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A Rock and a Hard Place

Azerbaijan's Precarious Foreign Policy Position

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev speaks with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Baku, August 2013. Ria Novosti / Courtesy Reuters

Few countries in Asia are in a more precarious foreign policy position than the Republic of Azerbaijan. On the western shore of the Caspian Sea, Azerbaijan lies between two larger, stronger, and unfriendly countries -- Iran and Russia -- and Azerbaijan’s pro-Western bent has done little to endear the country to its neighbors. How Azerbaijan chooses to conduct its foreign policy will have implications not only for its own national sovereignty, but also for the geopolitical order of the region. In this, the country faces two choices: to scale back its support for the Western-led liberal order, thereby cozying up to Iran and Russia; or to fully embrace the West and risk regional backlash. 

IRRITATING IRAN

That 85 percent of Azerbaijan’s nine million citizens identify themselves as Shia Muslim suggests that the country should have a natural bond with Iran, where the Shia vastly outnumber the Sunnis. In fact,

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