Washington Babylon — June 17, 2009, 2:09 pm

Friend of Azeri Dictator Reportedly to be Named Ambassador to Baku

The indispensable Laura Rozen reported that Matthew Bryza, the deputy assistant secretary of state for Europe and Eurasian affairs, “is being recommended by supporters as U.S. ambassador to Azerbaijan.”

Rozen describes Bryza as having “liaised intensively with the Georgian leadership, including during the Russian-Georgian conflict last summer, and says that some are concerned that his “appointment as Washington’s man in Baku [the Azeri capital] might potentially put a wrinkle in Obama’s efforts to ‘reset’ relations with Russia and send mixed signals about the kind of relationship he is trying to build.”

But an associate close to Bryza says it is inaccurate that Moscow would perceive him as hostile or too close to Tbilisi, and noted that Bryza has strong and positive relationships with Russian officials…

Bryza was seen as having gone “beyond what someone in his position would usually do” in showing support for Mikheil Saakashvili in the run-up and during the Georgian-Russian conflict last summer, a former senior Clinton administration official said. “Not so much by what he said,” but with “frequent public demonstrations that he was” close to the Georgian president.

But Bryza was also representing the preferences of the administration he then served, the former official acknowledged. “A lot of people in the U.S. government have responsibility for the aggressiveness of Georgia last summer and the mistaken belief there that the U.S. was going to come to their support” more than it did, the former official said.

Russia most definitely does have a negative view of Bryza, but there’s a far more direct reason for concern about his potential nomination: Bryza, and his wife Zeyno Baran are totally in the tank for the Azeri dictatorship and his appointment would be demoralizing for democrats (such as they are) in Azerbaijan. In 2007, the Azeri Foreign Minister reportedly attended the Brzya-Baran nuptials in Istanbul.

Just as Bryza was the point person for the relationship with Saakashvili leading up to the war, he had the same role vis-a-vis the stolen parliamentary elections of 2005 in Azerbaijan. President Ilham Aliyev (who inherited power from his KGB dad) promised the U.S. government (through Bryza) that he was going to have free and fair elections; the elections were a sham; and there was no negative reaction from the U.S.government.

Meanwhile, Baran periodically says Azerbaijan should take steps towards democracy but is effectively a mouthpiece for the regime. See, for example, this regime-friendly panel she moderated at the Nixon Center:

In her introductory remarks, Baran observed that the elections represented a step forward, citing President Ilham Aliyev’s decision to fire three regional governors involved in election fraud as an unprecedented move. She cautioned that there were equally significant problems that remain to be addressed, and noted that “more needs to be done” before Aliyev can establish his legitimacy and prove to the West and to his own people that he is committed to the democratic process.

Her remarks about Aliyev firing three governors as a positive sign are ridiculous. Aliyev wanted to look like he was trying to do something, and was, I’ve been told by a very well-placed source, going to fire these guys anyway. According to my source, fraud was no different in those regions than in other places, and in fact it was almost certainly less fraudulent than in Baku, where the results were falsified in nearly every district.

(I’ve written about Bryza’s and Baran’s support for other Caspian-region dictators here.

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