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Tony Blair faces fresh scrutiny over Azerbaijan PR work amid Nagorno-Karabakh offensive

22.09.23 20:00

Tony Blair, former U.K. prime minister, is under pressure over his work lobbying on a major Azerbaijani energy deal after the country’s strongman leader launched a military offensive against an enclave populated by ethnic Armenians.

Ilham Aliyev, who has been president of Azerbaijan since 2003, declared victory on Wednesday following a military operation in Nagorno-Karabakh. Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has accused Aliyev of “ethnic cleansing” and there are fears Armenians are facing large-scale forced displacement.

Blair built close links to Aliyev after he stepped down as U.K. prime minister and began earning millions as a consultant for governments and companies around the world.

He was hired in 2014 to advise a BP-led consortium looking to export natural gas from Azerbaijan to Europe, a pet project of Aliyev’s. Blair reportedly discussed the so-called Trans Adriatic Pipeline, which terminates in Apulia, at a meeting with Italy’s then-Interior Minister Matteo Salvini in 2018. The pipeline became operational in 2020.

The U.K. and EU supported the pipeline on the basis it would help diversify Europe’s energy supply. William Hague, then U.K. foreign secretary, attended the signing ceremony for it in Baku in 2013.

Separatist forces in the Nagorno-Karabakh region, which is home to 120,000 ethnic Armenians, surrendered within 24 hours of Aliyev’s military operation beginning. Aliyev said this week Azerbaijanis had nothing against the population, only their “criminal junta.”

In the wake of the military move, Sacha Deshmukh, Amnesty International U.K.’s chief executive, told POLITICO that Blair had questions to answer over his decision to work in the region.

He said: "Azerbaijan’s atrocious human rights record is well-known — including a sustained crackdown on journalists, arbitrary arrests, politically motivated prosecutions of activists, the crushing of peaceful protests and little progress in bringing suspected war criminals to justice — and Tony Blair will surely need to be able to show that he sought to use his advice and influence to steer the Azerbaijani government into properly addressing these appalling human rights violations.”

The NGO boss said Blair "should demonstrate that his role in advising the Azerbaijani government involved neither direct involvement in human rights violations or the provision of advice which in any way sought to avoid or minimize Azerbaijan’s expected compliance with human rights laws and standards.”

Blair wrapped up Tony Blair Associates, his main vehicle for international consultancy work, in 2016 and said he would focus on charity work.

The Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, Blair’s nonprofit organization which was founded in 2016 and works across 30 countries, said it does not work in Azerbaijan. The outfit, which has built ties to the U.K. Labour Party’s current leadership ahead of an expected election next year, declined to give an on the record response, POLITICO reports.