Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Rice in Azerbaijan Tomorrow

Here is an informative article on EurasiaNet detailing what's been happening in Azerbaijan lately and what may soon boil to the surface there. Also check out an earlier posting here for further background. Things seem to be coming to a head in the former Soviet republic and tomorrow could prove a big day. The official opening of the Baku-Tiblisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline takes place on May 25 and none other than Secretary Rice will be in attendance. The clash in U.S. policy between new energy production and democratization of the region will be hard to ignore, particulary after last weekend's protests. More on that:

Before being set upon by club wielding riot police, some opposition demonstrators could be seen holding portraits of US President George W. Bush. During a May 10 speech in capital of neighboring Georgia, Bush indicated that the United States would back democratic change in all former Soviet states. "Across the Caucasus, in Central Asia and the broader Middle East, we see the same desire for liberty burning in the hearts of young people. They are demanding their freedom -- and they will have it," Bush told the crowd assembled on Tbilisi’s Freedom Square. "We are living in historic times when freedom is advancing, from the Black Sea to the Caspian." In organizing the Baku rally for fair elections, opposition leaders seemed to be acting on Bush’s Tbilisi’s comments. "
Rice does not have an easy task ahead of her. The Azerbaijani government obviously has no intention of democraticizing soon, despite vague comments to the contrary.

In comments made prior to the May 21 rally, Ali Hasanov, an advisor to Aliyev, insisted that the Azerbaijani government is committed to democratization. "We think this [democratization] is normal," Hasanov said in comments broadcast May 21 by Space TV. "Azerbaijan has chosen the way of evolution. Some states have chosen the way of revolution, and that is their own business."
Bush's trip to Georgia last month was a phenomenal P.R. success. But there were few of the complications in Georgia that will arise in Azerbaijan in the coming months as November elections and the implementation of the massive BTC pipeline could escalate the situation. This story will develop rapidly over the next few months--and potentially tomorrow in Baku. Expect the state department to play down the U.S.'s role for the time being.
--Frank

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