Vol. 4, No. 20 (October 15, 2011)

Moscow seeks Baku’s help in developing the North Caucasus

Paul Goble
Publications Advisor
Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy

The visit of Aleksandr Khloponin, Russian vice prime minister and the plenipotentiary representative of the Russian president in the North Caucasus Federal District, accompanied by the leaders of seven republics in that region to Baku at the beginning of October, “opens a new and extremely promising page” in the relationship between Azerbaijan and the North Caucasus and, what may be even more important, between Baku and Moscow, according to an unsigned Day.az commentary. [1] 
That is because, as the commentary continued, this visit, during which Khloponin and his colleagues sought expanded Azerbaijani assistance in developing the economy of what has long been the Russian Federation’s most troubled region, bore “a strategic character.” To put it openly, the commentary continued, “on the results” of these talks “depends part of the success of the Russian economic strategy in the North Caucasus,” a strategy Moscow has long identified as the key to stabilization there. 

The Khloponin delegation came, as Day.az pointed out, in order to make a presentation concerning their plans and “with the goal of interesting Azerbaijani investors in long-term investments in the North Caucasus projects, including 33 industrial plants, 88 agro-industrial concerns, 13 energy projects, and 210 transportation facilities.  For that ambitious program to be realized, Day.az noted, “it became obvious already several years ago” that Moscow would have to involve Azerbaijan in cooperative efforts. 

Up to now, as Yury Shedrin, the economic representative of the Russian Federation in Azerbaijan pointed out, “only Stavropol kray and the Republic Dagestan are actively cooperating with Azerbaijan in the trade and economic sphere.” He said that Moscow hopes that Azerbaijan will move beyond “the low level” of economic activity in the other regions and republics of Russia’s North Caucasus.

Azerbaijani Prime Minister Arthur Rasizade told Khloponin that Baku is “interested in broadening cooperation with the North Caucasus with which [his] country is connected by deep historical relations.” [2] The Russian plenipotentiary noted during his visit that “Azerbaijan is a strategic partner with which we will further develop the potential of relations.” And the leaders of the republics who accompanied him said that Azerbaijani investors would enjoy special treatment if they chose to invest more in the North Caucasus region.

While the impact of these meetings is not yet fully clear—many of the agreements must still be worked out—Khloponin’s visit is truly a strategic turning point for at least three reasons.  First, the Russian deputy premier met not only with economic and political officials, but also with Allahshukur Pashazade, the head of the Administration of Muslims of the Caucasus, and said that he and Moscow welcomed the Azerbaijani Muslim leader’s advice in solving many of the problems of the North Caucasus, an indication that Khloponin at least is prepared to have the Azerbaijani-Russian relationship in the North Caucasus to be about more than just economics. [3] 

Second, Khloponin was emphatic in saying in his various meetings that Moscow and the North Caucasus as well are upset by the continuing conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh and the other occupied territories, a possible indication that the Russian side may be prepared to increase its recent efforts to resolve that conflict in order to offer Azerbaijan an additional and compelling inducement to help develop the North Caucasus.

And third, Khloponin’s visit suggests that Moscow is feeling its way toward a new approach to dealing with the North Caucasus.  Historically, from the 18th through the early 20th centuries, Russian governments have not been able to pacify and control the North Caucasus without having first gained control of the South Caucasus.  Given the independence of the three countries in the South Caucasus, Moscow cannot hope to achieve similar political control.  But by moving into the economic sphere and inviting cooperation with Azerbaijan, far and away the strongest economy in the South, Russia appears to be moving in a new direction, one that is certain to have consequences not only in the North and South Caucasus but more broadly as well.


[1] See http://news.day.az/economy/291561.html (accessed 13 October 2011).

[2] See http://news.day.az/politics/291686.html (accessed 13 October 2011).

[3] See http://news.day.az/politics/291862.html (accessed 13 October 2011).