The Muslim world continues to reverberate from the shock created by Saudi Arabia’s early January execution of Baqr al-Nimr, a dissident Shia cleric. Meanwhile, another outspoken Shia cleric, Taleh Bagir-zade, sits behind bars in Azerbaijan.
Since the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991, US-Russian relations repeatedly have been hit by surprise developments. In just the last couple of years, unexpected events have included Edward Snowden’s leaks, Crimea, Donbas, Syria, the Russian Metrojet tragedy and the Turkish shoot-down of a Russian Su-24. The list could go on.
Rising Turkish-Russian tension is putting Azerbaijan in a bind. At a time when low energy prices are squeezing the Azerbaijani economy, officials in Baku need to keep ties strong with both Turkey and Russia to help maintain relative domestic stability.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced in early October that Russian warships in the Caspian Sea launched 26 missiles against targets in Syria. The revelation caught Western analysts off guard, and demonstrated that the Kremlin has developed in recent years a significantly enhanced ability to project force.
The overall atmosphere in Azerbaijan is grim when it comes to freedom of speech and freedom of conscience. Yet, the release from prison of Taleh Baghirov, a young, charismatic Shia Muslim cleric, goes against the general trend in Azerbaijan.
Hopes are running high in Armenia that the pending end of international sanctions against Iran, its southern neighbor, will advance strategic investment projects. But Armenian analysts caution that Russia, Tehran’s longtime regional rival, may foil Yerevan’s ambitions.
The Iranian nuclear deal has broad trade implications for Eurasia. The pending lifting of sanctions would allow Iran to take advantage of its favorable geographic position, as it straddles the commercial crossroads connecting Europe, Central Asia, the Caucasus and the Middle East.
Did a door to Europe just open up for Central Asia?
The five Central Asian states have been independent for nearly 25 years and throughout that time -- as talk continued about recreating the ancient Silk Road -- there was always one direction that was off limits: the route through Iran.