Crimean Tatars Ask Azerbaijan's Ilham Aliyev for Help
Four days after Crimean Tatars sent an SOS to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, nothing has been heard from Baku but silence. For all its grievances with Moscow, chances are slim that Azerbaijan, the Tatars' rich South-Caucasus cousin, will stick its neck out over Crimea.
But Crimean Tatar community leader Mustafa Dzhemilyev, a Ukrainian parliamentarian, gave it his best shot in a March 6 interview with the news site Haqqin. “Do not leave your Crimean brothers and sisters at this difficult time,” Dzhemilyev implored Aliyev.
Recalling repressions by Tsarist and Soviet Russia, he underlined that the Tatars will never put up with a Russian takeover of the Crimean peninsula, and asked Aliyev to use his influence with Russian President Vladimir Putin to prevent such an event.
Turkey has so far weighed in the strongest on the issue, while Aliyev and Nazarbayev have been slow to provide even a non-binding, thinking-of-you response.
Azerbaijani officials routinely emphasize Azerbaijan's emergence as a regional power, but don’t expect Aliyev to snap his fingers in Putin’s face over Crimea. Through its economic and political involvement in the region and its many conflicts, Nagorno-Karabakh included, Russia could hurt Azerbaijan.
But not everyone in Azerbaijan is willing to sit back. On March 9, two senior members of Azerbaijan’s opposition Musavat Party, Arif Gadjily and Gulaga Aslanly, were detained in Makhachkala, in Russia's North Caucasus, while traveling by train to Ukraine. The party has been outspokenly critical of Russia's Ukraine policy, and, apparently, somebody had an eye out for any whistle-stop tours to Kyiv. Local police on March 10 claimed that the two were sent back home, APA reported.
But Baku is not alone in its reticence about Crimea.
Armenia, also slated to join Russia’s Customs Union, is in a straitjacket of economic dependence on Moscow, tightened by Russia's 49-year lease on a military base in Gyumri.
In Georgia, the most pro-West of the three, partisan screaming matches continue about formulating a unanimous position on Ukraine, with the government trying to say just enough not to spark a backlash by Moscow.
For now, looks like the South Caucasus is choosing to let the big guys -- be it Russia, the US or EU -- handle this one.