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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Baku Wants Out of CIS Defense Treaty




Former Soviet republic Azerbaijan indicated Friday it will leave the Commonwealth of Independent States military alliance, dealing another blow to Russia's once-total mastery of the Transcaucasus region.


Uzbekistan has already left the collective security treaty, and Georgia may follow, further unraveling the alliance as regional leaders look to other key regional players, such as Turkey and the United States.


An Azeri diplomat was quoted Friday by Interfax as saying Azerbaijan would leave the alliance. Azerbaijan has protested Russia's decision to ship S-300 antiaircraft missile systems and MiG-29 fighter jets to two Russian bases in Armenia.


Armenia helped Nagorny Karabakh, the Armenian-populated enclave located in Azerbaijan, win a seven-year war against Baku.


Russia, Christian Armenia's traditional ally against the region's Moslem powers, says the weapons will not be transferred to Armenian control, but Azerbaijan is not convinced. It not only says it will pull out of collective defense arrangements, but has suggested it might invite NATO to set up bases near Baku and has threatened to shut down Russia's early-warning radar in Azerbaijan.


A senior official with the Russian Defense Ministry's international cooperation department said that Moscow is ready to set up bases in Azerbaijan "in case Baku believes that we unfairly favor Yerevan."


"We can offer them the same level of presence," he said in a recent interview.


These statements have not placated Azerbaijan, however, with senior officials saying NATO weaponry should still be deployed in their country to counter reinforcements of Russian bases in Armenia.


Georgia has long been upset with Russia's unofficial support of its separatist province of Abkhazia. Georgia has not only hinted it will leave the CIS collective treaty, but has also been pushing for withdrawal of Russian troops from two bases on its soil. It has also urged replacement of Russian peacekeepers in Abkhazia with NATO troops.


Experts say there is not much the weakened successor to the tsarist and Soviet empires can do to prevent the further alienation of Georgia and Azerbaijan.


"We should not fall into hysterics. Russia must come to terms with the fact that it can no longer maintain its once dominant position in the Transcaucasus," said Yury Anchabadze of the Caucasus department of the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of Anthropology and Ethnology.


He said Moscow should not make any strategic concessions to Tbilisi or Baku - such as sacrificing its close relations with Armenia. Both Azerbaijan and Georgia will take advantage of these concessions but continue to drift away from Russia, he said.


Georgian leader Eduard Shevardnadze has already refused to attend the CIS summit scheduled this month.


Russia's economic weakness is another motivation to seek other allies. "We will see Georgia and Azerbaijan move toward more powerful and generous players as long as Russia will remain weak economically," said Karine Gevorkyan, leading Caucasus expert with the Russian Academy of Sciences' Oriental Studies Institute.


She said Russia's positions in the region are also undermined by its failure to carry out unified policy there.


"Because of lack of a single power center, we have not only different branches of power, but even different ministries carrying out different and often contradicting policies in this region," she said.


She said Russia's Defense Ministry is most pro-Armenian while the Fuel and Energy Ministry is more pro-Azeri, being drawn by Baku's vast oil and natural gas fields in the Caspian Sea zone.