Russian president Vladimir Putin has awarded Azerbaijan's First Vice President, Mehriban Aliyeva with Russia's "Order of Friendship" at a ceremony in Moscow on Friday, 22 November.
Aliyeva was in Moscow this week on one of her first "solo" overseas trips as the country's First Vice President.
Releations between Azerbaijan and the Russian Federation are often described as strategic. They are however also complicated.
In the 1990s Azerbaijan managed to carve for itself an independent foreign and economic policy. it closed down Russian military bases on its territory; it developed an independent infrastructure for the export of its oil and gas resources, which bypassed the Russian networks, and it set itself up as a non-aligned country.
Russian officials, led by president Putin personally, have over the last decade put in a huge effort to regain Russian influence in the country. Russian delegations led by Ministers, heads of regions or other senior officials make regular pilgrimages to Baku in an effort closely co-ordinated by the Kremlin.
The visit of First Vice President Aliyeva to Moscow this week, is the latest act in this concerted charm offensive. It has benefits for both sides. For Putin this is an opportunity to consolidate relations with an increasingly important player in Azerbaijan's foreign and domestic politics. For Aliyeva, the visit marks recognition by a key country, and by a person of the stature of president Putin himself, of her role as an independent political player in Azerbaijan.
President Putin, presenting the award of the Order of Friendship, made it clear that he was doing so not only as a formality or for protocal's sake. The reason of this award "is connected with your work, with your activity in maintaining inter-state relations at the high level at which they are today. And we appreciate it very much. The name of the order itself reflects what you are doing with regard to the development of contacts between Azerbaijan and the Russian Federation - the Order of Friendship", Putin told Aliyeva.
photo: President Putin of Russia presents the "Order of friendship" to Azerbaijani First Vice President Mehriban Aliyeva at a ceremony in Moscow on 22 November 2019 (picture courtesy of the press service of the president of Russia).
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Behind the scenes, in the corners of the chancellories of Europe, and in cosy meeting rooms of think tanks in Brussels, London, Moscow, Berlin and elsewhere, diplomats and analysts are with their thinking hats on trying to grapple with the challenge of how to bring about the next chapter of European security