Despite its relatively small size, Azerbaijan has frequently been the focus of foreign attention since it gained independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union. This is in large part due to Azerbaijan’s sizable energy resources and pivotal location, which provides the only viable pipeline route for Caspian Basin oil and gas to reach the West without passing through Russia or Iran. Azerbaijan’s leaders have tried to exploit these geopolitical assets to help manage the challenges presented by the country’s volatile neighborhood, which include a number of disputes over Caspian energy reserves, heavy interference by outside powers and the potential for a new war between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.
Historically, Azerbaijan and the rest of the Caucasus region were an object of rivalry between the Persian, Ottoman and Russian empires. Today, Russia, Iran, the United States and various European governments continue to seek to influence Azerbaijan’s foreign and domestic policies. Since regaining its independence in 1991, Azerbaijan has sought to balance and manipulate these rivalries while pursuing its own regional objectives, which focus on recovering territories occupied by Armenia, averting a war with Iran, minimizing foreign leverage over Azerbaijan’s domestic policies and establishing Baku, the nation’s capital and a major port city, as a center for regional commerce. ...
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