Azerbaijan made a double PR-play on December 14 that could have proven a winning ticket with the upcoming administration of US President-Elect Donald Trump. But, ultimately, it fumbled the ball.
In Washington, the embassy of the predominantly Shi’a Muslim country co-hosted a Hanukkah party at the Trump International Hotel with a prominent American Jewish organization. In Baku, the Azerbaijani government welcomed to town Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a declared Trump fan, and talked big and beautiful.
Everything was in place for showing the world Azerbaijan’s alleged religious tolerance and multiculturalism (two recurring official PR themes), but, then, Donald Trump had to get into the act.
Or, rather, his hotel.
Ahead of Wednesday’s party, over a hundred protesters from the Jewish American activist group If Not Now marched down Pennsylvania Avenue toward the Trump International Hotel to denounce the Azerbaijani embassy and its co-host, the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations (COP), for celebrating Hanukkah at a venue owned by Trump.
“They are economically supporting Trump tonight and there is also a lot of symbolism around this,” one protester complained about the COP, a local ABC News affiliate reported.
A real-estate development company in the South Caucasus state of Georgia, a close US ally, has announced plans to proceed with a long-stalled Trump-Tower project; a claim that, if realized, could raise further sticky questions about the dividing line between business and government under a Trump administration.
Plans for a Trump Tower in the popular Black-Sea casino mecca of Batumi, a town of about 130,000 people, have existed since 2010. The Trump name was expected to appear on both a 47-storey Batumi skyscraper complex and, eventually, a residence in the capital, Tbilisi.
Now, just over a week after Trump's election as US president, the Batumi skyscraper-to-be appears back on the table.
In a November 16 interview with the Georgian news agency Interpressnews, a senior executive at the Silk Road Group, the Trump Organization's original partner in the deal, stated that the company plans to proceed with the project.
“We have six years of stable relations with the Trump Organization. Together we are looking into the situation,” said Giorgi Marr, who oversees the Group's real-estate operations.
The nature of this partnership is unclear. In 2011, Trump's special counsel, Michael Cohen, told EurasiaNet.org that the two hold a licensing agreement, but neither the Silk Road Group nor he would elaborate about a closer association.
Central Asia has looked at Donald Trump’s election to the US presidency and some of it likes what it sees. The rest seems unbothered.
Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev fired off a note of congratulations to his counterpart-to-be and suggested that Trump drop in for a visit.
“I believe that under your leadership, the United States will remain a mainstay in the preservation of stability, security and prosperity in the entire world,” Nazarbayev said in the statement.
The haste and palpable warmth of the statement are hard not to see as a ringing endorsement. Nazarbayev, like Russia’s Vladimir Putin, clearly see in Trump a figure untroubled by such trifles as the promotion of democracy and human rights.
When Hillary Clinton last visited Kazakhstan, in 2010, she made a point of raising the plight of a jailed human rights defender, Yevgeny Zhovtis, while also hailing Astana for its progress on human rights.
Maulen Ashimbayev, a member of parliament with the ruling Nur Otan party, predicted that Trump’s victory would prove beneficial to Kazakhstan by virtue of the prospect of improving relations between Washington and Moscow.