Azerbaijan and its population of nine and a half million, sits along the western coast of the Caspian Sea, bordering Russia to its north, Iran to its south, and Georgia, Armenia, and Turkey to its west. Its geostrategic position alone makes it an attractive target of political destabilization, regime change, and client state status for aspiring global empires, however its position in terms of energy production and transportation make such aspirations irresistible.
With the stated US-EU agenda of encircling and eventually integrating the Russian Federation into their “Europe Whole and Free,” leaders from Washington to Brussels have taken turns describing their goal of reducing dependency on Russian energy, and “diversifying” Europe’s energy markets. Already the US-EU has attempted to stall the creation of a Ukraine-circumventing Russian pipeline, the South Stream Pipeline, running through Bulgaria and Serbia to supply Europe with Russian natural gas. The next step is to replace Russian natural gas all together by commandeering the governments of entire nations and aligning their geopolitical posture to European and American designs.
In relation to Azerbaijan in particular, such “diversification” and “aligning” has been begun through a series of “sticks” and “carrots.”
Bringing Azerbaijan to Market with Sticks and Carrots
For such a small nation, Azerbaijan has a disproportionately large foreign-funded “civil society” community. Clearly, US and European interests in civil society are not dictated by perceived injustice or the number of people whose “freedom and democracy” are “at risk,” but instead by the geopolitical importance a particular nation serves within which their “civil society” organizations work to influence various political developments. In Azerbaijan, the US National Endowment for Democracy (NED) alone has over 20 ongoing projects (on record) and many more not listed on their official website.
NED activity in Azerbaijan ranges from monitoring elections, to so-called “rights advocacy,” to the development of Western-leaning media and “journalism.” Foreign-funded election monitors and “rights advocacy” that consistently find themselves fighting the government of Azerbaijan in defense of other foreign-funded members of the country’s civil society community raise serious questions about the legitimacy of their work, with the foreign funding alone constituting an alarming conflict of interest.
For Azerbaijan, its overdeveloped “civil society” community is designed to be the “sticks” to agitate and prod along the government in a Western-leaning direction. That direction is along the “Southern Gas Corridor,” a means of circumventing Russian natural gas. US State Department outlet Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) in its piece titled, “Barroso: EU, Azerbaijan To Accelerate Southern Corridor Project,” stated of the corridor that “the project envisions transporting Azerbaijani gas by pipelines via Turkey and Greece to Albania, Italy, Bulgaria and on to other European markets.” It also mentions that recently that “the European Union and Azerbaijan are stepping up efforts aimed at implementing the Southern Corridor project.”
This is in direct response to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, the imminent completion of Russia’s South Stream Pipeline, and decreasing leverage between Washington, Brussels, and London against Moscow. The recently agreed upon “acceleration” came after tensions between heavily foreign-funded “civil society” and the government in Baku. As recently as April, foreign-funded agitators in Azerbaijan were being rounded up the the government, to which US NED and its various franchises leveraged to put immediate pressure on Baku. Freedom House would issue several statements repeated throughout the US-European “right advocacy” networks, a move meant to signal to Baku the West’s willingness to escalate political subversion.
It appears, now with Baku expressing willingness to “accelerate” the development of the Southern Gas Corridor, Azerbaijan’s “lack of democracy” is no longer an issue suddenly, at least not until its time to prod the country further along with foreign interests rather than those of the government’s and its people’s.
Why Azerbaijan is and will Continue to be Important
For now, Azerbaijan represents a minor piece on the geopolitical game board. It represents a possible avenue for Europe to diversify its energy in the distant future, but may be too little too late to make a difference during the current geopolitical maneuverings taking place in Ukraine and elsewhere.
Azerbaijan is important for other reasons though. As a potential member of NATO, it would be sitting on both Iran and Russia’s borders, allowing for it to serve as a safe haven for the same sort of proxy invasions being conducted from Turkish territory against both Syria and Iraq. For now, Azerbaijan cooperates closely with NATO, including having sent troops to participate in its occupation of Afghanistan, and having collaborated in NATO’s involvement in Kosovo. According to NATO itself, Azerbaijan is subjecting itself to a series of “reforms” undoubtedly aimed at eventually integrating the country fully into the military conglomerate.
While greater geopolitical struggles take place in Ukraine, Syria, and Iraq, keeping an eye on smaller theaters of geopolitical maneuvering and the gains made on either side, may indicate in whose favor the vector sum is moving. The recent “victory” in Azerbaijan for the US-EU most likely is an attempt to compensate for the stalemate enduring in Ukraine, and the loss of NATO’s proxy campaign in Syria, but vigilance and awareness is nonetheless warranted, and keeping Azerbaijan on one’s geopolitical radar may be prudent indeed.
Ulson Gunnar, a New York-based geopolitical analyst and writer especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.