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The year brought major political change in Azerbaijan and Georgia, countries that have become vital to western interests in the Caspian region.
In December, former Azeri president Heidar Aliyev died after having stepped down in October to make way for his son, Ilham. Aliyev junior subsequently won elections held in the same month. Aliyev senior oversaw a period of massive foreign investment in Azeri energy sector but there are doubts about whether his son is up to the job.
Georgian president Eduard Shevardnadze resigned in November following protests at alleged irregularities during the country's parliamentary elections and general dissatisfaction at his …