President Haidar Aliev is old and frail, but events since September 11 have given him new strength. In the wake of the attacks the United States suspended restrictions on military assistance to Azerbaijan that had been imposed under pressure from the Armenian-American community. (Parallel restrictions on aid to Armenia were suspended at the same time.) And in the past few weeks, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey reached an understanding on regional security that could give investors the confidence they need to put real dollars behind the long-planned oil pipeline from Baku to Tbilisi to Ceyhan. The pipeline, more than any other fact of life, could move Azerbaijan and Georgia away from Russia’s “post-Soviet space” and toward Europe and the West.
So when he went to Moscow January 24-27, President Aliev was a little less the courtier, a little more the courted. Lukoil and Yukos, Russia’s largest oil companies, started negotiating with Azerbaijan’s State Oil Company for a stake in an eventual Baku-Ceyhan pipeline consortium. Putin and Aliev issued a joint communique condemning “aggressive separatism,” a code word that means “Chechnya” in Russia and “Karabakh” in Azerbaijan. Equating the two is a win for Azerbaijan’s diplomacy, and a loss for Armenia. The two sides compromised on the Caspian, agreeing in principle to a national division of the seabed among the littoral states (which favors Azerbaijan) and shared jurisdiction of the water body and surface (which favors Russia). The two sides will carry that position to a summit of the five Caspian countries–Russia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan–to be held later this year in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan.