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Cheney’s Azeri Failure Becomes Official

aliyev092508.jpgOne would think that Azeri President Ilham Aliyev would be pretty pleased to receive Vice President Dick Cheney’s official delegation a few weeks ago – it was after all the highest ranking U.S. politician to ever visit the country. However that’s not quite how it played out. Amid numerous reports that the meetings in Baku were cool if not cold, Aliyev additionally snubbed Cheney by not showing up to the airport to welcome him, and then immediately telephoned Medvedev right after their meeting to explain what the U.S. energy strategy is for the region. This made the mercurial vice president so angry that he apparently skipped town on a dinner to be held in his honor. The Russian press has been having a field day parading the “failure” of the Cheney delegation to hardball the Azeris into energy supply commitments to the Nabucco pipeline following the war in Georgia. Apparently Cheney’s famously subtle soft power approach and velvet tongue didn’t really win over anybody in Azerbaijan. Today, this impression of failure was made official as Baku announced that it will reduce dependence on Trans-Caucasian pipelines and send more oil up through Russia … a development which makes the whole invasion worthwhile for the Kremlin. Elhar Nasirov, the vice-president of Socar, Azerbaijan’s state oil company, seemed aware of how alarming the announcement was: “We don’t want to insult anyone . . . but it’s not good to have all your eggs in one basket, especially when the basket is very fragile.” We don’t think this is anything to really worry about yet. The Azeris simply recognize a lame duck presidency when they see one, and will wait to negotiate with the next administration. Like any successful dictator, Ilham Aliyev is master at playing the great powers off each other, and will not find any long-term advantage in turning his country into a Gazprom subsidiary (leave that to the Italians).