Good COP, bad COP: Azerbaijan’s climate charm offensive is backfiring

By Gabriel Gavin, Sara Schonhardt | 05/09/2024 06:29 AM EDT

Hosting the prestigious U.N. talks is drawing unwanted attention to the oil-and-gas-rich nation’s foreign influence networks and political crackdowns.

Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev speaks to the media following talks with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz at the Chancellery on April 26, 2024 in Berlin.

Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev has been in office since 2003, when he took over from his father. His wife is vice president. Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Azerbaijan scored a major diplomatic victory when it won the right to host this year’s COP29 U.N. climate talks.

Now, it’s experiencing the downside of this newfound prestige — heightened scrutiny of the regime’s murky foreign influence peddling, jailing of critics, political crackdowns and unrepentant fossil fuel deal-making.

The most recent example came Friday, when the United States indicted Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) on charges that he took hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes from Azerbaijan to act as its “foreign agent” in Washington. According to the indictment, the Texas Democrat actively lobbied for Azerbaijan’s oil firm Socar while working with the country’s ambassador to advance the nation’s interests.


The charges by the Biden administration came months after Azerbaijan won the right to host and run the negotiations at this November’s massive global gathering. That was the capstone of the South Caucasus petrostate’s yearslong effort to burnish its credentials with Western politicians and investors.