Foreign Policy Blogs

US-Azerbaijani relations on the mend (maybe), and other news

The chill in US-Azerbaijani relations may be thawing soon. After months of perceived snubs from Washington and acrimony out of Baku, which included a recent announcement by Azerbaijan that they have pulled out of a scheduled military exercise with the US, a Turkish newspaper reports that the two countries have discussed a possible visit to the US by Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliyev.

In what may be a related development, Ali Hasanov, an advisor to President Aliyev, was quoted by Russian news service Ria/Novosti on May 6 saying that Azerbaijan will supply half of its Caspian Sea natural gas to the proposed Nabucco pipeline, a non-Russian energy corridor that Europe is counting on. This announcement goes a long way to allay concern in the west that Azerbaijan might sell all of its gas output to Russian energy consortium Gazprom, and may be more evidence that Azerbaijani relations with the US are on the mend.

And I have been told that a new American ambassador will soon be named, some nine months since the previous ambassador left Baku.

Steve Levine, a journalist with long experience in the Caucasus and Central Asia, reports on his blog that Matthew Bryza’s name will be formally submitted to the US Senate in the near future, news that was independently confirmed to me last week by a knowledgeable source.

A career diplomat possessing a deep understanding of South Caucasus geopolitics, Bryza has worked tirelessly as the US representative for the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) Minsk Group, which has for over a decade provided a platform for Azerbaijan and Armenia to negotiate a final settlement to their war in the early ‘nineties over Nagorno-Karabakh.

Bryza has been castigated from time to time in the foreign press and even on this side of the Atlantic for a variety of reasons, including allegedly being too chummy with Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili as well as Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliyev. His Turkish wife, Zeyno Baran, an analyst at the Hudson Institute, is also thought by some to be an apologist for Eurasian authoritarian regimes. Harper’s Magazine Washington editor Ken Silverstein, for example, lambastes Baran (and isn’t too keen on Bryza either) on his blog at Harper’s here and here.

Bryza is also well-known in Russia, where supposedly he is viewed as a pro-Saakashvili partisan at the Kremlin. As Steve Levine said on his blog, his Senate hearing should prove to be “lively.”

Meanwhile, President Saakashvili hasn’t been home in quite some time. He was in Rome on May 7, having met Pope Benedict XVI, and was scheduled to fly to Costa Rica on the 8th to attend the inauguration of President Laura Chinchilla. Saakashvili had spent over two weeks in the US since the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington in April – when he failed to get an audience with President Barack Obama, despite the fact that Obama did talk to Ukraine’s new pro-Moscow president Viktor Yanukovich.

After returning to the US from Poland, where he had attended the funeral for Polish president Lech Kaczynski, President Saakashvili spoke on April 27 for over an hour at the Milken Institute in an impressive discourse on his government’s largely successful battle against corruption, the diversification of Georgia’s economy, and the cultural impediments to judicial reform. Demonstrating his command of English idioms, Saakashvili described the alleged lack of a robust independent media landscape in Georgia as “total bullshit.” (Go here for a video of the president’s remarks. Fast-forward to 61:00 to hear Saakashvili discuss media issues.)

And in Armenia, the Defense Ministry has confirmed that a national call-up of military reservists is underway, stoking fears in Armenia that Azerbaijan is about to begin a new war to re-take Nagorno-Karabakh. The ministry says that the call-up is routine, and an attack in the near future does seem unlikely, given that the Azerbaijani military is generally regarded as systemically weak and its soldiers poorly trained. But Azerbaijani defense expenditures have skyrocketed since 2006, and the president has warned that war looms if negotiations over Karabakh remain deadlocked.

Finally, some good news out of Turkey in late April, where activists commemorated the beginning of the mass murders of over a million Armenians in 1915. Members of the Turkish human rights group IHD held a vigil in Istanbul on April 24, the anniversary of the day in 1915 when Armenians were first rounded up and deported.



Karl Rahder

Karl Rahder has written on the South Caucasus for ISN Security Watch and ISN Insights (, news and global affairs sites run by the Swiss government. Karl splits his time between the US and the former USSR - mostly the Caucasus and Ukraine, sometimes teaching international relations at universities (in Chicago, Baku, Tbilisi) or working on stories for ISN and other publications. Karl received his MA from the University of Chicago, and first came to the Caucasus in 2004 while on a CEP Visiting Faculty Fellowship. He's reported from the Caucasus on topics such as attempted coups, sedition trials, freedom of the press, and the frozen Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. For many years, Karl has also served as an on-call election observer for the OSCE, and in 2010, he worked as a long-term observer in Afghanistan for Democracy International.

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