The Kremlin’s partition of Crimea from Ukraine has put other states along Russia’s “near abroad” on edge. But while most of Russia’s neighbors seem to be worried about becoming Vladimir Putin’s next target, one state, Azerbaijan, stands to benefit, at least over the longer term, from the sudden turn of events.
Energy-rich Azerbaijan could emerge as a winner in the international crisis over Crimea, if the West pushes away from Russia as a natural-gas supplier, Azerbaijani analysts say. Diplomatic sensitivities, namely a desire in Baku not to rile Russia, means that any Azerbaijani effort to capitalize on the crisis will take place behind the scenes.
Armenia is the most gas-hungry country in the South Caucasus, and already is in a committed energy relationship with Russia. But many Armenians, tired of being taken for granted by the Kremlin, want their government to start flirting with another natural-gas suitor: Iran.
China is striving to forge Central Asia into a streamlined conduit for its regional trade and energy ambitions. But Beijing is finding that domestic insecurity and fractious bilateral relations among the region’s five former-Soviet republics have created a web of obstacles.
To reduce its vulnerability to being squeezed by Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan on energy supplies, Kyrgyzstan’s government is rushing into Russia’s embrace. Some experts, however, believe Bishkek is solving one problem by creating another.
Just like the protagonist in the eponymous opera, the Nabucco pipeline, the one-time leading option for carrying natural gas from Azerbaijan to Europe, has been outmaneuvered and knocked from its preeminent perch.