What does Russia want from Azerbaijan in exchange for the withdrawal of its troops?

What does Russia want from Azerbaijan in exchange for the withdrawal of its troops?

In a recent development, Russian peacekeepers have commenced their withdrawal from Azerbaijani territories, a move confirmed by both Russian and Azerbaijani officials. The deployment of Russian peacekeepers in the region was initially slated to end by the conclusion of the following year. Yet, amidst these withdrawals, speculation has arisen regarding Russia's potential desire to further enhance its economic footprint in the region, despite the premature withdrawal of its military contingent. Could the question of Azerbaijan's membership in the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), established in 2014 and comprising Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Russia, be brought to the forefront?

Aydin Mirzazade, a deputy from Azerbaijan's ruling party, views the withdrawal of Russian peacekeepers from Azerbaijan as indicative of the amicable relations between the two nations. Mirzazade, as reported by Turan, asserts that there was no justification for the presence of Russian troops on Azerbaijani soil: "Russian peacekeepers were temporarily stationed in the territory where there used to be a separatist regime, which lasted for five years. Currently, there is no separatist regime in Karabakh." He highlights that the Armenian population has also vacated the region, rendering the presence of Russian peacekeepers unnecessary. Mirzazade underscores the positive trajectory of Moscow-Baku relations, which facilitated a diplomatic resolution without the interference of other nations.

However, questions linger regarding Russia's intentions in this exchange. Mirzazade wonders aloud what Russia seeks in return: "It neither wants nor needs anything. The relations between the two countries are normal, enabling them to understand and respect each other's national interests and sovereignty. Moreover, such a resolution could go down in history as one of the successful instances of global diplomacy."

Arif Mamedov, Azerbaijan's former permanent representative to the Council of Europe in Strasbourg from 2007 to 2012, presents several potential scenarios. He suggests that the outcome may stem from an agreement between Moscow and Tehran rather than between Baku and Moscow. According to reports, Iran cautioned Russia about Israel's deployment of electronic warfare equipment and drones in the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan. If Israel strikes Iran, Tehran intends to retaliate in the region and prefers Russia's absence there.

 

Mamedov emphasizes the heightened concern evident in recent diplomatic moves. The French ambassador has departed Azerbaijan for consultations, and on April 18, the joint Turkish-Russian Monitoring Center announced its cessation of operations. Mamedov suggests that the failure of Azerbaijan to construct three airports in the liberated regions underscores strategic rather than tourism-related interests.

He notes that the timeline for the departure of Russian peacekeepers was slated for 2025, making their premature withdrawal one and a half years earlier remarkable. Mamedov discounts any role for the Ukrainian conflict in this context, stating that 2,000 troops would be inconsequential in such a large-scale war.

Regarding the prospect of Azerbaijan joining the Eurasian Economic Union, Mirzazade emphasizes that there has been no such proposal, and Azerbaijan has never expressed interest in it. Azerbaijan prioritizes establishing open, normal relations with all countries globally and maintains bilateral relations with all EAEU member states. He cites the Azerbaijani president's inauguration speech, which emphasized the nation's close ties with the Turkish world. Azerbaijan aims to bolster its relationships with the five Turkic states and elevate their trade and economic connections.

However, Mamedov suggests that Azerbaijan's accession to the EAEU could be the next opportunity in exchange for the withdrawal of peacekeepers. He highlights the customs sphere as the most guarded area in Azerbaijan, with authorities reluctant to join the World Trade Organization due to monopolies, opacity, and the closed nature of the economy.

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