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Monday, March 4, 2013

Azerbaijan: Recent Developments and U.S. Interests

Jim Nichol
Specialist in Russian and Eurasian Affairs

Azerbaijan is an important power in the South Caucasus by reason of its geographic location and ample energy resources, but it faces challenges to its stability, including the unresolved separatist conflict involving Nagorno Karabakh (NK). Azerbaijan enjoyed a brief period of independence in 1918-1920, after the collapse of the Tsarist Russian Empire. However, it was re-conquered by Red Army forces and thereafter incorporated into the Soviet Union. It re-gained independence when the Soviet Union collapsed at the end of 1991. Upon independence, Azerbaijan continued to be ruled for a while by its Soviet-era leader, but in May 1992 he was overthrown and Popular Front head Abulfaz Elchibey was soon elected president. Military setbacks in suppressing separatism in the breakaway NK region contributed to Elchibey’s rise to power, and in turn to his downfall just over a year later, when he was replaced by Heydar Aliyev, the leader of Azerbaijan’s Nakhichevan region and a former communist party head of Azerbaijan. In July 1994, a ceasefire agreement was signed in the NK conflict. Heydar Aliyev served until October 2003, when under worsening health he stepped down. His son Ilkham Aliyev was elected president a few days later.

According to the Obama Administration, U.S. assistance for Azerbaijan aims to develop democratic institutions and civil society, support the growth of the non-oil sectors of the economy, strengthen the interoperability of the armed forces with NATO, increase maritime border security, and bolster the country’s ability to combat terrorism, corruption, narcotics trafficking, and other transnational crime. Cumulative U.S. assistance budgeted for Azerbaijan from FY1992 through FY2010 was $976 million (all agencies and programs). Almost one-half of the aid was humanitarian, and another one-fifth supported democratic reforms. Budgeted aid to Azerbaijan was $26.4 million in FY2011 and an estimated $20.9 million in FY2012 (including “Function 150” foreign aid and excluding Defense and Energy Department funds). Under the Continuing Appropriations Resolution for FY2013, signed into law on September 28, 2012 (P.L. 112-175), regular foreign aid accounts are funded until late March 2013 at the same level as in FY2012 plus .612%, and most country allocations may be adjusted at agency discretion.

After the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, Azerbaijan granted overflight rights and approved numerous landings and refueling operations at Baku’s civilian airport in support of U.S. and coalition military operations in Afghanistan. More recently, the country is a major land, air, and sea conduit of the Northern Distribution Network for supplies entering and leaving Afghanistan to support U.S. and International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) stabilization operations. Azerbaijan has contributed troops for the ISAF since 2003. The country increased its contingent from 45 to 90 personnel in 2009, including medical and civil affairs specialists. From 2003 to 2008, about 150 Azerbaijani troops participated in the coalition stabilization force for Iraq.

Date of Report: February 22, 2013
Number of Pages: 33
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