Author: Irina KHALTURINA
Participation of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev at the informal meeting of heads of CIS states in St. Petersburg on December 20 at the invitation of Vladimir Putin can be called a logical final chord of the year of 2019 and intense Azerbaijani-Russian relations. It is also a successful result of building effective economic and political dialogues between Baku and its closest neighbours in the CIS and with regional states in general.
The informal meeting was held as part of the summit of Supreme Council of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). This international economic organidation created in 2014 consists of five countries: Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan (plus Moldova as an observer) and cooperates with China, Iran, Singapore, Vietnam, Serbia through the creation of free trade zones (FTA). For example, Tehran officially joined FTA at the end of October 2019. EAEU's core is the Union State of Russia and Belarus created way before the EAEU. Moscow and Minsk continue to deepen the integration of the two countries. Member states of the organisation recognise that the EAEU has many unresolved problems. Nevertheless, the organisation continues constant works to ensure the economic rapprochement of the member states and partners.
Azerbaijan is not a member of the EAEU but actively and closely monitors trends in the organisation and all processes in the Eurasian space. This is not surprising since Azerbaijan has close bilateral relations with almost all EAEU members, except Armenia, which occupied 20% of the territory of Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan is also interested in this organization due to the geostrategic position of the country and an instrumental role that Azerbaijan plays in international transport and transit projects, such as the North-South project. Taking into account the common past, the economies of the countries of the former USSR are largely complementary. It would be extremely irrational to lose what has already been accumulated. It is much more profitable to build new relations based on the existing achievements. However, most experts agree that the main economic advantage of the EAEU is trade facilitation for small and medium-sized exporters who do not have intermediaries and work on their own. It is clear that Azerbaijan is also interested in this initiative, as well as in the growth of mutual trade with our partners, investments in technology and knowledge-intensive industries.
At the same time, full-fledged cooperation and integration in the region (taking into account all the players, including Iran and possibly Turkey) is impossible due to the unresolved Karabakh conflict. The expert community and political elites often discuss the likelihood of Azerbaijan’s membership in the EAEU. However, the determining factor is that the organisation operating since 2015 was created on the basis of a single customs union and economic space, which assumes the absence of any territorial disputes between the member states. That is why the interaction of Azerbaijan and Armenia within the EAEU is impossible until the Karabakh conflict is settled. At the same time, Yerevan’s attempts to use this platform against Azerbaijan are categorically rejected by other members of the organisation.
Back in 2014, even before joining the EAEU, then-President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev stated that Armenia could be a member of the organisation only within the borders recognised by the United Nations, i.e. without Nagorno-Karabakh. President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko held the same position. Later, the incumbent Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan realised that even if Baku was not a member of the EAEU, it was in the different weight category.
Meanwhile, relations between neighbouring countries and immediate partners should be based not only on economic and political factors, but also on common historical values. Perhaps that is why the Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke about his rejection of the provisions of the resolution of the European Parliament 'On the Importance of Preserving Historical Memory for the Future of Europe', dated September 19, 2019 in the presence of CIS colleagues. He cited excerpts from 17 historical documents from the period prior to World War II showing that the treaty between the USSR and Germany (the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact) can hardly be called at least the only document that 'divided Europe and the territories of independent states between two totalitarian regimes that paved the way for the start of World War II.'
The words of the Russian president were in line with those of the Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliyev, who in October 2019, at the meeting of the Council of Heads of State of the CIS in Ashgabat, emphasised that it was extremely wrong to review the results of the war and interpret them in a different way. Also in Ashgabat, the Azerbaijani leader noted that the CIS heads of state have repeatedly opposed the glorification of the Nazis, but, unfortunately, this is exactly what is happening in Armenia now. In 2016, a huge monument was installed in Yerevan to the fascist executioner and traitor Garegin Ter-Harutyunyan, who served the German fascists under the nickname Garegin Nzhdeh. I. Aliyev noted that the activities of Nzhdeh are condemned in the reports of the Russian Foreign Ministry, but the Armenian leadership adheres to a different point of view. By the way, a little later, in November 2019, Nikol Pashinyan, during his meeting with Russian journalists in Yerevan, tried to draw parallels between Garegin Nzhdeh and the former USSR people's commissar for foreign affairs, Vyacheslav Molotov by referring to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact , and tried to put Nzhdeh at the same level as Soviet dissidents like Solzhenitsyn, who also were imprisoned after World War II. Pashinyan also tried to blame the Azerbaijani leader for using the CIS summit to discuss this issue. But in Ashgabat, and recently in St. Petersburg, one of the underlined issues was the unacceptability of interpretations of the results of World War II. At the same time, we should underline the general humanist position of Ilham Aliyev during the last summit, when he not only noted the contribution of Azerbaijan to the common Victory over fascism, but also recognised the contribution of the Armenian people. After all, the main idea that the President of Azerbaijan wanted to convey was that the Armenians must clear the shameful stain on their history by dismantling the scandalous monument.
But it depends on the political will, identity and the ultimate goals of those who pursues better future for himself and for his people. Baku has never hidden that its foreign policy is based on national interests only and is unbiased. For example, Azerbaijan considers the likelihood of joining the EAEU in parallel with the possibility of WTO membership or cooperation with the EU.
Ilham Aliyev’s visit to St. Petersburg in December should be considered from this position. There he held the third bilateral meeting in 2019 with Vladimir Putin. As noted by I. Aliyev at a meeting with the leaders of Azerbaijani diaspora organisations in St. Petersburg, "today Russian-Azerbaijani relations are at the highest level in history." It is enough to touch only on the summits to get a completely impressive picture - three presidential meetings, mutual visits at the ministerial level, the chairman of the Council of the Federation of Russia, various officials, as well as a very successful official visit by the end of the year to Azerbaijan’s first vice president Mehriban Aliyeva to Moscow. Not to mention the impressive list of economic cooperation between the two countries in 2019, the listing of which will take a lot of time. Therefore, it is logical that the Russian president invited Ilham Aliyev to a meeting in St. Petersburg, where the clock was checked and the results of 2019 were summarized, plans were made and there were probably many opportunities for backstage communication that was important in interstate relations.