LINKS Director speaks about Russia, the Caucasus and European energy security at an event on the margin of the Labour Party Annual Conference in Liverpool

LINKS Director Dennis Sammut was one of the speakers at a Panel Discussion organised by the Labour Think Tank “Progress”, in collaboration with the European Azerbaijan Society, held on the margins of this year’s Labour Party Conference in Liverpool. The discussion was chaired by Mike Gapes MP, and other speakers included Wayne David MP, the Shadow Minister for Europe, Richard Howitt, a Member of the European Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee and Charles Grant, Former Advisor of David Milliband during his time as Foreign Secretary.

In his remarks Dennis Sammut spoke about Russia and Azerbaijan. He said that he does not agree with the view held in some places that Russia was about to collapse. Russia had structural and economic problems that needed to be addressed, and should start tackling them seriously. He referred to the speech of Prime Minister Putin at the Congress of the Our Russia Party over the weekend and said that Putin referred to some of these problem and seems to be aware of them.

On Azerbaijan, Dennis Sammut said that Azerbaijan over the last two decades had been a reliable partner of the international community in the energy sector and had managed its relations with Russia well.

He added:

“The Government of Azerbaijan has three challenges in front of it for the next five years – and on how it responds to these challenges will depend its future, and the future of its relationship with the world.:

On the domestic front it must widen its support base and do this in the framework of a free and open society. Azerbaijan is not yet a properly functioning democracy, but neither is it a totalitarian state. The basis exists for the democratic process to evolve.

On the economic front it must ensure that the financial resources being generated by the export of the energy resources are used to establish a solid economic foundation beyond energy. The whole of society needs to benefit from the current boom if serious social turmoil is to be avoided. The government should be more aware of people’s expectations and less smug about its own achievements. The modest efforts of the last months to combat corruption need to be widened and more transparency is required to ensure accountability.

On the international front Azerbaijan needs to bring its dispute with Armenia on Nagorno Karabakh to a conclusion. This can be done in one of two ways. Through war which would be a disaster for the whole region, and which needs to be avoided at all costs; or through peaceful negotiations. It is true that a just peaceful solution does not only depend on Azerbaijan. The world needs to do more to hammer in to the Armenian side the unsustainability of the present situation where it occupies big chunks of Azerbaijani territory, but Azerbaijan needs also to show more flexibility and transparency in the way  it conducts these negotiations and should stop making believe that somehow this problem can be solved through war.”

These are no mean tasks, but they are achievable. The country is reasonably well organised; there are talented and well educated people in all walks of life and the financial resources generated by the oil boom give the government the tools it needs to implement the necessary change.”