Global Insights: Putin’s Baku Visit Highlights Complex Russia-Azerbaijan Ties

Global Insights: Putin’s Baku Visit Highlights Complex Russia-Azerbaijan Ties

On Aug. 13, Vladimir Putin made his first visit to Baku in seven years, marking only his third trip to Azerbaijan as president of Russia—a gap reflecting the complex and sometimes strained relationship between Moscow and Baku. The two have grown apart due to Russia’s closer ties with Armenia as well as Azerbaijan’s westward-oriented energy focus.

Azerbaijan’s leaders have been trying to leverage their country’s pivotal location, energy resources and other assets to help manage their volatile neighborhood. Meanwhile, they are pursuing their own regional objectives, which focus on recovering territories occupied by Armenia, averting a war with Iran while countering Iranian subversion, minimizing foreign leverage over Azerbaijan’s domestic policies and establishing Baku, the national capital and a major port city, as a center for regional commerce. A key element of this effort is Azerbaijan’s pursuit of a balanced foreign policy toward other countries.

The Azerbaijani government has sought to maintain good relations with Russia even while developing ties with Western governments. Russia is Azerbaijan’s second-largest trading partner, after Italy, with Russian-Azerbaijani trade amounting to $3.4 billion last year. The corresponding figure for January-May of this year showed 50 percent growth over the same period in 2012. According to Putin, more than 70 Russian regions have close business ties with Azerbaijan, and more than 500 Russian companies operate in automobiles, energy, finance, health care and other important sectors of the Azerbaijani economy. Since 2009, Azerbaijan has been a major natural gas exporter to Russia through an agreement between the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan Republic (SOCAR) and Gazprom, Russia’s leading energy conglomerate.

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