How does Azerbaijan navigate the turbulent regional waters between the EU and Russia? What are the main influencers on the country’s foreign policy, both externally and internally?
Turan Information Agency Director Mehman Aliyev answered those questions in an interview with Meydan TV.
Just ten days before the Eastern Partnership
summit in Riga
, Russia’s Security Council Secretary Nikolay Patrushev paid a visit to Baku. Was that an attempt to pressure Azerbaijan, given that President Ilham Aliyev did not participate in the summit?
First of all, the next agreement for closer cooperation with the European Union is not ready yet. We knew that the Agreement on Strategic Modernization was under way, which was a new form of cooperation. The agreement implied reforms in economic, social, political, legal and other spheres in Azerbaijan as well as establishing closer ties with the European Union.
Last year during his visit to Baku, European Commission’s former President [Jose Manuel] Barroso mentioned that the agreement was ready and would be signed in the next few months. He was talking about last fall, but this did not happen. At that time, I asked about this during my conversations with the Presidential Administration officials. They said that the agreement would be ready in the summer, meaning the agreement was supposed to be signed during the Riga summit.
Then why didn’t they sign it?
Apparently the two parties were not ready to sign the document. Perhaps the European Union was not ready either, but it is a fact that Baku was not ready. The fact that President Ilham Aliyev did not go to Riga shows that the Azerbaijani side is not completely prepared to ink the accord.
The second reason is the Russian factor, which has always been there. Moscow influences Kazakhstan too. Prior to this, they had exerted the greatest pressure on Georgia and Ukraine, which is why it is completely plausible that Russia would pressure Azerbaijan.
If I am not mistaken, the Russian TV channels on April 22 aired a film on the 15
anniversary of Putin’s ascendancy to power. In that film, Putin was saying that the American intelligence was using the Azerbaijani territory to sow instability in the North Caucasus, and the Azerbaijani side was supporting the US.
From Putin’s speech, one could infer that this problem is still ongoing. This way Putin was sending a certain message to Baku. The Azerbaijani side has too taken this factor seriously and did not join the Riga summit on the highest level.
The third factor is that Azerbaijan wanted to torpedo this cooperation, since for us personal benefits are presented as national interests. The leading circles try to avoid this type of negotiations in order to strengthen their economic interests because this kind of talks involve creating a more transparent government and establishing the rule of law. All of these run counter to the interests of the national elite.
The May 19 fire tragedy also demonstrated where exactly those interests are. The problem is that similar fire incidents took place before May 19, but there was no reaction to them. The reason was that hefty sums of money were appropriated from covering those buildings. We are talking about millions.
What do you think about European Parliament President Martin Schultz’s statement that the internal structures of Belarus and Azerbaijan are contrary to the European values?
Certainly there are serious problems, and their internal structures are contrary to the European values. However, there are differences between Belarus and Azerbaijan. Belarus has an authoritarian system, where freedoms are suppressed just like in Azerbaijan. However, the level of corruption is much lower than in our country. Belarus is a socially-oriented state, and there are no big, unbridgeable gaps between ordinary citizens and the high-level government officials there. Their economic relations are also more transparent. Moreover, there are no credible reprots about [Belarussian President Aleksandr] Lukashenko and his officials being involved in corruption schemes.
The types are different. Belarus looks more like a social-communist system. In Azerbaijan, however, the system is purely oligarchic. Here we see how the political power and business capital are concentrated in the hands of one person, which led to the creation of a classic oligarchic system.
Belarus, however, created a system based on the authoritarian government. The situation there is more dangerous and serious than in Azerbaijan. The factor of “Russification” is stronger. They have borders with Russia, and there are many Russians living there.
Earlier last month, just before the Riga
Summit, US Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor
Tom Malinowski’s visit to Baku was cancelled. Turan reported that it was the Azerbaijani side that did not want the visit to take place. Could that be an indication that Azerbaijan is moving closer to Russia?
I wouldn’t call this “moving” since this is being forced. It’s happening because of Russia’s pressure. The trade turnover between Russia and Azerbaijan decreased by a billion manats last year. We bought less from Russia, which caused discontent from the Russian government. The Riga summit featured serious discussions about energy cooperation. The West is happy with cooperation in this sphere.
How do the issues of human rights and democracy feature in these discussions?
We know that there are problems. All I want to say is that Azerbaijan’s economic relations are more directed toward the West than to Russia. And Russians are kind of displeased with this. They want the legal and illegal capital existing in Azerbaijan to be invested in the Russian economy.
The Azerbaijani officials blame Western diplomats for hypocrisy. For example,
Deputy Head of the Presidential Administration of Azerbaijan Novruz Mammadov complained about an unfair treatment toward Azerbaijan at the Riga summit.
He claimed that while Georgia and Ukraine’s territorial integrity was recognized in the final statement, Azerbaijan was not even mentioned. Is there a grain of truth in these words?
The Azerbaijani government sees the following as double standard – not recognizing Armenia as an aggressor while recognizing Russia as one, or not talking about a million internally displaced persons while raising the issue of political prisoners. The government is emphasizing these issues in order to divert any criticism regarding the commitments it made.
The aim is to stave off the establishment of a transparent, legal and democratic state in Azerbaijan. It is not about someone forcing us to do something. We must do this ourselves. We must create a strong state, in which every citizen would participate and benefit from its performance. The Azerbaijani government is not able to understand this. Our country’s potential is so high that we could have many achievements. For instance, pensions and wages could be two or three times higher. Or the prices of apartments, cars and other goods could be really lower.
Then there would be no reason to cover buildings with cheap plastic, which caused the May 19
fire in Baku
There would be no need for that. We would live at a completely different level. People may criticize you, and you may be unhappy because of that. But is that a real reason to impoverish your own nation? Can you really take revenge on your own nation if someone treats you with double standard? Can you justify it? What does this mean?!