A New Friend from the Caucasus?

September 18, 2012 3:54 pm

Europe needs a reliable friend in the Caucasus, but is Azerbaijan ready to fulfill this position?

Few years ago, Russia cut off the gas supplies toward Europe causing severe inconvenience in some Eastern European countries. A few days ago Armenia broke diplomatic ties with Hungary as Budapest sent back an Azeri army officer convicted of murdering to Azerbaijan. It’s hard to believe, but a connection between these two cases is possible.

The year of 2009 started with a huge scandal. Russia and Ukraine couldn’t reach an agreement on gas prices, and as a result of this, Russia lowered the pressure in the pipelines which transported gas towards Eastern Europe. The states of this region found themselves in serious trouble as they bought almost all of their gas supplies from Russia.

This case highlighted a severe problem; Europe’s dependence from the Russian gas. The alternative source of this precious resource would be the proposed Nabucco pipeline which would reach Western Europe. The prospective main suppliers are Iraq, Turkmenistan, Egypt and last but not least: Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijan, the country led by the Aliyev regime is a potential ’friend’ of Europe, because Europe has to maintain open-armed relationship with them, if they want gas from this region. However, the Azeri regime doesn’t look like reliable as they caused diplomatic tensions between Armenia and Hungary.

In 2006, the Hungarian court of justice sentenced an Azerbaijani military officer, Rami Safarov to spend his whole life in prison, because he killed an Armenian officer with an axe in Budapest, where both soldiers participated in a NATO-course. At the end of this August, Hungary agreed to transfer Safarov to his homeland after the country received assurances that his sentence would be enforced.

Despite the assurances of the Azerbaijani government, as soon as the prisoner landed in Baku President Ilham Aliyev pardoned him, and the citizens of the capital city started to celebrate him as a hero. Armenians felt themselves betrayed by the Hungarians and severed their diplomatic ties with the EU-country.

Although the United States asked the Hungarians to justify the release, and Russia expressed its displeasure too, the European Union remaint relatively silent. As the euobserver.com reminded its readers, EU Council President Herman Van Rompuy and EU energy commissioner Gunther Oettinger both visited Baku in the recent weeks, but said nothing when the ’Safarov-scandal’ broke out.

Trading with an authoritarian regime is one thing – but trading with an unreliable regime is another. A trustworthy Azerbaijan could be an important ally of Europe – and such an alliance would be remunerative for the Aliyev regime too. It would be also important to make the Caucasus a relatively peaceful region – but it won’t be an easy job because of the disputed status of Nagorno-Karabah and tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

In order to develop the partnership between the EU and Azerbaijan, having the ’Safarov case’ out with the Caucasian country would be extremely beneficial – but this kind of dialogue should be initiated by the EU.

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