Azerbaijan must make legislative changes within four months that expand rights for local civil society organizations, or risk losing billions of dollars in loans it needs to build a key gas pipeline.
The demand, made by an international watchdog group, marks a potential source of humiliation for the Azerbaijani government, which prefers to present itself as a strong, independent state capable of withstanding foreign pressure.
On October 26, the board of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) announced that Azerbaijan could have its membership in the organization suspended unless it improved its reform record. It demanded a number of reforms over the next four months, and several more to be carried out by July 2017.
“Failure to take corrective actions to the satisfaction of the Board will result in suspension,” EITI's statement said.
Suspension from EITI would jeopardize loans that Azerbaijan needs to build the Southern Gas Corridor, a multibillion-dollar project by which natural gas would be shipped to Europe. The corridor project is considered a linchpin of Azerbaijan's long-term economic strategy.
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Joshua Kucera is the Turkey/Caucasus editor at EurasiaNet, and author of The Bug Pit. He is based in Istanbul.