Ideally located between George Washington University, my office at the Eastern Congo Initiative, and the White House is a $12 million mansion owned by the State Oil-Company of the Azerbaijan Republic (SOCAR).
Depending on your degree of cynicism, this location at 1319 18th St. NW is either expected, ironic, or an affront to an American foreign policy that intends to protect and enshrine human rights around the world. For the purpose of this article I will remain agnostic on the perspective and will instead focus on the complex and at times contradictory political and economic engagement policies between the US and Azerbaijan.
The complexity can in part be described by the recent history of the building itself. In the 1980s the building housed the offices of Jeane Kirkpatrick, who was the longtime Reagan administration official and US ambassador to the UN. In 1992, the building became the headquarters of the journal of post-Soviet democratization, Demokratizatsiya. More recently, the building was occupied by Freedom House, which is a global human rights watchdog that publishes a highly regarded annual report titled Freedom in the World. Azerbaijan is and always has been since the report’s inception in 1995 regarded as ‘not free.’ Rather than view this as a strange and somewhat dark comedy, I am inclined to see the realpolitik so typical of controversy and PR campaigns. Just like all wars are supposedly waged for peace, all market expansion is meant to be waged for economic freedom. The question needed to be asked the White House is why are we giving up prime DC real estate to Azerbaijan while waging economic warfare against OPEC? The question needed to be asked Azerbaijan is what do you offer the US in order to get not only a turned cheek to political and economic repression, but also a certain degree of geographical preferential treatment in terms of real estate?
A good place to always start is to follow the money, or in this case, the energy. Azerbaijan, which is situated perfectly between Russia and Iran, could readily serve as a land bridge of military, economic, and political partnerships between ambitious counter-powers to Western hegemony. Instead, Azerbaijan maintains a healthy political distance from the two regional hegemons and moves its energy resources to the Western world – in direct adherence to US foreign policy. Azerbaijan is not only a semi-impediment to Russian and Iranian strategy, but an increasingly powerful chess piece in the US arsenal. This relationship has developed for decades but soon will be permanently bound through the $35 billion Shah Deniz-2 project and the creation of the Trans-Anatolian and Trans-Adriatic gas pipelines, deals signed in December 2013. The small Caspian state currently supplies 2% of the EU’s energy needs but is now the heart of what is described as the ‘Southern Gas Corridor.’ This aims to challenge Russia’s Nord Stream. Parallel to the geostrategic march, corporate actors are also falling in line as BP leads the Deniz-2 project in direct contestation with Gazprom’s dominance in Nord Stream.
While the lion’s share of Azerbaijan’s oil and natural gas wealth is delivered to the EU, there is one non-EU country that receives a substantial portion as well – Israel. Over 30% of Israel’s energy imports come from Azerbaijan. Perhaps this point alone grants Azerbaijan its rather curious political and real estate advantage in Washington DC? In addition to the friends-with-energy-benefits relationship, Azerbaijan holds a few other get-out-of-diplomatic-pressure-free cards. Most notably, Azerbaijan is the only majority Muslim state that is a military ally of the US and NATO in the war on terror. Azerbaijan has both committed troops to anti-terrorism conflicts and provides a strategic entry and exit point for US and NATO troop movements. Furthermore, Azerbaijan exports not only energy but its own flavor of political corruption to Western states. This flavor, which the European Stability Initiative (ESI) has coined ‘Caviar Diplomacy,’ has effectively silenced the Council of Europe. ESI’s report on this further criticized the Council of Europe by calling its members ‘apologists’ in the face of Azerbaijan’s political repression.
What is most surprising, however, is the general coherence between Western actions and words relative to Azerbaijan. One example of this is took place at the signing of Shah Deniz-2. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev did not describe this as some new and wondrous opportunity for increased economic and diplomatic engagement. Instead, he said “the agreements will change the energy map of Europe.” The EU Energy Commissioner Gunther Oettinger affirmed President Aliyev’s assessment by projecting that the corridor could “in the long term supply 20% of the EU’s gas needs.” British Foreign Secretary William Hague was also in attendance and described the deal as “welcome news.” Prior to the signing ceremony Amnesty International called on Foreign Secretary Hague to raise human rights concerns due to Azerbaijan’s “appalling human rights record.” No such issue was raised. Thus, human rights advocates were simply ignored, left out of the proceedings, and not allowed to be a priority.
Another example comes from American diplomatic signaling. The National Security Strategy (NSS), State Department country fact sheets, and the Trafficking in Person’s (TIP) report all turn a relative blind diplomatic eye to these issues. The beginning of the State Department’s fact sheet on US-Azerbaijan relations exemplifies both America’s interests and indifference: “The United States is committed to strengthening democracy and the formation of an open market economy in Azerbaijan. It stands to gain benefits from an Azerbaijan that is peaceful, democratic, prosperous, and strategically linked to the United States and U.S. allies in Europe.”(Bold text is my own) Comparative analysis between the language and volume of diplomatic rhetoric also highlights a double-standard: the US “condemns” Iran for imprisoning journalists and activists and often does so through direct statements made by President Obama or Secretary Kerry. The US only “is troubled,’ however, when Azerbaijan violates the same international law – and voices this concern via blog posts on the US embassy’s website in Azerbaijan.
It is here where we have come to the true Dark Side of the Caspian – implicit Western support of oppressive regimes in the name of geostrategic and economic advantage. It is here where Human Rights Watch both identifies the primary cause and misses the mark – “Azerbaijan’s International partners have failed to secure human rights improvements.” Azerbaijan’s human rights have not improved, but one feels compelled to ask if that was ever the West’s goal to begin with? Freedom isn’t free as the American cliche goes. Azerbaijan is undermining the freedom and human rights of its people and avoiding punishment by providing the West with cheaper energy, strategic benefits, and fine caviar. We would all do well, therefore, to don our realist thinking caps and remember that we are a community of political nations, not human rights advocates. Until liberal social policy provides greater economic benefit (or dialectically, presents significant economic loss in its absence) we will continue to see Azerbaijan succeed in political repression via the strategically-induced apathy of the West. Until those changes happen, Azerbaijani energy barons will continue to sit comfortably in their Dupont Circle mansion in the toniest section of the world’s freedom capitol. What a bitter irony indeed.
Armenia’s Role in South Caucasus Policy of Russia
The Caucasus has long been one of the most important regions in the world. Many states had the desire and plan to rule this region from time to time. For centuries Russia has a great influence in the Caucasus and the main reason for the importance of the Caucasus region for Russia is its geostrategic location on important trade routes. Because by passing through this region Russia can reach the Balkans, the Black Sea and the White Sea, the Persian Gulf, as well as the Indian Ocean. The other important reason is the Caucasus is a great source of raw materials for the Russian economy. North Caucasus regions, such as Chechnya, Dagestan and Tatarstan, cover almost half of Russia’s energy needs. Also, the Caucasus region has significant strategic importance in terms of the routes that aimed to bring the Caspian Sea resources to the West and controlling these routes.
After the dissolution of the USSR, relations between Russia and Armenia intensified since 1992. There are numerous agreements have been signed between Russia and Armenia in various fields. The most important agreement was signed in Moscow a Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance by Presidents Boris Yeltsin of Russia and Levon Ter-Petrosian of Armenia. The treaty also envisages consultations and mutual military support if either side is attacked or considers itself threatened by a third party. Despite Russian and Armenian officials denied this, it was one of Russia’s interference in the South Caucasus through Armenia. This agreement has made Russia’s presence stronger in the region. Russia has military bases in Armenia and the main purpose of these bases is to protect Russia’s interests and Armenia’s national security. After the recent crisis in Georgia and the withdrawal of Russian military bases, Armenia became a more important actor for Russia.
Russia has a significant impact on the processes in the region by using the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The conflict started with Armenian occupation of Azerbaijani lands and as a result of Russia’s efforts, a ceasefire was declared and negotiations started. The Kremlin supports the peaceful settlement of the conflict within the OSCE Minsk Group, as well as in bilateral meetings. Consequently, Russia provides political and military support to Armenia as an important ally in the region, as well as prevents Azerbaijan moving away from it by being as a guarantor of the peaceful settlement of the conflict. Time to time Russia uses this conflict to make political pressure on both countries which makes it another most important factor for Russia. Georgia’s attack on North Ossetia and later on Russian intervention in Georgia and recognition of North Ossetia and Abkhazia, have led to thinking whether there will be a change in the status of Nagorno-Karabakh. Also, Russian intervention in Georgia has shown that the problems in the CIS region cannot be solved without Russia. Therefore, it is possible to say that resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute is highly dependent on Russian presence. However, the growing interest of the West in this region and proposing new solutions to the conflict, make Azerbaijan and Armenia use this dispute card against Russia. The possibility of Western-South Caucasus rapprochement in the future may lead to not only a political, but even a serious economic impact on Russia. Russia’s economy is heavily dependent on energy resources and the European energy market is the most important, profitable, and stable market for Russia. At the same time, the EU tries to diversify its energy routes and to reduce its dependency on Russian energy exports. The South Caucasus, especially the Caspian region has rich oil and gas sources. Hence, in the light of the Western-Caucasus relations, the role of Azerbaijan becomes more significant and strategic. In addition, strengthening and developing relations between Armenia and the EU is important in terms of ensuring the security of supply. Such a significant reduction of the EU’s dependence on Russia will have a great impact on Russia’s economy. Considering the fact that there are numerous sanctions on Russia, the weakening of the Russian economy may hamper its regional power. Even more likely, this may lead to domestic riots in Russia, and Russia may face the threat of a division of the country.
The Kremlin and Moscow have a special control over the region to prevent this scenario and creates barriers to the South Caucasian countries’ integration into the European Union. For instance, abandoning the Nabucco project, Russia’s military intervention in Georgia, and being a shareholder in projects in this region (excluding TAP and TANAP) are some examples of these barriers.
Diasporas also play an important role in Russia’s Caucasus policy. They are most influential tools in key areas of government and are closely involved in political activities. Moreover, the existence of many Russian citizens in Armenia, the wider use of Russian language in the country, and the broadcasting of Russian radio and television channels are the core elements of Russian presence in Armenia. Some Russians living in Armenia also have the opportunity to participate actively political and cultural relations due to their Armenian language knowledge.
After the collapse of the USSR, Armenia became Russia’s main ally in the South Caucasus. Integration of Georgia into West, conflicts and problems with Turkey and Azerbaijan, threats to national security urge Armenia to be closer to Russia. At the same time, large-scale projects implemented by Azerbaijan and Georgia with Turkey and Western countries, integration into the Western markets, and problems with Armenia hinder Armenia’s regional, political and economic development. To ensure this development, Armenia sees Russia as its biggest ally and closely cooperates with Russia.
The basis for the national security of Armenia relies on military cooperation between Russia and Armenia, however, the dependence on Russia in the economic sphere and the fact that all the strategic enterprises are controlled by the Russians is contrary to Armenia’s interests. Therefore, Armenia is in search for ways to integrate into the West without undermining its relations with Russia. However, Armenia’s political and economic dependence on Russia and tensions with Azerbaijan and Turkey make difficult to integrate into the West. in order to get rid of isolation, it is important for Armenia to step back in disputes with Turkey and Azerbaijan and mitigate relations.
In the near future, it is impossible for Armenia to completely break the dependency on Russia and integrate into the EU and the West. The grounds for this integration, which depend on Russia’s foreign policy strategies, have not yet been established. Today, the Armenian authorities understand that it is impossible for Armenia without Russia to exist in these conditions. While the integration into the West is on the agenda, the isolation of Armenia in the region prevents the achievement of political and economic prosperity. Russia’s active involvement in the region is important for Armenia, both for internal and external stability. Armenia’s integration to the West will continue in the frame of Russia’s interests, but from now on the Armenian government will pursue a more discreet policy towards Russia. Russia, on the other hand, can take two actions; to take a step which can lead to the end of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and Armenia’s defeat, or to control Armenia without military intervention by making some concessions to current or future authorities. The first option is dangerous for Russia in terms of losing Armenia and reputation in South Caucasus, however, in the second variant, Russia can maintain its influence in the region by ensuring its long-term interests.
Latvians will choose their future
The general elections in Latvia will take place on October 6, 2018. On Saturday Latvians will choose their future. Though it sounds very pathetic, future of the country really depends on the results of these elections.
In an interview with Latvian information agency LETA, Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics, commenting the atmosphere during this pre-election period, said that a serious battle of people’s minds and hearts is going on right now.
And this is true. But this fight is too cruel. Just this pre-election period shows all things bad as they are. The “truth” about corruption on high banking and political levels all of a sudden has been poured out on population. “Latvia’s central bank chief has been charged with bribery. A lawyer liquidating the bank that was accused of bribing him was killed in a hail of machine-gun fire. One of the country’s biggest lenders was shut down after the U.S. levied allegations of money laundering and violations of sanctions on North Korea. What’s going on in Latvia? “ ask the authors of article “Where Latvia’s Financial Corruption Scandal May Lead” published in Bloomberg on September 27.
Situation in small Latvia reminds gangster times in the United States, when criminals held people in awe. The difference is only in the fact that American gangsters were not high ranking officials. Gangsters’ activity was officially considered criminal. On the contrary, Latvian case demonstrates activity of corrupted authorities, who influence the whole country, all 2 milllion people.
Ilmars Rimsevics, who’s been in charge of Latvia’s central bank as governor or deputy since 1992, is accused of soliciting a bribe from Trasta Kommercbanka AS, a small lender that was shut in 2016 after being implicated in a $20 billion money-laundering scheme. Specifically, he’s accused of receiving 250,000 euros five years ago.
It is difficult to imagine, that he got a bribe once, ruling the bank for so many years. Nobody saw his misconduct, nobody knew about it. Nonsense!
Now it is a question of trust to all top officials in Latvia.
For example, about 1 percent of all U.S. dollars moving around the world in 2015 were going through Latvia, according to Daniel Glaser, then a top official in the U.S. Department of the Treasury. It means that Latvia had a chance to become the second Switzerland at least.
But Latvians did not even feel the benefits. They tried to survive in 2015 and they continue to survive in 2018. Nothing has changed. Rich people have become richer and poor have become poorer. That is Latvian Reality.
The other news stroke Latvians this week. Prime Minister Maris Kucinskis confirmed that EUR 2 million more could be allotted for national defense.
He said with pride that “thanks to the increasing budget revenues, the funds will not have to be taken away from other national economy sectors.”
A question arises: why should these additional revenues go to defense and not to other national economy sectors? Is it the sphere that needs money most of all?
Corrupted political system decides for people where their money should go and for what purposes. It is well known that it is very difficult to track money spending in military sphere because this sector of economy is not transparent to the society due to security measures.
The only thing Latvians can do under such circumstances – to choose the right politicians to rule the country and they are surely should not be the same corrupted officials.
Lithuania violates the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
DELFI, which is the major Internet portal in the Baltic States providing daily news, stated on September, 10 that the number of emigrants from Lithuania exceeds that of immigrants by 1,000 in August. Shocking statistics shows that the country has registered a negative migration balance. Some 4,382 people left Lithuania in August. Thus, Lithuanians are leaving the country despite authorities’ claims on economic growth, stability and favorable perspectives.
On the one hand, according to “Lithuanian economy review – 2017”, the GDP growth in Lithuania accelerated. In 2017, as compared to the previous year, Lithuania`s GDP increased by 3.8%. On the other hand, this fact contravenes the increasing number of emigrants.
What makes people change their life and say “Good bye” to their homes? This is a rhetorical question. The answer lies on the surface.
Lithuanians do not satisfy with their standards of living. For example, survey of public opinion and market research company “Baltijos tyrimai” reveals that Lithuanians still haven’t domesticated the Euro. The pool conducted in July shows that more than 46,3% of Lithuanians blame the European currency in lowering their life standards. In other words they do not agree with the authorities’ decision to adopt the euro.
People compare their life with the other European countries and it is not in favor of Lithuania. The words and promises are not fulfilled, corruption flourishes. Thus, Freedom House document “FREEDOM IN THE WORLD 2018” reports that “the major problem for Lithuania’s democracy – corruption – continued to dominate the public sphere, as a series of scandals plagued members of the Seimas (parliament) and public institutions. Even Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė on Monday called on lawmakers not to waste their time on squabbling.
Officials, who today name themselves democrats, did not manage to get rid of Soviet thinking and way of behavior. When they get political power they forget about their duties. Permanent political scandals in small country led to the fact that people stopped believing authorities. And authorities’ activity is seemed to be suspicious in all spheres of life.
Thus, Lithuanians are wary of a new agreement on the country’s defense policy for the next decade signed by Lithuania’s parliamentary parties on Monday. The document calls for joint efforts to resist “irresponsible speculation that sets defense funding in opposition to other sensitive areas”. It means that Lithuanians do not have the right to decide to what area allocate budget money though they pay taxes. They do not have the right to speak on this topic and express their opinions if they contradict the official point of view. The parliament members forget the basic human rights. Article 19 of Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations states that ”everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
An ordinary person cannot solve the puzzle why television and Government controlled media describe his country just another way he sees it. Freedom House states also that “Regional economic disparities remain acute. The minimum wage remains one of the lowest within the EU, and the share of the population at risk of poverty and social exclusion is a little over 30 percent.
This discrepancy forces Lithuanians to seek better life abroad, usually in Old Europe. More than 20 years of expectation is too much. Life is too short to waste it to sit around waiting for changes.
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