Friday, February 08, 2008

Karabakh War Drums

Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev is sounding aggressive about the Karabakh conflict:
"Azerbaijan's recent windfall of oil and gas revenues appears to have persuaded Aliyev that he could turn the tables on Armenia, which has long held the military upper hand in the dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh, a predominantly ethnic-Armenian territory located within Azerbaijan.

"In talks on February 4 with Slovenian Foreign Minister Dmitrij Rupel, who was representing the current EU Presidency, Aliyev indicated Baku was contemplating waging war for control of the disputed territory, which together with a strip of adjacent Azerbaijani territory has been under Yerevan's control since a 1988-94 war between the two countries...

"Both countries are holding a presidential vote this year -- Armenia on February 19, and Azerbaijan in October. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which has spent more than 15 years mediating talks between the two sides, has indicated an election year is not likely to see major progress on the issue.

"Baku, however, appears impatient. The Azerbaijani leadership, Rupel said, appears to feel that 'time is not on Armenia's side.' Nor is money. Azerbaijan's defense budget this year will exceed $1 billion; Armenia's is just one-third of that figure.

"Azerbaijan has enjoyed spectacular economic growth over the past few years. The country's GDP grew by 25 percent in 2007, almost exclusively on the strength of oil and gas exports.

"Azerbaijan's minister for economic development, Heydar Babayev, says he expects his government to generate upward of $150 billion in oil and gas revenues by 2015.

"Armenia, meanwhile, has no lucrative natural resources. It is landlocked, blockaded by neighbors Turkey and Azerbaijan, and -- at Baku's behest -- bypassed by oil and gas pipelines, as well as rail and road projects, which originate in Azerbaijan."

As I've said before, I agree that delays favor Azerbaijan. The article raises the issue of Russian backing for Armenia, but a few weeks ago Gazprom made an agreement for Azeri natural gas, which could give Azerbaijan some leverage. In reality, though, I doubt Aliyev actually wants a war. In fact, this may be his own election thumping, which isn't really necessary for someone who is both a dictator and genuinely popular, but seems standard nonetheless. Karabakh is a good issue for him, as it was through wartime leadership that his father, Heydar Aliyev, went from being hated commie to respected national leader, a mantle the younger Aliyev still hasn't earned in his own right.

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