Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Medvedev talks borders in Azerbaijan

Azeri President Aliyev with Russian President Medvedev in 2009

Russian and Azerbeijan took one step closer to resolving their border issues when Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilkham Aliyev signed a border agreement to delimitate part of the land border between the two nations on Medvedev's trip to Baku on 2nd September. The two also signed an agreement on the use of water resources from the trans-border Samur river, and Russian energy giant Gazprom and Azerbaijan's state oil and gas company SOCAR signed a deal to increase supplies of Azerbaijani gas to Russia in 2011-2012.

To welcome the Russian leader, Azerbaijan raised a massive version of its national flag in Baku on 1st September. Baku claimed it was the world's largest flag, with dimensions of 70 meters by 35 meters and weighing in at a massive 350kg.

Aliyev presided over the unveiling of the flag and told the crowd, "Our flag is our pride and our soul… It will fly over Karabakh, Khankendi, and Shusha. And we all should work hard to bring this day closer and we are doing it. Long live Azerbaijan!"

This comment highlights the current tension that exists between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh enclave, which was a key talking point during Medvedev's visit.

The Nagorno-Karabakh enclave is an Armenian-majority area in southwestern Azerbaijan. The two nations fought a war over the area from 1988 until 1994, which started when the Parliament of the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast voted to secede from Azerbaijan and join Armenia in February 1988. By the time the war ended in 1994, Armeria occupied most of the disputed territory, as well as Azeri territory outside of the enclave, 30, 000 people had died and nearly 1 million refugees had fled, mostly to temporary settlement camps in Azerbaijan.

Violence has continued around the border regions, however, and on 1st September, it was announced that three Armenians and two Azerbaijani soldiers had been killed in clashes near the enclave.

Cesur Sumerinli, the chief editori of the Azerbaijani military-analysis website, recently said that the cease-fire is being violated more frequently, and that the resumption of military operations in the near future was possible.

The original cease-fire was Russian-brokered, and Russia has continued to be involved in mediation efforts since. In June 2010, Aliyev and his Armenian counterpark Serzh Sarkisian met for bilateral talks hosted by Medvedev in St. Petersburg. It appears however, that tension has been increasingly since the June meeting, and skirmishes have been frequent.

As co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group, together with France and the US, Russia has been at the centre of the international efforts. Russia's involvement, however, is not unproblematic. Medvedev visited Yerevan, Armenia, just weeks before his trip to Baku, where he extended the lease on a military base in Armenia. Amendments to a 1995 bilateral defense treaty signalled an increased Russian presence in Armenia, as it was agreed that the 4,000 Russian troops stationed in Armenia will not only protect Russian interests, but also the security of Armenia. This was interpretted by many as a pledge of Russian support should tensions over the disputed enclave result in full-fledged war, although Medvedev has been clear that he supports resolution through direct talks.

Oil-rich Azerbaijan is also an important neighbour for Russia, and Medvedev called them a 'strategic partner'. Recent rumours of a Russian sale of antiaircraft missiles to Azerbaijan have been denied by the Russians, although military cooperation was discussed during Medvedev's visit, and the sale of four Russian Ka-32 helicopters was announced some time ago.
Sources: RFE/RL, Hurriyet Turkey, Georgian Daily

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