US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld visited Azerbaijan (an Asian republic of the former USSR) on April 12th. It became Rumsfeld's second visit to the republic in four months -- that is why it can hardly be treated as a formal visit of no particular importance.
One may probably distinguish two major reasons, which make the US administration develop active cooperation with the regime of the incumbent Azeri President, Ilham Aliyev. It is worth mentioning, though, that Mr Aliyev does not match the "democratic standards" of the US Department of State.
The first reason includes the transportation of the Caspian oil and the security of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline, which is directly connected with Mr Rumsfeld's department.
Secondly, the USA is interested in establishing mobile army bases on the territory of Azerbaijan, which is stipulated in the plan to re-deploy US troops in Europe and Asia.
As for the oil pipeline is concerned, there has been a certain plan elaborated for the implementation of security measures. The USA is ready to assign not less than $ 100 mm during the coming ten years for the development of the so-called Caspian Guard (founded in the autumn of 2003). Guaranteeing security to the pipeline, which is currently undergoing the construction process, will be the prime goal of the Caspian Guard.
The Caspian Guard will represent a network of police detachments and special military units in the Caspian region. These troops will be capable of showing efficient reaction to states of emergency, including attacks against oil objects. The European command of the Defence Department in Stuttgart, Germany, coordinates the efforts of various departments and provides the training for military men to defend the new pipeline.
The pipeline system will enable the transportation of oil from the Caspian Sea via the Caucasus to the Turkish port of Ceyhan. The system is said to be put into operation during the current year. The radar-equipped command centre in Baku, the capital ofAzerbaijan, will also be included in the Caspian Guard.
The centre will give the Azeri government an opportunity to monitor sea traffic in oil areas of the Caspian Sea. The Guard will also assist in the struggle against the smuggling of arms and drugs, Colonel Mike Anderson, the European Division Chief of the Plans and Policy Directorate said.
Judging upon the views of the Azeri government, the second point of Rumsfeld's program in Azerbaijan (about the deployment of mobile army bases) will apparently lead to no problems either. Donald Rumsfeld will coordinate certain dates for such mobile groups to appear in Azerbaijan. Rumsfeld will settle the time issue with the president and the defence minister of Azerbaijan.
Azeri experts believe that the question will be solved within several weeks. It is noteworthy that spokespeople for the US Department of Defence say that the Pentagon apparently wishes to use only runways and sea ports, at which small groups of US military men will guard ammunition depots.
A lot of experts in Azerbaijan estimate the cooperation between Baku and Washington against the background of intense relations between the USA and Iran. The US government has supposedly been trying to talk the government of Azerbaijan into close cooperation on the matter.
The USA is interested is airbases, from which it would be good to strike targets in Iran. Azerbaijan does not have anything against such cooperation: it is afraid of the Iranian ambition, especially when it comes to resources of the Caspian Sea.
All events, which happen in the Caspian region, touch upon Russia's interests directly. One has to acknowledge, though, that Moscow's position regarding the expanding military cooperation between the USA and Azerbaijan remains indistinct. On the one hand, Russia has always been against the US military presence in the Caucasus. On the other hand, such objections were generally made about Georgia.
At any rate, Russia is not showing any vestiges of active resistance. Probably, there is nothing fatal about it. However, if Russia were tougher as far as the protection of its interests is concerned, US European Command deputy commander Charles Wald would not release such statements, which he made at the end of February. Wald said that the Pentagon wished Russia did not protest against the US military presence in Azerbaijan and Georgia.