Relations between Britain and Russia have been in the deep freeze ever since Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine in February last year. But over Christmas, the two hostile powers – unreported in British media – have come together in a common cause.
We are not talking about reconciliation – or anything like it – between London and Moscow. But Britain and Russia have a common interest in maintaining Ilham Aliyev, the notoriously corrupt and callous Azerbaijan president, in power.
Put simply, Britain needs Azeri oil and gas. As for an increasingly embattled Vladimir Putin, Aliyev is a vital ally on the uneasy and dangerous border between Eastern Europe and Central Asia, an area where Russia has a deep strategic interest.
The crisis which united Russia and Britain was President Aliyev’s decision last month to block the link – known as the Lachin Corridor – between Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh. France set about drafting a UNSC statement condemning the blockade.
Both Armenian and Azerbaijani sources concur on what followed. Azerbaijan set to work making sure that UNSC condemnation never saw the light of day. The lobbying went on throughout the Christmas period – and Britain and Russia (who have been peacekeepers in Karabakh ever since the end of the 44-day war two years ago) were both keen to hear the Azeri side of the story. It goes like this: the Lachin corridor is not being blocked by the state of Azerbaijan. Eco-protestors, angered by mining operations, are responsible.
By 30 December any prospect of a UNSC denunciation of Azerbaijan had collapsed. This became public when an Armenian news site, Factor TV, reported that Russia introduced a series of last-minute draft changes “knowing very well that they would not be accepted by the other members, which in fact happened.”
The following day an exultant Azerbaijan ambassador to Brussels, Vaqif Sadiqov, confirmed the Armenian account. In a preening tweet issued on New Year’s eve, Sadiqov said:
“Today France lost another battle to Azerbaijan in UN Security Council in a failed attempt to push biased pro-Armenian UNSC statement on Lachin which triggered harsh reaction from other UNSC members.”
His tweet concluded: “Words of gratitude go to Albania, Russia, UAE & UK! A great job of AZ diplomats!”
Albania and UAE are non-permanent members of the UNSC. Britain and Russia are permanent members.
This squalid tale of betrayal is as old as diplomacy itself. Britain and Russia, though bitter enemies, united in a despicable cause to pursue private advantage.
Putin is a monster – but so is President Aliyev of Azerbaijan, a dynastic leader whose regime has a record of corruption, repression, torture and murder as it cracks down on any semblance of political opposition. We insist we are fighting for human rights in Ukraine. But over Nagorno-Karabakh we have entered into a grotesque alliance, along with Putin’s Russia, with one of the world’s worst tyrants.
The victims of this cynical pact are the forgotten Armenians.
6 January 2023