Death of former leader places Azerbaijan in dilemma

Today, former Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliyev, who died in the USA on December 12, will be buried in his native country. Aliyev's death has left the future of Azerbaijan in question. His death was wrapped in mystery until the last moment largely due to high stakes in the fight for power that would have blazed up if Aliyev had failed to transfer the reins of government to his son Ilkham. The main problem now is what will happen with Azerbaijan under the rule of Aliyev junior. A number of local political analysts believe that the death of Aliyev will not bring any noticeable changes to the alignment of political forces in Azerbaijan, as the new president is leaning on hardened members of Aliyev senior's administration. Nevertheless, there are serious external factors capable of catalyzing political developments in Azerbaijan. First, it is a struggle for dominance in the trans-Caucasian region between Russia and the USA, the struggle that emerged shortly after developments in Georgia. Russia is concerned about US intentions to deploy military bases in Azerbaijan, that were expressed by US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld during his recent visit to Georgia and Azerbaijan. Moreover, a secret struggle between Russia and the USA for the strategic oil pipeline Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan to start functioning in 2005 stays the course as well.

The confrontation of political and economic interests may send Azerbaijani policymakers deciding what partner to choose, and this choice is likely to make a critical difference in Azerbaijan's future, the Kommersant newspaper reported.

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