Russia hopes that Azerbaijan will join a new alliance of former Soviet republics led by Moscow, a Russian government minister said during a visit to Baku on Monday.
“We have spoken about that and this issue remains a subject of concrete discussions [with Azerbaijani leaders,]” the Trend news agency quoted Economic Development Minister Alexey Ulyukaev as telling reporters in the Azerbaijani capital.
“I believe that Azerbaijan’s participation in these agreements would be logical and correct,” Ulyukaev said, referring to the Eurasian Economic Union formed by Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan on the basis of their customs union. “Azerbaijan already enjoys a free-trade regime in the Commonwealth of Independent States. But it should move further in that direction.”
“Of course, there are some political issues apart from economic ones. But I think that there are no issues that cannot be solved,” he said.
Ulyukaev met with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and other top officials during the trip. An official statement on his talks with Aliyev did not mention Azerbaijan’s possible membership in the union.
Azerbaijani leaders have ruled out such a possibility until now. They also appear to have faced no strong Russian pressure to become a member a bloc which Azerbaijan’s arch-foe Armenia is expected to join soon. Baku seems to have slowed down Yerevan’s accession process by voicing objections related to the unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Ulyukaev’s statement followed a deterioration of Azerbaijan’s relations with the United States that has long sought to prevent the oil-rich nation’s dependence on Russia. The U.S. ambassador to Azerbaijan, Richard Morningstar, angered the Azerbaijani authorities last month with remarks to RFE/RL in which he called on them to stop the persecution of civil society organizations. Aliyev’s chief of staff, Ramiz Mehdiyev, called Morningstar’s remarks a "gross interference in the internal affairs" of Azerbaijan.