Russia’s Putin to Visit Baku for Talks with Azeri, Iranian Presidents

MOSCOW- Russian President Vladimir Putin will visit Azerbaijan’s capital Baku for talks with Azeri President Ilham Aliyev and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, the Kremlin announced on its official website Thursday.

Putin’s visit came at the personal invitation of Aliyev, who has in recent years tried to forge closer economic and military ties with Moscow.

The three leaders will discuss current issues on the international and regional political agenda and prospects for establishing practical cooperation, particularly in energy and transport.

According to Russia’s state-run news agency ITAR-TASS, the three sides will specifically discuss the future North-South transportation corridor, which will connect Northern Europe and South-East Asia via existing railway systems in Azerbaijan, Iran and Russia.

Putin and Aliyev will also likely discuss the current situation in neighboring Armenia and the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh, where Baku and Yerevan have been at war over the ethnic Armenian enclave for more than two decades.

Russia is Armenia’s closest political and economic ally, with huge swathes of the Armenian economy controlled by Kremlin-connected businesses.

Yerevan joined the Russian-led Eurasian Customs Union in January 2015, thinking the economic, military and diplomatic cover Moscow would provide the small Christian nation of 3 million with solid security guarantees against its historic Muslim archrivals Turkey and Azerbaijan.

Russia, however, infuriated Armenia after it sold billions of dollars worth of highly sophisticated weaponry to Azerbaijan in the run-up to a four-day conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh in April.

The clashes, the worst in 20 years, left hundreds dead and wounded; with Azerbaijan in control of territory previously held by ethnic Armenian forces since the end of hostilities in 1994.

Russia has historically been the main mediator between Azerbaijan and Armenia, and Putin’s visit will likely catch the attention of Armenia, which has undergone major civil unrest as a group of radical Karabakh War veterans recently seized a police station in Yerevan and demanded the resignation of close Russian-ally, President Serzh Sargsyan.

By Nicholas Waller

Photo: Mikhail Metzek/TASS

04 August 2016 12:46