Aliyev, Medvedev Discuss Relations, Karabakh

Azeri President Ilham Aliyev spoke with his Russian counterpart Dmitri Medvedev Wednesday in a phone conversation that centered on the development of Russian-Azeri relations and the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

The phone call, initiated by Medvedev, came after US Vice President Dick Cheney was in Baku courting Azerbaijan to ensure its oil wealth would continue flowing to the West, bypassing Russia. During his visit Cheney told Aliyev that the US had a deep interest in the wellbeing of its allies in the region and was committed to Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity.

“America strongly supports the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. We are committed to achieving a negotiated solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict–a solution that starts with the principle of territorial integrity, and takes into account other international principles. Achieving a solution is more important now than ever before; that outcome will enhance peace and stability in the region, and Azerbaijan’s security, as well,” said Cheney during a briefing at the Azeri summer presidential palace following his meeting with Aliyev.

Azerbaijan was the first of three stops Cheney is making on a mission ordered by President George W. Bush to reinforce alliances and reassure leaders in Azerbaijan, Georgia and Ukraine of US support after last month’s Russia-Georgia conflict. The US was planning on Wednesday to announce a $1 billion package of aid to help rebuild Georgia, a US administration official said.

Following Russia’s recognition of South Ossetian and Abkhazian independence, Russia’s ambassador to Azerbaijan, Vsily Istratov, stated that Russia’s position regarding the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan had not changed.

The recognition of Georgia’s breakaway regions was a unique situation and would not affect a declaration recognizing Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity signed between Medvedev and Aliyev in early July.

The Russian President was in Baku on July 3 as part of a regional tour aimed at securing Russia’s role as the main link between Caspian and Central Asian gas and Europe. During his visit, Medvedev signed a declaration of friendship and strategic partnership with Aliyev, which contained an unusually explicit statement in support of Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity and its stance on the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict.

The visit was seen largely as an attempt to bring Azerbaijan back into Moscow’s energy orbit and cement Russia’s hold over Caspian Sea energy.

Azerbaijan exports oil and natural gas to Western energy markets through three pipelines–all of which run through Georgia. The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan, the Baku-Supsa and the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzerum pipelines all experienced severe cutoffs as a result of the conflict in Georgia, costing Azerbaijan a lost of $50-$70 million a day.

The pipelines were built to provide a transport route for Caspian Sea energy to reach Western markets without having to pass through Russia, which controls the majority of the pipeline infrastructure into Europe.

But now that Russia has firmly established itself as a power in Georgia, the future of the pipelines is uncertain, according to Stratfor Intelligence.

“This puts Azerbaijan in a predicament. With its export routes to the West blocked by the Russian presence in Georgia, Baku is carefully considering its options,” said an August 15 Stratfor analysis report entitled, "Azerbaijan: The Stark New Energy Landscape."

“Azerbaijan may have no real option but to try to reach some sort of accommodation with Moscow," the report said, as the conflict in Georgia has tipped the balance of power in the Caucasus in Russia’s favor.

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