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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin Reinforces Ties With Azerbaijan

BAKU, Azerbijan - Russian President Vladimir Putin held talks with Azeri President Haydar Aliyev on Tuesday, smoothing relations on his first official visit to the Caspian Sea state and discussing the Azeri conflict with Armenia.

Putin and Aliyev were due to sign a special pact which will guide their countries' relations in the future as well as discuss cooperation in the key oil sector, a field in which both countries have a vital interest.

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.

Relations with Azerbaijan have been generally good but tinged with Azeri suspicion that Russia has given more support to Armenia in a long-running and bitter conflict over the Nagarno-Karabakh region.

"Russia and Azerbaijan are ready to end the pause which took place in their mutual relations," the deputy head of the Kremlin administration, Sergei Prikhodko, told reporters as Putin and Aliyev held talks in the presidential building in Baku.

"There is a mutual understanding...that the pause in political contacts and economic relations, and also in security issues, was wrong," he said.

Azerbaijan lies in the volatile Caucasus region which borders Russia's south, a key strategic zone for Moscow which has also seen its fair share of war and turmoil.

Russia is still quelling guerrillas in its Chechnya region, although the consequences of the conflict have tended to be felt more in Georgia, in the form of refugees, than in Azerbaijan.

But Azerbaijan is still at loggerheads with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh.

Some 35,000 people died in the conflict that erupted there 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 peace agreement.

Prikhodko said Nagorno-Karabakh would be discussed and added: "We support any decision which will suit both sides."

The Azeris have often viewed Moscow's involvement in the conflict with suspicion and 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.

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



CASPIAN SEA AGREEMENT TO BE SIGNED

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.

Prikhodko said a pact on the Caspian would be signed which would be a step on the road to consensus over borders but gave no details of what would be in the accord.

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.