Scene-setter: What makes Lavrov's Baku visit pivotal amid Kremlin string of setbacks with West
Russia's longest-serving Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is slated to pay a two-day official visit to Azerbaijan on February 27 to mull over bilateral and multilateral issues of regional and wider-regional importance with top officials in Baku amid unfolding tectonic developments in Moscow's relations with the collective West over Ukraine.
Though formally the visit of the top Russian diplomat is timed to coincide with the first anniversary of the bilateral "Declaration on Aallied interaction between the Republic of Azerbaijan and the Russian Federation", signed on February 22, 2022, by the leaders of the two states, the visit is more than it and speaks volumes.
However, as is the case, political analysts are prone to pretend to see a bigger picture behind it than others and read mines and agendas to top discussions, and Lavrov's visit and issues to be mulled are no exceptions. Some believe the minister’s official visit to Baku is to send a message that the Kremlin is retaining a leading role in the region despite the centrifugal forces.
The visit to Azerbaijan comes at a time when Armenia's anti-Russian pro-Western forces took to the street to chant anti-Putin and anti-Russian slogans. These protests and political hustle over Moscow's role in Armenia are in tune with the ever-growing role of the West in the tiny nation, which is also home to two major Russian military bases with its border with Turkiye under the Kremlin control.
Russia also missed the Munich Security Conference, where the Armenian-Azerbaijani relations and the current state of perspectives for hammering out a peace deal were looked into and fresh views were heard with the West's mediation role gaining traction.
In comments to Azernews, Russian political expert, and editor-in-chief of the National Defence magazine, Igor Korotchenko, first pointed out the purpose behind the Russian diplomat’s visit, saying that it is due to the complex of negotiations, including the declaration on allied cooperation, signed last year between Russia and Azerbaijan, and the situation in the South Caucasus, as well as active interactions on the diplomatic plain.
The pundit also touched on the current processes in Armenia and public opinion being shaped against Russia.
“The anti-Russian sentiments are growing in Armenia. They are fueled by Western embassies, in particular, the American and French ones. On the other hand, Nikol Pashinyan, distancing himself further and further from Russia, uses this format to communicate his dissatisfaction with the policy of Russia. The fact is that these rallies will not have any impact on the assessment of Russia, and the situation both in Armenia, and the South Caucasus. For Russia, the main thing is the protection of national interests and not to serve Armenia's fancies.”
Azerbaijani political analyst Samir Humbatov of the Centre for International Relations and Diplomatic Studies is of the opinion that Lavrov's visit to Azerbaijan is necessitated by Armenia's approach to the West, mainly against the background of astonishing deployment of the European observation mission in Armenia along the border with Azerbaijan.
“The recent events unfolding in the South Caucasus, and Armenia's policy of extending the gap between Russia, actually show Russia's gradual inclination towards Azerbaijan. Obviously, Lavro's visit to Baku is not idle, some serious issues will be discussed here. However, it will be known at the end of the meeting whether or not they reach an agreement on certain issues.
It is an open secret that the Shusha-Khankandi road is currently controlled by Azerbaijani eco-activists in protest at the Russian peacekeepers' refusal to live up to their commitments stipulated under the November 10, 2020, trilateral deal. Of course, the meeting may also weigh the pros and cons of Azerbaijan's proposal to erect checkpoints on the border. Presumably, these issues will also be discussed at the meeting. Simultaneously, today there is already massive western pressure on Russia. Under such circumstances, Russia becomes desperate for Turkiye and Azerbaijan from the point of view of continuing trade.”
Speaking about Russia's role in maintaining peace and security in the region, the political analyst said it would also be the last chance for Russia to proceed with its “conciliatory” mission in the South Caucasus.
“As Armenia gets closer to the west, a reality that emerges urges Russia to take serious measures. The restoration of peace in the South Caucasus begins with the normalization of relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia. If Russia does nothing towards this, it can completely be kicked out of Armenia and even out of the South Caucasus.”
Samir Humbatov also speculated about Lavrov's agenda, which, he believes will focus on discussion and intensification of activities under the "3+3" format, which implies the participation of the three countries of the South Caucasus (Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia), as well as the three closest neighbors powers (Russia, Iran, and Turkiye).
“Actually, the 3+3 format was proposed by the leaders of Azerbaijan and Turkey to ensure peace and security in the region. However, the Russian-Ukrainian war coincided with it and Russia did not take it seriously. On the other hand, Iran was not happy with this agreement because it was afraid of deepening Azerbaijan's relations with Russia and Turkiye. However, as the regional and extra-regional political processes are undergoing deep changes, the format necessitates revisiting the issue in question. I believe that during the meeting with Lavrov, this issue will be discussed for the benefit of both sides and will be treated properly.”
Elnur Enveroglu is AzerNews’ staff journalist, follow him on @ElnurMammadli1
Follow us on Twitter @AzerNewsAz