George Friedman, the chairman of intelligence firm Statfor, said recently that Azerbaijan is key to any U.S. counter-Russian strategy that might emerge following the events in Ukraine and Crimea.
"Any strategy against Russia must address the energy issue, begin with Azerbaijan, and be about more than production," Friedman said in an editorial post on the company's website. "Azerbaijan is not a major producer of gas compared to oil. On the other side of the Caspian Sea, however, Turkmenistan is. Its resources, coupled with Azerbaijan's, would provide a significant alternative to Russian energy. Turkmenistan has an interest in not selling through Russia and would be interested in a Trans-Caspian pipeline. That pipeline would have to pass through Azerbaijan, connecting onward to infrastructure in Turkey."
Friedman said such an arrangement would provide an alternative to Russian energy and diminish Moscow's leverage, adding, however, that Washington is reluctant to solidify ties with Azerbaijan.
"The United States does not want to sell weapons directly to Azerbaijan because of what it regards as violations of human rights by the Azerbaijani government," Friedman said. "The Americans find it incomprehensible that [the capital of] Baku, facing Russia and Iran and needing the United States, cannot satisfy American sensibilities by avoiding repression -- a change that would not threaten the regime."
Friedman said Azerbaijan faces threats from both Russia and Iran, requiring the country to maintain a security state.
"Both countries send operatives into Azerbaijan to destabilize it," Friedman said. "What the Americans consider dissidents, Azerbaijan sees as agents of foreign powers. Washington disputes this and continually offends Baku with its pronouncements. The Azerbaijanis, meanwhile, continually offend the Americans."
Friedman said the U.S. should put Azerbaijan's perceived abuses into perspective.
"This criticism does not--and will not--produce change," Friedman said. "Endless repetition of the same is the height of ineffectiveness. It will instead make any strategy the United States wants to construct in Europe ineffective. In the end, I would argue that a comparison between Russia and these other countries matters. Perfect friends are hard to find. Refusing to sell weapons to someone you need is not a good way to create an alliance."
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