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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin Meets Azeri Leader

BAKU, Azerbaijan - Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived in Azerbaijan on Tuesday, aiming to smooth ties with the former Soviet neighbour and preparing for tricky talks to help end the Azeris' conflict with Armenia.

After arriving in Baku, Putin headed for discussions with President Haydar Aliyev which are expected to include a wide range of political and economic issues, especially projects in the oil sector of the Caspian Sea state.

One of Putin's main foreign policy drives has been to reinforce ties with Russia's neighbours and increase Moscow's influence in the Commonwealth of Independent States, a loose grouping of 12 former Soviet states.

Azeri Foreign Minister Vilayat Guliyev said after Putin's arrival that the two presidents would sign a special declaration regulating bilateral relations and a document on legal borders in the Caspian Sea which are still undefined.

Guliyev said one key issue on the agenda would be how to resolve the long-running dispute between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh region.

"Questions of regional security and stability in the Caucasus will be discussed in the context of solving the Karabakh issue," Guliyev said.

Some 35,000 people died in the conflict that erupted after the mainly Armenian population in Karabakh tried to break away from Azeri rule in 1988. A 1994 ceasefire ended the fighting, but talks have not yet produced a formal peace agreement.

Russia is helping to mediate talks under the so-called Minsk Group of the Vienna-based Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

Russian military cooperation with Armenia has been a prickly issue for the Azeris since the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union. Aliyev has criticised Russia for supplying Armenia with millions of dollars worth of arms.

Throughout the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Azerbaijan alleged that Russia was helping the Armenian side.



CASPIAN SEA, OIL ON AGENDA

Russian and Azeri officials also plan to discuss economic issues, especially in the energy sector, as well as economic borders in the Caspian Sea, still undefined 10 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Moscow wielded economic mastery over the Caspian basin during the Soviet era but Azerbaijan is fast developing a large and potentially lucrative oil industry. This has been largely with the help of non-Russian foreign firms although Russian oil major LUKOIL is to explore an onshore block.

Questions of borders in the Caspian Sea also have to be resolved. Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Russia, Turkmenistan and Iran share the closed inland sea.