Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny arrested on arrival as he returns home
LONG READ: The oligarch problem
COVID-19 and Trump’s indifference helped human rights abusers in 2020
Durov rejects Western funds’ offer to buy 5%-10% of Telegram with $30bn valuation
One of Russia’s biggest wood product companies, Segezha could be Sistema’s next IPO
New Ukrainian VC firm QPDigital aims to invest up to $100 million in digital startups
EBRD investments reach record €11bn in pandemic-struck 2020
OUTLOOK 2021 Lithuania
EBRD says loan to Estonia’s controversial Porto Franco project was never disbursed
Estonian premier quits after Tallinn development scandal
Czech Pirates and Mayors approve final coalition agreement for 2021 elections
OUTLOOK 2021 Czechia
BRICKS & MORTAR: Rosier future beckons for CEE retailers after year of change and disruption
OUTLOOK 2021 Hungary
Hungarian government remains silent after Capitol riots
World Bank expects modest recovery for Europe and Central Asia in 2021
OUTLOOK 2021 Slovakia
FDI inflows to CEE down 58% in 1H20 but rebound expected
Slovakia to invest €1.2bn in digitisation
BALKAN BLOG: The controversial recipe for building up Albania
Heavy flooding causes chaos in parts of Southeast Europe
Vodafone Albania plans €100mn infrastructure investments after AbCom merger
OUTLOOK 2021 Albania
Turnover rose on Bosnia's two stock exchanges in 2020 while prices fell
Storming parliaments: New Europe's greatest hits
Kyiv accuses Bosnian President Dodik of lying about icon gifted to Russian foreign minister
Sofia-based LAUNCHub Ventures holds first close of new fund on €44mn
ING THINK: Growth in the Balkans: from zero to hero again?
OUTLOOK 2020 Bulgaria
Labour demand down 28% y/y in Croatia in 2020
Zagreb Stock Exchange's Crobex10 index at highest level since March 5
OUTLOOK 2021 Kosovo
Arrera Automobili aims to launch Albania’s first supercar
World Bank revises projection for Moldova’s 2020 GDP decline to 7.2%
Moldova’s PM resigns to prepare the ground for early elections
Socialist lawmakers in Moldova scrap settlement on $1bn bank frauds
75% of Montenegrins want EU membership
Montenegro’s new ruling coalition carves up top state jobs
OUTLOOK 2021 Montenegro
North Macedonia's manufacturing confidence indicator down by 8.5 pp y/y in December
OUTLOOK 2021 North Macedonia
Transparency International warns of high corruption risk in CEE defence sectors
OUTLOOK 2021 Romania
Romania’s central bank cuts monetary policy rate by 25bp to 1.25%
Romanian construction companies' activity slows in November after intense 2020
OUTLOOK 2021 Serbia
Slovenia’s opposition files no-confidence motion against Jansa cabinet
Slovenia’s government to release funds to news agency STA after EU pressure
UK Moneyhub picks Slovenia for post-Brexit European base
Slovenia’s dire COVID-19 situation in 4Q20 caused second economic dip
Turkcell denies any affiliation with $1.6bn loan in default extended by Ziraat Bank to Virgin Islands company
BEYOND THE BOSPORUS: Let’s tentatively pencil in a date for Turkey’s hot money outflow
OUTLOOK 2021 Armenia
Armenia’s PM cautions conflict with Azerbaijan “still not settled” after trilateral meeting with Putin
COMMENT: Record high debt levels will slow post-coronavirus recovery, threaten some countries' financial stability, says IIF
OUTLOOK 2021 Georgia
Georgia’s political kingpin Bidzina Ivanishvili quits politics
Modern-day “Robin Hood” inspires Georgians drowning in debt
Iran’s navy conducts missile drill while analyst argues Trump even capable of nuclear strike in final days
TEHRAN BLOG: Who’s more credible? Johnson backing Trump’s Nobel chances or Iran applauding arrest warrant for US president?
Central Asia vaccination plans underwhelm, but governments look unruffled
Fears of authoritarianism as Kyrgyz populist wins landslide and backing for ‘Khanstitution’
OUTLOOK 2021 Kyrgyzstan
Mongolia's winter dzud set to be one of most extreme on record says Red Cross
Mongolian coal exports to China paralysed as Beijing demands virus testing of truck drivers
Mongolia fears economic damage as country faces up to its first local transmissions of coronavirus
Mongolia in lockdown after suffering first local coronavirus transmissions
OUTLOOK 2021 Tajikistan
China business briefing: Not happy with Kyrgyzstan
OUTLOOK 2021 Turkmenistan
Turkmenistan: How the Grinch stole New Year
Turkmenistan: The dammed united
COMMENT: Uzbekistan is being transformed, but where are the democratic reforms?
OUTLOOK 2021 Uzbekistan
Download the pdf version
Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev’s dismissal of long-serving security minister and ally Eldar Mahmudov over the weekend has sent the Baku rumour mill into overdrive.
As is customary in Azerbaijani politics, the brief announcement on the website of the Azerbaijani presidency offered no explanation whatsoever for his dismissal.
In an even more troubling development, an unspecified number of high-ranking employees at the Ministry of National Security (MNS) were detained on October 20 for abuse of official powers, including harassment and extortion of businesspeople and carrying out inspections that are not under the jurisdiction of the MNS. According to news.az, a special investigation group was created (it does not mention by whom), comprising members of the prosecutor's office and the Special State Protection Service (SSPS).
While there is no indication as to whether Mahmudov was also indicted as part of the investigation, the incidents are almost certainly related. Trying to make sense out of them, however, requires a great deal of surmising, for not only does Baku rarely account to the public for its political acts, but it has stifled dissent and criticism to such a degree that independent observers do not dare express their opinion about politics for fear of repercussions.
The allegations against the high-ranking MNS officials are typical accusations that Baku makes when individuals or businesses have had a falling out with the regime. That is not to say that MNS did not carry out extortion of businesspeople, but since extortion is a way of life among all the government bodies in Azerbaijan, it cannot be the real explanation.
Reports of businesses being taken over by relatives of officials without any explanation or compensation abound in the country. This reporter knows first-hand of a case in which one of the leading publications in the country was taken over by first lady Mehriban Aliyeva's business operations in such a manner, and other cases in which foreign publications paid hefty commissions to the office of the president for forcing private companies into purchasing advertising.
The only possible scenarios in which government extortion would become a problem is if MNS targeted individuals particularly cosy with the regime, or foreign executives whose companies invest a lot of money in Azerbaijan, in which case the incidents could escalate to the diplomatic level.
Man without qualities
Eldar Mahmudov was a stereotypical figure on Azerbaijan's political scene: a career security bureaucrat, he had worked with the Ministry of Internal Affairs between 1980 and 2004, when he was appointed Minister of Security. He represented the country frequently at international security conferences and seminars, and continued to do so until as recently as October 9. He had even received an honour, the Azerbaijani Flag Order, for preserving stability and social order and fighting crime. He was no troublemaker, and was at ease with the Aliyevs, otherwise he would not have held the position he did.
Long tenures are common practice in Azerbaijan’s government, and ministers are rarely changed, lest they come into conflict with Aliyev or his crew. For instance, Ali Abbasov, Minister of Communications and Information Technologies, has been in office since 2004; Ziya Mammadov, Minister of Transport, has been holding on to his portfolio since 2002; and Kamaladdin Heydarov, Minister of Emergency Situations, has been in office since 2006, after an 11-year tenure at the notoriously corrupt State Customs Committee.
One of the few observers who spoke about the case of Mahmudov, but asked to remain anonymous, believes that his removal is a positive development, regardless of the reasons behind it. "During his 10-year tenure at the MNS, the ministry became a tool for repression, and for spreading fear in the society. His dismissal may mean that the ministry might be reformed in the future," he told bne IntelliNews. He also does not believe the rumours that Mahmudov may be appointed in a higher position after his dismissal from the MNS. "Mahmudov is not ambitious enough to become prime minister," he added.
Other observers believe that the minister's dismissal was timely, and aimed at sparing him from the subsequent investigation at the MNS. Others connect his dismissal to the scandal involving Azerbaijan's largest bank, International Bank of Azerbaijan (IBA), which collapsed in May and took down several high-profile business executives in Baku, including former IBA Chairman Jahangir Hajiyev and Nizami Piriyev, owner of Azerbaijan's largest methanol plant, Azmeco.
One last thing that stands out about the MNS investigation is the involvement of the SSPS, a special military unit directly subordinated to Aliyev, in a trial that has to do with extortion of private businesspeople. Yes, the MNS is a military body, but SSPS' mandate is focused on national security, as its responsibilities have included guarding Azerbaijan's main gas export pipelines, protecting the president, legislators and government members, and participating in the country's armed land forces.
Given its profile, SSPS' involvement in the investigation is highly suspicious, and points to a possible connection with Baku's escalation of the frozen conflict with neighbour Armenia in recent months, potential failures of the MNS in this process, Azerbaijan's frustration with the stalled bilateral negotiation process with Armenia, and a possible intention to pursue more aggressive ways to retrieve its territories that are under Armenian occupation at the moment.
In the coming weeks and months, the array of possible scenarios behind Mahmudov's dismissal should narrow once Baku indicates whether Mahmudov is part of the MNS investigation or not.
here to continue reading this article
and 5 more for free or purchase
12 months full website access including
the bne Magazine for just $250/year.
Register to read the bne monthly magazine for
Password could contain only
and have 8-20 symbols length.
Please complete your registration by confirming your
A confirmation email has been sent to the email
address you provided.
can't be empty.
No user with
this email address.
Access recovery request has expired, or you are using
the wrong recovery token. Please, try again.
Access recover request has expired.
Please, try again.
To continue viewing our content you need to complete
the registration process.
Please look for an email that was sent to
with the subject line
"Confirmation bne IntelliNews access". This email will have
instructions on how to complete registration
process. Please check in your "Junk" folder in
case this communication was misdirected in your
If you have any questions please contact us at email@example.com
Sorry, but you have used all your free articles fro
this month for bne IntelliNews. Subscribe
to continue reading for only $119 per year.
Your subscription includes:
For the meantime we are also offering a free
digital weekly newspaper to subscribers to
the online package.
Click here for more subscription options,
including to the print version of our
flagship monthly magazine:
Take a trial to our premium daily news
service aimed at professional investors that
covers the 30 countries of emerging
For any other enquiries about our
products or corporate discounts please
contact us at
If you no longer wish to receive
Magazine annual print
Website & Archive
Combined package: web
access & magazine print
Take a trial to our premium daily news service
aimed at professional investors that
covers the 30 countries of emerging Europe: