Are recent arrests related to the geopolitical situation?

The recent arrest of economist Farid Mehralizadeh by the Khatai District Court has stirred significant controversy and speculation about its geopolitical implications. Charged with smuggling under article 206.3.2 of the Criminal Code, Mehralizadeh's detention is seen by some as part of a broader strategy by the Azerbaijani government to consolidate power amidst shifting geopolitical tides.

Azer Gasimli, head of the Institute of Political Management, provided a provocative analysis on his Facebook page, suggesting that Mehralizadeh's arrest, along with others, is deeply intertwined with the current geopolitical climate. "Farid's arrest is connected not only with the desire of the Aliyev government to strengthen its power, but also with the geopolitical situation," Gasimli stated. "The reaction is coming in the South Caucasus, both in Azerbaijan and in Georgia and Armenia."

Gasimli elaborated on these views in the program "A Difficult Question," where he argued that the Azerbaijani government's historical pattern of arresting independent media representatives, civil society members, and political activists served both to consolidate internal power and as a bargaining tool with Western powers. However, the geopolitical landscape has since transformed, with the world now polarized between the "camp of dictatorship" and the "camp of democracy."

The South Caucasus region has indeed become a focal point of this global confrontation. Armenia, under the leadership of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, seeks closer integration with European institutions, drawing the ire of Russia, which is actively working to undermine Pashinyan's government. Conversely, Georgia appears to be aligning more closely with Russian interests, evidenced by the adoption of the controversial "Foreign Agents" law, reminiscent of Russian legislation.

Azerbaijan, according to Gasimli, has decisively made its geopolitical choice, aligning more closely with Russia. This alignment was formalized with the signing of the Declaration on Allied Cooperation between Azerbaijan and Russia on February 22, 2022. Azerbaijan's cooperation with Russia is evident in various international forums, including the United Nations and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), particularly concerning votes related to Ukraine.

The 3+3 format—comprising the three South Caucasus nations (Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia) and three regional powers (Turkey, Iran, and Russia)—further underscores this geopolitical shift. Gasimli asserts that this framework illustrates Azerbaijan's preference for regional over Western alliances, sidelining Western interests in favor of closer ties with Russia and other regional actors.

"Unlike in previous years, the current arrests are not made for bargaining. The goal is to make the country completely closed, to form a regime similar to Turkmenistan's," Gasimli contended. "This is necessary in order to concentrate all the country's resources in one hand."

The implications of this geopolitical alignment for civil society and freedom in Azerbaijan are profound. Gasimli's analysis suggests a move towards an increasingly authoritarian regime, where dissent and independent thought are systematically suppressed. The arrest of Mehralizadeh, seen through this lens, is part of a broader strategy to eliminate potential threats to the government's power and to cement a regime that prioritizes control over openness and democratic principles.


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