Last week, by all accounts, British Prime Minister, Theresa May, had a busy in-tray. What with ongoing Brexit battles at home and abroad and the so-called Windrush controversy creating a media storm, the Prime Minister had a tough week.
But she still found time to clear her diary and host the President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, for a bilateral meeting at Downing Street, fresh from his recent electoral victory earlier in the month.
The official press release about the meeting from the UK side stated that “The Prime Minister welcomed President Aliyev and said that she was pleased that he had chosen the visit the UK so soon after his inauguration.”
It continued that “The leaders agreed on the importance of the UK-Azerbaijan relationship and of our co-operation on issues of shared interest including regional security and energy.”
And “they noted the commercial opportunities presented by our close ties”, underlined by the sixth Production Sharing Agreement between BP and SOCAR [The State Oil Company of the Azerbaijan Republic] which they witnessed being signed following the meeting.”
Indeed, the official pictures from the Azeri State media show this agreement being signed by SOCAR president, Rovnag Abdullayev and BP’s CEO, Bob Dudley, with Aliyev and Theresa May standing behind in front of an ornate marble fireplace in Number 10.
This photo (left) reveals the strategic importance of the BP – SOCAR oil deal to both countries.
But at what cost?
For those who have been researching BP’s links to the Azeri regime, any kind of human rights repression or electoral irregularities is conveniently brushed over by the British.
As Nathalie Losekoot and James Marriott from Platform London note, there was evidence in the recent Azerbaijan Presidential election of “ballot stuffing and double voting”.
Platform London points out that Azerbaijan’s most prominent opposition politician, Ilgar Mammadov, has been in jail since 2013, alongside over 140 other political prisoners.
They are not the only critics of the regime: In its yearly update for the country for 2017/8 Amnesty International adds that: “Authorities intensified the crackdown on the right to freedom of expression, particularly following revelations of large-scale political corruption. Independent news outlets were blocked and their owners arrested. Critics of the government continued to face politically motivated prosecution and imprisonment following unfair trials. LGBTI individuals were arbitrarily arrested and ill-treated. Suspicious deaths in custody were still not effectively investigated.”
In January 2017, opposition leader Ilgar Mammadov published a statement on the Open Democracy website: ‘A letter from an inmate of the Southern Gas Corridor’. “Since 2013, Aliyev has instigated an unprecedented wave of attacks on civil society”, he wrote, but warned that “International investment in fossil fuel extraction is making me and other Azerbaijani political prisoners hostages to the Aliyev regime”.
He also warned against the construction of the Southern Gas Corridor (SGC), or Euro-Caspian Mega Pipeline, which is currently being constructed across Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey, Greece, Albania and Italy. It will transport gas from Aliyev’s iron-grip dictatorship into the living rooms of Europe.
As Nathalie Losekoot and James Marriott note, we should not just worry about this pipeline due to human rights abuses back in Azerbaijan, but also because “this 3,500 long pipeline will drive climate change by locking the EU into gas consumption until at least 2050.”
When she welcomes Aliyev to Number 10, Theresa May knows about human rights abuses and climate change. She knows that the dictatorship locks up political opponents, journalists and others, but she does not criticise.
When she watches BP sign a contract for more oil and gas in the esteemed surroundings of Number 10, May knows this will fuel climate change, more extreme weather, hunger and climate chaos. But yet May still smiled for the cameras and said she was supporting “sustainable development” in Azerbaijan and elsewhere.
She speaks these words, but their meaning is hollow. Just ask Ilgar Mammadov, languishing in an Azeri jail for trying to speak truth to Aliyev’s unbreakable power.