the contrary, Azerbaijan is increasing the commodity turnover with Russia and has even involved in the North-South Railway Project that will link the railways stretching from Russia up to India.
It is noteworthy that Azerbaijan’s president and some officials have repeatedly suggested mediating the talks between Moscow and Ankara, which means that this conflict is not favorable to Azerbaijan.
The political and military confrontation could not but spark economic conflict as well. Russia and Turkey have imposed sanctions on each other, which seriously affected businesses in both the countries. Russia closed its borders for Turkish freight forwarders, blocked the motor roads linking Turkey to Central Asia. The only alternative for Turkey is Azerbaijan – Baku has opened a corridor from Turkey to Central Asia over the Caspian Sea. Actually, the ports of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan have turned into transport hubs. In such situation, some Russian mass media have severely slammed Azerbaijan for helping Turkey.
Azerbaijan needs both Russia and Turkey
In a commentary to EADaily, political analyst Tofig Abbasov said Erdogan’s visit to Azerbaijan is mostly connected with the development of the Azerbaijani-Turkish relations and, among others, will cover the issues of strategic partnership. “The two countries’ ties keep expanding and covering more and more fields. Furthermore, third countries assume these relations. Turkey and Azerbaijan have always programmed their partnership and managed to achieve much in the fields of energy, transport and communications and others. The progressive relations of Baku and Ankara have noticeably animated the social and economic landscape of the Caucasus, re-created reliable infrastructures that ensure the energy safety of Europe,” the expert said.
In his words, the integration opportunities of these countries have not been exhausted yet. Baku and Ankara have opportunities to implement profitable regional projects, overcome the crisis tendencies and various social and economic difficulties that hamper their development.
“Other actors accept the strategic partnership of Azerbaijan and Turkey as an etalon of trust in relationships. Turkey is a strategic partner for Azerbaijan, while Russia is a neighbor of strategic importance. With Moscow Baku successfully settles bilateral issues, regional problems with a focus on the development of relations in the economic, cultural, and humanitarian fields. In this light, it is illogical to consider Baku’s relations with Moscow as an alternative to its relations with Turkey and the vice versa,” the analyst said.
Abbasov believes that Azerbaijan has built equally balanced and positive relations with both Russia and Turkey, which may let it play a constructive role in reconciliation of its two neighbors. “It is senseless to think that active and reasonable forces in the Russian elite will perceive Erdogan’s visit to Azerbaijan as an unfriendly step. Azerbaijan has always strived to build healthy relations with all its neighbors and has achieved much in that straight-thinking approach. Except Armenia, Azerbaijan has no enemies. It has many partners and its closest neighbors are on the top of that list. Turkey and Russia are influential countries and Azerbaijan’s political elites pin hopes with them in many important and promising issues,” he said.
Erdogan will address Aliyev with a request…
Commenting on the Turkish president’s visit to Azerbaijan, Sergey Balmasov, Senior Analyst of the Centre for Crisis Society Studies, Expert of the Middle East Institute, RIAC, said the visit amid unprecedented chill in the relations of Russia and Turkey will drive Baku to a tight corner. Azerbaijan could gain from the role of a platform for the Turkey – Russia dialogue. In this light, he said, Presidents Ilham Aliyev and Recep Erdogan will talk about Russia anyway. “There are two possible scenarios: either the Turkish leader will ask his Azerbaijani counterpart to contact Moscow that refuses to talk to it or he will ask Baku to intensify its actions in Nagorno-Karabakh to distract Russia’s attention from Syria. Aliyev will easily do the first request, while the second one will require more promises from Erdogan, as Azerbaijan risks marring its relations with Vladimir Putin, which is undesirable in the current economic situation. After all Russia has a lever of influence on Aliyev – Azerbaijani diaspora in Russia,” Balmasov said.
In his words, if the Russian law-enforcement start checking the status of Azerbaijanis working in the territory of Russia and deporting them to Baku where the situation is not good, it may have serious consequences. “Nevertheless, Azerbaijan cannot ignore the interests of its natural and only true ally (Turkey- editor’s note) either. It is noteworthy that quite lately Erdogan has travelled to Kazakhstan – the key member of the Russian-led EEU. President Nursultan Nazarbayev made openly pro-Turkish statements very unpleasant to Moscow. Actually, Erdogan will try to get the same from Aliyev. Meantime, Aliyev will hardly be able to perform a miracle and help reconcile Russia and Turkey. As Russian armed forces destroy the pro-Turkish forces in Syria, the strain in the relations will just grow.
The visit scheduled for February 18 may become the last attempt before Turkey and its allies in Syria and around it launch more intensive actions that may escalate the situation even more,” the analyst added.
Anar Huseynov, political analyst (Baku) for EADaily