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Russian President to visit Azerbaijan on Feb 21

Vladimir Putin's visit is seen as an effort to forge closer ties with the Western-allied country.

india Updated: Feb 20, 2006 17:36 IST

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 US-backed pipeline that transports Caspian oil to Western markets bypassing Russia and it sent troops to serve in the US-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 defence minister for all five Caspian Sea nations to form a joint naval force.

Russian-US 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.

President Ilham Aliev's late father, who was a long-ruling leader of Azerbaijan, worked to cultivate relations with the United States to balance Russia's regional influence, and because of Moscow's support for neighboring Armenia in a dispute over the Nagorno-Karabakh region.

First Published: Feb 20, 2006 17:15 IST