"As for the Trans-Caucasus region, Russia will never leave this region," Putin said Dec. 2 after surveying Russian troops at the base in Armenia. "On the contrary, we will make our place here even stronger. We will strengthen our position here, drawing on the best of what our forebears left us and with the support of good relations with all countries in the region, including Armenia."
While Putin hasn't directly threatened Azerbaijan and an invasion is unlikely, his comments underscore the fact that he can use his influence in neighboring countries to hem in Azerbaijan, which has been ruled by the Aliyev family for four decades. "Azerbaijan is going to be next after Ukraine," according to Arastun Orujlu, head of the Center for East-West Studies, a research group in the capital Baku. "Russia will step up pressure."
Azerbaijan's position is complicated by the fact that it never courted the U.S. and the European Union the way that ex-Soviet satellites such as Poland and the Baltic states did. Azerbaijan hasn't applied to join either the North Atlantic Treaty Organization or the European Union and has instead pursued an independent foreign policy. The country has forged closer ties with Israel by buying its advanced weapons including drones and missile systems and NATO-member Turkey, with whom it signed an agreement on military cooperation.
The existing accord with Turkey is limited to training and arms purchases by Azerbaijan. The nations are negotiating a broader military deal to guarantee mutual assistance in case of an attack, Novruz Mammadov, the head of the presidential administration's foreign-relations department, said on the ANS television channel yesterday.