The West’s ill-disposed attitude towards the European Games taking place in Baku made Azerbaijan more cautious in its relations with Europe, as well as the United States. It’s not just wrong treatment but rather outright insults that overshadowed the event. Take the German Bundestag’s resolution criticizing Azerbaijan for human rights violations or the fact that European leaders ignored the opening ceremony (which was magnificent, by the way). It was counterbalanced by the presence of President Vladimir Putin and Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Azerbaijan is a country of nine million. Rich in oil and gas it has enough political clout to impact the situation in Eurasia. Europe hopes Azerbaijan will substitute Russia as gas supplier to diminish the Moscow’s influence in the region. Western media was highly critical of Azerbaijan before and during the Games. The Azerbaijani government considered it as an organized propaganda stunt. The Azerbaijani President's Aide for Public and Political Affairs, Ali Hasanov, is sure that the malicious campaign led by some organizations and media representatives is a method of pressure on the country which implements independent policy and doesn’t cave in.
This point of view is justified. It’s not just being critical, there is a goal pursued. Azerbaijan has said in straightforward language that the US State Department is behind the campaign. The reason is the Azerbaijan’s independent policy which differs from obedient behavior of the countries like Poland and Latvia, for instance. Azerbaijani officials and media openly blame Washington. According to Azerbaijani Izvestia, the US wants Baku to play by its rules when it comes to regional politics and become an instrument in the hands of the United States opposing Russia and Iran.
Polish and Latvian media don’t criticize the «big brother». Western media is pursuing certain goals. This time there is nothing like security concerns at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Baku is a relatively safe place. The infrastructure (the expenditure went up to $915 million) is up to par, there is no doubt about that. Western media behaved the same way during the Sochi Olympics of 2014. The activities are politically motivated. The authors of Bundestag resolution say nothing about security, service or sport events. All of a sudden Bundesbürgers started to care about the human rights in Azerbaijan. Normally these issues are raised in the West for purely political reasons. They have no relation to sports. Even the name of the resolution – «Demanding the protection of human rights in Azerbaijan» – sounds like Soviet days propaganda.
The document puts into question the Azerbaijan’s membership in European international organizations. In the 1990s Baku believed that joining the European structures was a big achievement. It considered it as a way to find a solution to the Karabakh problem. Now that’s what Azerbaijan got as a result. The resolution adopted by German Bundestag states that the current athletic event is taking place in the country responsible for gross and large scale human rights violations that run contrary to its obligations as a member of the Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
It sounds familiar to Russian readers. The «facts» adduced to support the affirmation are the same stuff: the arrests of whistleblowers and the refusal to let some pseudo journalists into the country. Emma Hughes of Platform, a member of the Sport for Rights coalition, was detained in Baku airport on her way into Azerbaijan to be deported afterwards. She was indignant. According to her, it was not the athletic event she wanted to highlight but rather court proceedings in the case of a whistleblower.
The revelation smacks of hypocrisy. Bradley Manning is a US whistleblower sentenced to 35 years in prison who turned into a woman while serving the term. He could tell you more about it. Imagine a foreign journalist visiting the United States on the occasion of Olympic Games and all of a sudden switching to reports on the hardships US whistleblowers have to go through. How much time will pass till he (or she) is deported? Perhaps less than the period of time Emma Hughes spent in Baku airport before deportation.
Since some time ago Baku started to implement a foreign policy different from what the West wanted it to be. The criticism of human rights violations before and during the European Games is a retaliatory action to punish Azerbaijan for being independent. In December 2014 Press-Secretary of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Azer Qasimov told APA News Agency in connection with biased and unfounded statements of the US Department of State, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and other organisations, «First of all, the statements made by the above mentioned non-governmental organizations, as well as the State Department spokesperson, don’t reflect the reality, and no international organization gives authority to the State Department to judge other countries. It should be noted that the offices of these NGOs are located in the United States, and they actually function as branches of State Department».
Unforgettable Jane Psaki served as a spokesperson for the United States Foggy Bottom at the time. Azerbaijan (as it had been in Russia till 2014) believed that the West would not implement a policy running contrary to its economic interests. It was a mistake to think so. The same thing happened in Russia. Is there a method in West’s madness? Azerbaijan has been joining West-sponsored energy projects without looking back at Moscow. According to the decision of late President Heydar Aliyev taken in mid-1990s, the country joined the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline project. Baku has recently joined South Energy Corridor. What does Baku get in return?
According to Russian Regnum agency, Washington and Brussels want to use the precedent of Georgia and spark a political crisis in Azerbaijan by bringing the destructive virus of Arab Spring into the country.
It all makes Azerbaijan feel solidarity with Russia that had to stand up to pressure during the 2014 Olympics. Today Moscow faces the freeze of its state assets in Europe as part of Yukos case settlement (former Yukos shareholders Leonid Nevzlin and Vladimir Dubov are criminals convicted by a court).
That’s why Azerbaijan was reluctant to sigh the anti-Russian Joint Declaration of the Eastern Partnership Summit in Riga (Azerbaijan refused to sign the declaration, but was eventually persuaded to). The Russian delegation at the European Games received a warm welcome. It’s important to give an impetus to the continuation of the positive trend in the strengthening of the Russia-Azerbaijan bilateral relations.
Azerbaijan is frustrated because the United States and the European Union have not done anything to manage the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh. Having broken ties with Russia, the Western members of the OSCE Minsk Group created by the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe actually paralyzed its work. They want Baku to intensify efforts to reach peace with Armenia saying Azerbaijan has not done enough so far. This way the West makes Russia and Azerbaijan get closer to each other.