Sunday, November 28, 2010

Baku Summit Sends Message to the United States

With the Caspian region remaining a distant thought for Washington insiders, and the appointment of a US Ambassador to Azerbaijan a captive to ethnic politics in the United States, President Ilham Aliyev has delivered a message to the United States that his country has alternatives to its Western orientation. One can only hope that someone in our nation's capital is listening.

The day before the November 18 summit, Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad arrived in Baku for a formal state visit. President Aliyev met with Ahmadinejad and discussed future cooperation. The positive results of this meeting for the two parties were almost immediate: Iran's Deputy Oil Minister Jawad Oji announced that experts were considering increasing gas imports from Azerbaijan to 2-5 million cubic meters per day. Oji said that a special committe had been established to look at the issue. The minister's concerns were not political, but technical: "we must be sure that Azerbaijan has completed the construction of necessary supply pipelines and has installed compressor stations of high pressure," he said (, 22 November 2010).

The following day, the two presidents were joined by the Presidents of Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Russia. Demitri Medvedyev's inclusion at the meeting was a second indicator that Azerbaijan's oil and gas was not always promised to the West. In a formal press conference, the heads of state concurred that progress had been made in establishing the legal status of the Caspian (is it a sea or a lake?) and the distribution of the minerals beneath it. At the commencement of the meeting, President Aliyev pointed out that the countries of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Russia had already reached an agreement on the division of the Caspian. (, 19 November 2010)

In a not-so-subtle warning to the United States, President Medvedyev warned outside powers not to involve themselves in Caspian affairs. "If at any moment we relax in our mutual cooperation, there is no doubt that other states will want to interfere with our concerns--states that lack a know-how of or a relationship with the Caspian but whose interest stems from economic interests and political goals," he said. The five presidents then signed a joint cooperation agreement on security issues. ("Pledges but no Breakthrough at Caspian Talks", The Moscow Times, 19 November 2010).

To maintain a semblance of balance, simultaneous with the summit the Azerbaijani Center for Strategic Studies and the TransCaspian Policy Platform cosponsored a roundtable to discuss the European direction of Caspian energy. The discussion included the Romanian Special Advisor, the head of the European Union's delegation to Azerbaijan, the Managing Editor of the Journal of Energy Security, current and former gas and oil executives. (, 19 November 2009) While such a gathering would appear impressive in ordinary times, its importance pales before the meeting of the heads of state. Caspian energy resources are slipping from the West's grasp, and no one seems to be watching.

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