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Baku's Choice

How Iran and Russia are Wooing Azerbaijan

Construction work in Baku, Azerbaijan, June 2016 Maxim Shemetov / Reuters

On August 8, the leaders of Azerbaijan, Iran, and Russia gathered for a rare trilateral summit in Azerbaijan’s capital, Baku. On paper, the summit was mostly devoted to regional economic integration projects, particularly the North-South Transport Corridor, a proposed land-and sea-based trade route linking India to Europe via Iran, the South Caucasus, and Russia. But other issues were also on the table, including the conflicts in Iraq and Syria and the threat of Islamist terrorism. The summit concluded with the three states signing a declaration to “comprehensively fight” terrorism and extremism.

Azerbaijan’s inclusion in the summit is striking. Only a few years ago, Baku was unwilling to pursue close economic or security cooperation with either Moscow or Tehran, despite its geographical proximity to both. Azerbaijan saw its 1991 independence from the Soviet Union as a chance to break free from Russia’s traditional high-handedness in dealing with its smaller neighbors,

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