- - Wednesday, January 28, 2015

In the middle of Eurasia sits the Caucasus Mountains, flowing down to the Caspian Sea. And on the West Shore of the Caspian sits a small and very important country named Azerbaijan. This country sits between Russia to the North, Iran to the South and the Caspian Sea to the East. Azerbaijan is of particular importance since it holds the rights to significant reserves of oil and gas in the region. All of which makes this small country very strategically important to the West.

As a Member of Congress who sits on a number of committees and organizations dealing directly or indirectly with international issues, I have had the opportunity to visit Azerbaijan on a couple of occasions. On those trips I have met with President Ilham Aliyev, as well as opposition leaders. The country’s commitment to the West, coupled with its location between Asia and Eastern Europe, makes it of extreme importance to the interest of freedom and the hopes for democracy in the region. It also puts the nation in a position to feel threatened from its neighbors. With Russia’s backing of rebels in Ukraine and President Putin’s annexation of Crimea, we have reasons to be concerned about Azerbaijan’s future as well.

The government of Azerbaijan has been very clear in its opposition to the Russian meddling in Ukraine. In fact, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Moldova were the only post-Soviet States to vote against Russian aggression in the UN Security Council last year. Azerbaijan has a history of standing with the U.S. and its allies for the good of the world community.

However if Azerbaijan were to find itself at the end of the barrel of Russian aggression, I believe President Obama’s handing of the situation in Ukraine gives us all great concern over what the Administration’s response would be. I fear that from past experiences, the response would amount to strong words and not much action. President Obama has laid down several red lines in the past as a response to world conflicts, and many times we have seen the U.S. retreat when those lines were ultimately crossed. President Putin has made it clear by his actions, that if he wants something, he will do what is necessary to attain it.

We must support and be willing to backup the people of Azerbaijan, not just because it’s in our interests to do so, but because they have also supported us in some of our darkest days. After the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, Azerbaijan committed its military personnel and put them on the ground in Afghanistan to support Operation Enduring Freedom. How could we possibly turn our backs on them after committing their national treasure to support us in our fight against radical Islam?

A more stable and prosperous Azerbaijan promises a more stable and prosperous Caucus region. This is why it is so important the Obama Administration uphold our American values, ideals and morals and not undercut and undermine our strategic relationship with the government and people of Azerbaijan.

• Rep. Robert Aderholt is a Republican who represents Alabama’s 4th District in the U.S. House of Representatives.

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