The relations between Russia and Azerbaijan have always been complex with ups and downs, rapprochements and tensions. However, Karabakh remains the problem number one in their relations.
Recently Azerbaijan has been openly expressing its discontent at deployment of Iskander missile systems in Armenia and the two countries’ agreement on establishment of a joint group of troops. These processes have created certain nervousness in the relations of Moscow and Bank. This prompted the decision to ban Russia’s military transport aircraft from entering Azerbaijan’s airspace on the way to Armenia.
Judging from the conversation of tower controllers and the pilot, IL-76 was flying to Syria via Armenia. The conversation was published by blogger GalandecZP. “You cannot reach Yerevan. Azerbaijan will not allow. Overflight is prohibited,” the controller says. Then the aircraft crew was told to return to the departure airport in Sochi. “They did not ban the flights before. Maybe they were carrying something prohibited,” the blogger writes. The aircraft landed at the Sochi airport and there is a photo of it on Twitter.
Actually, the relations of Russia and Azerbaijan are far from being perfect despite praises of Azerbaijani and Russian politicians. Baku’s subtle diplomacy so far lets keeping these relations at a reasonable level. However, that fragile balance may be broken at any moment, as soon as Azerbaijan considers it possible and necessary to settle the Nagorno-Karabakh issue by force, which appears to be inevitable.
Azerbaijani political analyst Arzu Nagiyev says Russia’s support to its satellite in the region is behind the current nervousness in the relations of Baku and Moscow. The expert says Armenia is Russia’s outpost. He brings a number of signs to prove his views: “First, Yerevan is the Kremlin’s military ally. Russia has an absolute freedom in deployment of its armed forces in Armenia. It has already created joint armed forces under its command and deploys it on the border of the Autonomous Republic of Nakhijevan. Under pretext of strengthening its borders with NATO, Russia is engaged in legalizing its military presence in Armenia on a long-term and, perhaps, permanent basis. On the other hand, Moscow seeks to freeze the Karabakh conflict,” Nagiyev says.
In addition, he says, Russia has an exclusive role in the Karabakh peace process. The expert believes that Russia will strengthen its positions in Azerbaijan if it takes real steps towards fair settlement of the conflict. “However, the Kremlin prefers supporting Armenia in the region. Russia seeks to show that today it is a real actor and political force in the region and tries to make the Collective Security Treaty Organization even stronger. Russia is keen to fortify its borders with NATO and uses the armament concentrated in the region to influence the regional conflicts, including the Karabakh issue,” the Azerbaijani expert says.
Military expert Uzeir Jafarov, in turn, says the recent incident with the Russian aircraft was a warning to Moscow meaning that Baku will no longer tolerate such state of affairs. “Russia violates the balance of forces in the region instead of seeking settlement schemes for Karabakh as a co-chair of the OSCE MG. The Russian-Armenian joint group of forces is aimed against Azerbaijan,” the Azerbaijani expert says.
“To protect its interests in the South Caucasus, Russia has an agreement extending deployment of its military contingent in Armenia until 2049. The 102nd military base in Gyumri is able to meet any threat. Hence, why does Russia need another joint group of force with Armenia?” Jafarov told Yeni Musavat.
He is sure that the Russian-Armenian joint group of troops looks to “hold Azerbaijan from liberating its territories from occupation.”
Military expert Azad Isazade thinks the joint group of troops poses certain threat, though indirect, to Azerbaijan. “Azerbaijan carries out military operations on its territory. However, we know that the Armenian side constantly uses resources of the Russian army. If the joint group of force with Russia is established, Armenia will be using its resources against Azerbaijan. On the other side, the joint group of force will be performing the role of a ‘gendarme’ in the South Caucasus. Armenia’s economy, power supply are in the hands of Russia and its political leadership is managed from the Kremlin. However, after the April war in Karabakh, the domestic political situation has grown tense in Armenia and anti-Russian sentiments have intensified showing that the military that once fought in Karabakh may come out against Russia. This would deprive Moscow of its last outpost in the South Caucasus,” Isazade says.
In his words, the joint group of force looks to “subdue all forces in Armenia to the Kremlin.” “No one can guarantee that the Russian-Armenian group will not be fighting in Karabakh. That is why this arouses Baku’s righteous indignation,” Isazade says.
Political analyst Fikret Sadykhov believes that Baku should wage a delicate policy towards Russia. He addressed the emerging Russia-Turkey-Azerbaijan triangle saying Baku welcomes implementation of joint projects by the above countries. Sadykhov thinks that Russia will further support Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity, as it has its own potential hotbeds of separatism. “Russia is a big actor in the global politics. It will never refuse from its alliance with Armenia. However, in Azerbaijan too Russia has political and economic interests and Baku must take advantage of that fact,” he says.
Anyway, despite its grievances, Baku cares for its relations with Russia.
Maksud Talibli for EADaily