Putin Ends Visit to Azerbaijan

BAKU (Reuters)–Russian President Vladimir Putin was optimistic on January 10 as he ended his first visit to neighboring Azerbaijan–a country which has viewed Moscow’s ties with arch-rival Armenia with deep suspicion.

Putin–on a drive to reinforce relations with former Soviet states–called for deeper military cooperation with oil-rich Azerbaijan and saw no need for a tough visa regime placed on Georgia–a Caucasus country out of favor in Moscow.

"I am very satisfied by the visit and consider we have solved not only the tasks we had–but also formed a very good base for a positive development in bilateral ties," Putin told journalists in Baku airport at the end of his trip.

Putin received a friendly welcome despite previous criticism by veteran Azeri President Haydar Aliyev that Russia has supplied Armenia with millions of dollars worth of arms. Azerbaijan has also accused Russia of favoring Armenia during the Nagorno Karabakh conflict. Putin tried to dispel Baku’s suspicions over Russian-Armenian ties and said Russia did not support the stalemate in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

Putin also pledged to be a guarantor of any agreement between the two over Karabakh and said Moscow was ready to accept any decision which suited the Azeris and Armenia’s. Some 35,000 people died in the Karabakh conflict–which ended with a cease-fire in 1994. However–no peace deal has been signed despite talks between the Azeri and Armenian leaders.

One local analyst said he did not expect any serious progress in Russian-Azeri ties due to suspicions of Moscow backing Armenia–but called Putin’s visit a "positive fact".

Putin said Russia was interested and ready to cooperate with Azerbaijan in all areas of the fuel and energy sector. Russia’s LUKOIL and Azeri state oil company SOCAR signed a $250 million deal on January 9 and Russian and Azeri officials agreed to fix how much Caspian crude would be transported from Baku to the Russian port of Novorossiisk during the next two years.

Russian vice-premier Viktor Khristenko–said a transit tariff of $15.67 for one ton of crude could be cut if both sides reached agreement to boost the amount of oil transported by the Baku-Novorossiisk pipeline. Putin said the idea of exporting Russian natural gas to Azerbaijan was extremely promising..

In response to the Russian president’s visit to Baku–Armenian Defense Minister Serge Sargssian stated he does not see any threat to Armenian-Russian relations which is substantiated by numerous documen’s. He pointed out the agreement signed by the two countries’ defense ministers and stipulating joint mobilization of the two countries’ armies.

The minister also pointed out that the 2001 program of cooperation between Russia and Armenia’stipulates mutual visits of the two countries’ ministers of defense–but the terms of the visits are not yet fixed. Sargssian said that a summit of the CIS Collective Security Council is to be held in Armenia. The summit will be preceded by a meeting of the secretaries of the Collective Security Council.

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