Russian President Vladimir Putin begins a two-day visit to the oil-rich Caspian Sea nation of Azerbaijan on Tuesday in what is seen as an effort to forge closer ties with the Western-allied country.
It will mark Putin's second visit to Azerbaijan since he became president in 2000. The former Soviet republic is the starting-point for a newly-completed U.S-backed pipeline that transports Caspian oil to Western markets bypassing Russia and it sent troops to serve in the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq.
Analysts in Baku were skeptical that the Russian president would manage to achieve a breakthrough in bilateral ties.
Azerbaijan is keen to avoid any economic reliance on Russia and last month responded cautiously to a proposal from Russia's visiting defense minister for all five Caspian Sea nations to form a joint naval force.
Russian-U.S. rivalry has long existed in the oil-rich Caspian region. Washington sees the region as key to its future goal of reducing dependence on Middle East oil. Russia, meanwhile, is determined not to be sidelined; oil transit is not only a lucrative market but can provide good political leverage, reports the AP.
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