The United States Can Counter Russia By Putting More Energy Into Its Relationship With Azerbaijan

Putin Getty Images/Sean Gallup

Jacob Kamaras Editor for the Jewish News Service
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While Russia and its strongman leader Vladimir Putin continue to jockey for position atop the global power structure with the United States, nations like Azerbaijan are quietly working to break Moscow’s chokehold on energy exportation to Europe. It would stand to reason, then, that America would ramp up its strategic, economic and diplomatic ties with Azerbaijan.

So what is preventing Washington from moving forward?

On Jan. 25, the Azerbaijani affiliate of oil industry giant, British Petroleum (BP) announced that 16 of the 26 wells in the Shah Deniz 2 gas field have been drilled and that six are ready to be commissioned. Azerbaijan’s government, meanwhile, announced that 99 percent of the development of Shah Deniz 2 and the expansion of the South Caucasus pipeline are complete.

These projects are key elements of the huge and geopolitically vital Southern Gas Corridor (SGC), which will span nearly 2,200 miles across seven countries and involve more than a dozen major energy companies; its pipeline projects include the South Caucasus Pipeline in Azerbaijan and Georgia, the Trans Anatolian Pipeline in Turkey, and the Trans Adriatic Pipeline in Greece, Albania, and Italy.

As a result of the $41.5 billion SGC initiative, Azerbaijan is poised to emerge as a key — if not the — indispensable player in oil and natural gas exportation from the Caspian Sea basin to Europe. Shah Deniz 2 will deliver its first gas to Turkey this year and then to Europe in 2019.

Russia is already feeling the effects of Azerbaijan’s impending rise in this market, as the former Soviet republic of Georgia announced Jan. 4 that it would no longer purchase natural gas from its archrival Moscow. Instead, Georgia will receive 2.680 billion cubic meters of gas from Azerbaijan and will mine the rest of its gas domestically.

Given the clear strategic benefit to the U.S. of aligning itself with Azerbaijan, Russia’s new rival in energy exports to Europe, what might be holding back the development of deeper Azerbaijani-American ties? Look no further than Armenia and the cadre of pro-Armenian U.S. lawmakers who veer American policy in an anti-Azerbaijani direction.

Last September, the House of Representatives considered an amendment by Rep. David Valadao (R-Calif.) to support continued congressional funding of the HALO Trust’s demining activity in farmlands and villages in Nagorno-Karabakh, the Armenian-occupied Azerbaijani territory that has been the source of a decades-long conflict between these Eurasian nations. Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), an ethnic Armenian, who signs onto anything that is pro-Armenian regardless of whether it is in America’s best interests, declared that “this modest $1.5 million amendment is destined to have a major impact on the physical and mental health of the people of Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh).”

“Modest” is in the eye of the beholder. In truth, any U.S. aid to Nagorno-Karabakh serves to support an Armenian occupation that violates U.N. Security Council Resolutions 853, 874 and 884, as well as U.N. General Assembly Resolutions 19/13 and 57/298, which all affirm Nagorno Karabakh as Azerbaijani territory.

Nagorno-Karabakh receives more than financial backing from the U.S. The territory also benefits from important symbolic gestures by American lawmakers—such as last year’s visit by Reps. Valadao, Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), and Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), well-known for her scandalous pro-Assad positions and meetings with the tyrant. By making a diplomatic trip to Armenian-occupied Azerbaijani territory, these legislators are saying that Azerbaijan’s sovereignty means nothing.

The pro-Armenian U.S. lawmakers are, by extension, turning a blind eye to Russia’s disturbing manipulation of its vassal state Armenia. Arguably the least sovereign of the post-Soviet nations, Armenia is filled with Russian military bases and weapons. Russian and Armenian leaders have stated outright the shared desire to “coordinate” their foreign policy. Sergei Sarkisov, Armenia’s consul general in Los Angeles, is even a notorious Russian oligarch.

Unlike Armenia’s shameless, lockstep pro-Russian foreign policy, Azerbaijan pursues what preeminent Eurasia analyst, Paul Goble, recently described in an article for The Jamestown Foundation as “a balanced foreign policy, one that seeks to maintain good relations with both the Russian Federation and the West.”

America needs balanced, rational allies such as Azerbaijan, not a shill for Russia like Armenia. And while Azerbaijan offers the U.S. significant potential for economic partnerships in energy and other sectors, no similar potential exists for American commerce with Armenia, which is increasingly plagued by inflation, growing poverty, a scarcity of trade partners, and a severe brain drain.

The United States needs to wake up and realize who its real friends are, and which of its alliances have real strategic value. In order to counter Russian influence, but also for the pure benefits of the bilateral relationship itself, Azerbaijan should be much higher up on America’s list of priorities.

Jacob Kamaras is an editor for the Jewish News Service and is noted for his work on the Middle East and American politics.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.