Saturday, December 27, 2014

Putin picks next target, Azerbaijan

While there has been much comment about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s threats in the Baltic, it appears his next target will be in Azerbaijan.

The small former Soviet republic is in the south, surrounded by Armenia, Georgia, Iran and Russia.

Numerous clashes between Armenian security forces and “oil-rich” Azerbaijan preceded this week’s events. Wait one. Is “oil-rich” an oxymoron, like “mineral-rich” when applied to Third World nations would depend on one export, such as copper?

In Azerbaijan, in the latest example of Putin shutting down any media that doesn’t spout his propangda, prosecutors shut down the U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe station.

Police seized computers and other equipment, and locked employees in a room temporarily. Later they were locked out.

Staff sent selfies of themselves from inside the room.

Arrests of Azeri journalists have begun. Journalist Khadija Ismayilova of Radio Azadliq said she had been harassed for reporting on how the family of President Ilham Aliyev had amassed massive wealth, in the style of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, through the embezzlement of Azerbaijan’s oil and natural gas sales.

RFE was able to continue broadcasts from Prague. Unlike the days of the Berlin Wall, shutting down a radio station will not stop the spread of anti-Putin news. There are countless ways to access the Internet.

It has been jokingly suggested that wired sheep should be sent across the border to offer Internet access, or balloons as is done in North Korea. The sheep might be eaten as the country’s once booming economy has collapsed like Russia’s, because it depends even more on oil.

AzerNews predicted the fall in oil prices would disrupt the U.S. economy. This week it was reported the gross domestic product grew 5 percent, the best result in 11 years. Gasoline has dropped below $2 a gallon in some states.

Russia faces inflation expected to reach 11 percent and negative growth of up to five percent next year. None of this matters to Putin because he does not believe in property rights, as his former friends have found out.

But Azerbaijan’s government has linked itself to Putin’s falling star. Azerbaijan officials have signed deals with Putin and joined in his attacks on the U.S. and Europe.

Armenia had received some verbal support from the West in its deadly border clashes with Yerevan, even after becoming an observer to the Eurasian Economic Community. It is not a member, and retains close ties with European nations. Now Moscow has to choose, and Putin has made two choices likely to anger, closer ties with Turkey and Azerbaijan.

Armenia recognizes the breakaway Azerbaijan state of Nagorno-Karabakh.

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