Russians claw back control of unstable Transcaucasus: Assessing the Azerbaijani revolution, Hugh Pope finds gains for Moscow and a reverse for Turkey's eastern ambitions

A PATTERN of opportunistic Russian advances has once again emerged as the dust settles around the dramatic past month of revolution in Azerbaijan. It bodes ill for the future independence of the unstable young states of the Transcaucasus. The upset has also dealt a blow to the eastern ambitions of Turkey, Russia's historic rival in the region. Ankara could only stand by and watch the ousting of its closest ally in the new Turkic republics, the nationalist Azerbaijani President Abulfaz Elchibey.

The evidence of Russian interference is circumstantial, unlike the outright Russian military support for separatists in the Georgian regions of Ossetia and Abkhazia and the more subtle co-opting of Armenia, which signed away full independence in return for Russian support in the war with Azerbaijan and emergency shipments of wheat last August.

Conspiracy theories abound in the Caucasus, but even hardened diplomats and Russian commentators believe that events in Azerbaijan were at least partly organised by Russian forces still trying to salvage whatever possible - especially border security, Russian minority rights, ports, oil and other economic interests - from territories long ruled by the Soviet and Tsarist empires.

When the Azerbaijani rebel Surat Husseinov raised the flag of revolt in the city of Ganja, the former Red Army colonel used the old Soviet flag. His armaments were bought at bargain prices from departing Russian forces, who gave him their big base in the town.

Moscow did not condemn this blatant rebellion against the democratically-elected leader of a fellow member of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe. Rather, a sense of satisfaction ruled as power shifted to two friends of Russia: Col Husseinov, who was yesterday appointed the new prime minister, and Azerbaijan's new ruler, Geidar Aliyev, the republic's 70-year-old Brezhnev-era ruler and former KGB chief.

Mr Aliyev has promised not to take Azerbaijan back into the Moscow- dominated Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), but may well change his mind. He has already shelved a protocol for the international exploitation of Azerbaijan's oil wealth by a group including British Petroleum, and has thrown into doubt the consortium's plans for a pipeline to the Mediterranean through Turkey, a scheme strongly opposed by Moscow.

Public signs of a re-awakening of the Russian bear include Boris Yeltsin's February statement about the need to protect Russian strategic interests and populations in the 'near- abroad' of the old Soviet Union. If the Turks were in any doubt about Moscow's unwillingness to share influence in the Turkic republics, they were disabused by a recent visit to Turkey by Pavel Grachev, the Russian Defence Minister. Meetings reportedly included table-thumping warnings that Turkey should keep out of 'our' Azerbaijan.

Politicians in Georgia, which also refuses to join the CIS, believe that Moscow will keep stirring up its troubles until Georgia's leader, Eduard Shevardnadze, reverses policies that fall short of full co-operation with Russia.

Azerbaijan, it has to be said, was ripe for revolution. The academic Mr Elchibey had failed to live up to popular expectations in the economy or the war with Armenia. A foreign policy that relied only on Turkey was a disaster in a state that had to play off its three neighbours to survive: Russia, Turkey and Iran, another quiet winner from the past month's events.

In some ways, Turkey is right to blame itself. It had become less diplomatically assertive since the death in April of President Turgut Ozal, had become disenchanted by the cost of playing a regional role and was frustrated by the difficulties posed by the borders created by Stalin's carve- up of the Caucasus. Even so, Azerbaijanis still speak a form of Turkish and many links have been made. Mr Aliyev is also an old friend of Ankara's, indeed 'a better business partner', in the words of one Turkish official.

Some diplomats consider the events of Azerbaijan in the spirit of a Georgian saying: 'A rainstorm in a glass of water'. The streets are still calm, soldiers loiter, life goes on. Political instability is likely to continue with rivalry between Mr Aliyev and Col Husseinov. The main oil negotiations have been set back to square one by corruption umpteen times before, the government still does not really govern and Col Husseinov, seeking to prove himself, says he will launch yet another counter-offensive against the Armenians in Nagorny Karabakh.

But the ease with which 7 million Azerbaijanis allowed their elected leader to be overthrown by a rebel so clearly being used by their old colonial masters has a deeper meaning, not without echoes from the collapse of the last brief flowering of Azerbaijani independence in 1918. 'The coup was a bitter comedy,' wrote Gungor Mengi in the Turkish daily newspaper Sabah. 'Shall we laugh or cry? The laughing is for our enemies, the crying is for us. Until the Azeri people learn to be a nation, their fate will not change.'

(Photograph and map omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
sportWWE latest including Sting vs Triple H, Brock Lesnar vs Roman Reigns and The Undertaker vs Bray Wyatt
Arts and Entertainment
Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity takes him behind the bars again
tvBy Reason of Insanity, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark, TV review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor