American analyst: "More frustration than tension currently defining US-Azerbaijani relations"

US analyst Gerald Robbins, senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, who specializes on the Caucasus region, commented on the US-Azerbaijani ties which haverecently strained by escalating official rhetoric in Baku against Ambassador Richard Morningstar's latest interview to the local media.

“I generally agree with the Ambassador’s comments... Amid the "concernitis" and other diplomatic phrasing, he reflects a calibrated viewpoint that's needed when assessing Azerbaijan”, Mr. Robbins, who once served as Program Director for Freedom House in Baku during the mid 1990's, where he managed post-Soviet political and economic programs, said in an interview with TURAN’s Washington, DC correspondent.

Part of Washington’s stand, he explained, is due to Azerbaijan’s being tenuously located between Russia and Iran. Given the rising threats that both these nations convey, maintaining a stable Caspian environment is an important theme. “Azerbaijan's energy potential undoubtedly reinforces this outlook in US and Western diplomatic circles,” he said.

In the meantime, emphasizing regional stability conflicts with another important theme – Democracy, he said, adding thatAmbassador Morningstar's answers reflect this dilemma.

“Overall, it's a challenge that's generally confronting America's foreign policy outlook Advocating greater political freedom can cause uncertainty and serious instability. The Arab Spring's aftermath is a good example,” Robbins said arguing, whereas Washington had advocated the need for change in that region, the results have led to a more cautious vision:

“This chastened outlook has created a conceptual crossroad, where idealistic notions compete against realistic ones.”

Asked whetherBaku officials’ accusing Washington of "financing, and orchestrating 'Euromaidans'” reflect growing tensions in US-Azerbaijani relations, Robbins said, he didn’tbelieve there's a conscientious effort by America to orchestrate political unrest in Azerbaijan.

US foreign policy, he explained, seeks to promote democratic values, not impose them. What causes "Euromaidans" is “the lack of discourse and free expression in particular societies and it would be recklessly shortsighted if Washington actively promoted such ventures.”

As for the US-Azerbaijani ties, the analyst explained that there's more frustration than tension that's currently defining relations:“Washington's sending a vague if not contradictory message to Baku. If stability is the main concern, then how does democracy get promoted? Is it a total or gradual process? Given regional circumstances, can a democratization process be successfully managed? Both sides need to specifically address these questions to allay confusion and misperceptions.”

Speaking about the regional challenges in a wake of Ukrainian events, Robbins said, the crisis in the neighborhood places Azerbaijan in a very tenuous position.

The Kremlin's actions in Crimea and Western Ukraine are “a warning that Azerbaijan's energy potential can be readily confiscated, particularly if it's viewed as a competing threat to Russian input,”he said adding, given the US and Europe's muted response to the crisis, there must be a heightened sense of anxiety in Baku and neighboring capitals about Western resolve.  

For Robbins, settling the Nagorno-Karabakh issue seems very remote at this point, accentuated by Crimea's recent annexation:  “I don't believe Russia would enact a similar operation regarding Azerbaijan, but likely use subversive means to undermine governmental authority”.

In the meantime, he emphasized, there are limited options to counter Russian threats:“It's improbable that NATO will extend its protective umbrella to the Southern Caucasus, especially in light of the 2008 debacle in Georgia. Europe is severely handicapped by its Russian energy dependence and more immediate concerns about the EU's eastern frontier.”

The analyst also said that the Obama administration's "leading from behind" policy doctrine “isn't working and needs to assume a more proactive role.”

For Robbins, a presidential order rescinding Section 907 would be “a decisive show of support, signaling a marked change from the often awkward nature of US-Azerbaijani relations.”


Washington, DC

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