Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Caspian Energy Going to Moscow and Tehran

Western powers are pushing Azerbaijan into the arms of Russia and Iran, according to an analysis published in April 2010. According to Murad Ismayilov, program manager for research and publications at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy, Baku has changed its national security strategy based on a variety of disappointments in the West.

Specifically, Ismayilov notes that following independence in the 1990s, Baku's pipeline diplomacy was guided by a desire to retain its independence, restore its territorial integrity, and secure economic self sufficiency. Support for western-oriented energy pipelines such as the Baku to Supsa and Baku to Ceyhan oil pipelines, as well as the Baku-Tblisi-Erzerum gas pipeline, were designed to secure Western help in achieving these three objectives. From Baku's viewpoint, however, the West has failed on all three counts.

The United States' failure to protect its Georgian ally from Russian dismemberment demonstrated that Baku could not count on America to protect its independence. When the US and France voted against the UN Resolution demanding Armenian withdrawal from Azerbaijani territory it was occupying, and other European countries abstained, it demonstrated that the West would not help with territorial integrity. When the US and the EU refused to support a rail link with Turkey, it demonstrated the West would not assist with economic self sufficiency. The West's failure to help Baku meet any of its goals is compounded by the West's emphasis on the promotion of democracy and human rights--something that Baku interprets as interference in its internal affairs.

According to Ismayilov, Baku has now changed its energy policy. Instead of favoring a western orientation, Azerbaijan wants multiple distribution lines so that it is not dependent on anyone. That means selling its products to Moscow and to Tehran. Further, whereas energy policy in the past was based on the political considerations previously mentioned, the new energy policies are based on economic considerations. To read Ismayilov's complete article, see http://www.res.ethz.ch/analysis/cad/details.cfm?lng=en&id=115530.

What all this means is that a Russian higher price, or a shorter route to the market through Iran, will dictate the direction in which Azerbaijani fuel will flow. This is a tremendous loss for America's policy of the past two decades. Starting with Bill Clinton and continuing through both Democratic and Republic administrations, the United States has been committed to providing outlets for Caucasus energy products that neither strengthened Russia nor enriched Iran. The United States' support for the Baku to Ceyhan pipeline (which was not the best export route from an economic perspective) was based precisely on these two points. Whether Ismayilov is describing reality is beside the point. He is describing the perceptions of the Azerbaijani leadership, and the policy turns that leadership is making in the face of the West's ignoring of its needs.

Dr. James J. Coyle is available to speak to your organization or at your event. Please contact him at jimcoyle@verizon.net.