Several days ago Richard Morningstar, the U.S. Ambassador in Baku, made a statement in an interview with the Azerbaijani office of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty of a sort which diplomats do not usually dare to make. The American suggested that one of the lessons Baku should learn from the events in Ukraine is that the Maidan could repeat itself in Azerbaijan if, as he said, the rights of civil society are violated.
Richard Morningstar is a well-known conduit for the interests of Western energy corporations. Before his appointment as ambassador to Azerbaijan, he served as Special Envoy of the United States Secretary of State for Eurasian Energy. When he started his tour in Baku in July 2012, Morningstar conscientiously lobbied for finding delivery routes for Azerbaijani hydrocarbons to the West «bypassing Russia».
The American diplomat's statement regarding the possibility of an «Azerbaijani Maidan» should be considered together with the previous speech of James Warlick, the U.S. Co-Chair of the Minsk Group on the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The speech took place May 7 at the Carnegie Endowment in Washington. The ideas expressed by Warlick – and he unambiguously suggested retuning the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict to the situation at the end of the 1980s – was received very frostily in Yerevan…
What were Washington's goals in suggesting that its diplomats make such irritating statements to both Yerevan and Baku one right after the other? May of this year marked the 20th anniversary of the cease-fire in Nagorno-Karabakh. There is some evidence that, influenced by the processes of disintegration in Ukraine and the reunification of Crimea and Russia, Washington has come to the conclusion that maintaining the status quo in the area of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is no longer in America's interests. If that is indeed so, it is a very dangerous thought. All the more so if, as experts suggest, what lies behind it is an attempt to convince Armenia that its decision to join the Customs Union is «ill-conceived» and face Russia with «failure in the Caucasus».
The American strategists are counting on a new escalation of tensions around Nagorno-Karabakh pushing Azerbaijan toward NATO and the possible formation of an Ankara-Tbilisi-Baku «axis» (Ankara already has a package of agreements on guarantees of security and mutual assistance with Baku). In recent years the military and political component has been growing intensely in this hypothetical threesome. Georgia is setting the pace in raising the level of military interaction between the neighbors. Turkey and Azerbaijan are for now showing more restraint, understanding the risks in creating a hostile regional alliance in the zone of Russia's strategic interests. However, a violation of the status quo in the zone of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict could change a lot.
Of the four countries in the nearly-forgotten GUAM alliance (Georgia-Ukraine-Moldova-Azerbaijan), to which at various stages of the American geopolitical idea it was planned to add Turkey, only Azerbaijan has yet to confirm its Euroatlantic ambitions. As some Western experts are inclined to believe, the reason for such caution is Azerbaijan's «complex neighborship» with Russia and Iran.
The Caspian factor plays a separate role in U.S. plans to make political processes in the region more confrontational. The upcoming fourth summit of the Caspian countries in Astrakhan is to be held at approximately the same time as the September NATO summit in Wales. Washington has set a goal of not allowing any breakthrough decisions to be made at the September meeting of the Caspian Five. The settlement of the remaining unresolved issues on the status of the Caspian Sea does not jibe with America's scheme for maintaining tensions in the region. For that reason, they will try not to allow Azerbaijan to resolve its problems with Iran (in which Russia has an interest) on the delimitation of the national sectors of the Caspian Sea. Washington is also resisting the creation of mechanisms for maintaining security in the sea/lake exclusively by coastal cities. Azerbaijan previously did not agree to Moscow's suggestion of creating a joint naval operational cooperation group (KASFOR) on the Caspian Sea, but now Baku is not so categorical; this alone arouses the irritation of American strategists.
There was a separate provocative theme in Morningstar's speech: references to some kind of «invasion» of Azerbaijan. The American ambassador hinted that the possible invaders of Azerbaijan could be Russia or Iran. In connection with this, several times he asked a rhetorical question: who, if not America could help Azerbaijan in such a case, «after looking at what Russia has done with Crimea and Ukraine»?! Baku reacted to these figures of speech from the American diplomat with dignity: Azerbaijani officials from the administration of the president and the foreign service interpreted this as interference in the internal affairs of their country.
Nonetheless, the U.S. administration has tested the waters. And this was done a few days before the upcoming meeting of the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council on May 29 in Astana, on the threshold of the signing of a Treaty on the Eurasian Economic Union by the leaders of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan.