Azerbaijan also began the holy month differently from Iran. Aliyev is using the war in Ukraine to boost relations with Turkey’s Erdoğan, questioning Russia’s military presence in his country after the war with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh. For Turkey, this is an opportunity to fill any vacuum left by a weaker Russia in the Caucasus.
Milan (AsiaNews) – Power relations are shifting in the Caucasus and, for Baku, what better time to send a strong message than Ramadan. To this end, Azerbaijan used the opportunity to start the holy month of fasting at the same time as Turkey rather than Iran, as it usually did.
In the past, Azeri President Ilham Aliyev rhetorically referred to his country and Turkey as “one nation, two states”, an expression Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan likes very much.
Referring to the phrase, some media outlets referred to the Ramadan decision as “Two states, one eid timetable”.
Irony aside, this is an important moment, bound to change the balance of power in the South Caucasus, with Russia currently engaged in the war in Ukraine, but carefully monitoring what is going on because its presence in the Caucasus could be greatly diminished.
Russian forces were deployed to Azerbaijan following the Second Nagorno-Karabakh war, a major irritant to Azeri leaders, who are more and more determined to develop their own foreign policy and not depend too much on Moscow.
The Kremlin is expected to keep one foot in the country until 2025, during which it will try to consolidate its presence and influence.
But Aliyev has no intention of wasting so much time and has found in Erdoğan – useful for years to his extremely fickle and pragmatic foreign policy – an important partner to free himself, at least partially, from the Russian yoke.
For Baku, this is a necessary but not easy step to take. A more independent foreign policy by Azerbaijan can only irritate both Moscow and Tehran.
In fact, caution not to upset anyone remains de rigueur. Azerbaijan’s decision to recognise the autonomy of the Donbass republics is a case in point.
The message is clear: even with an autonomous foreign policy, Baku has no intention of getting in Russia’s way.
The difficult part, however, now is to convince Moscow that the rapprochement with Turkey is not due to Russia’s diminished role in the Caucasus.
This is borderline impossible since Erdoğan has been seeking this goal for years and Aliyev himself would not mind a Caucasus with a smaller Russian footprint.
For his part, the Turkish president waits patiently, cognizant before anyone else that the war against Ukraine could turn into a great opportunity for Turkey, and not only in relation to the difficult negotiations Ankara is carrying out.
A Russia engaged in the war in Ukraine is a weak Russia, as evinced by the decision of many former Soviet republics in Central Asia to distance themselves from Moscow.
The time has come for Turkey to step in and fill the gaps created by Russia in countries with which it has strong religious and cultural ties.
What is more, when this war is over, the Kremlin may be forced to revise its map of spheres of influence, and take note that its great Turkish partner dug hole if not a pit under its feet.