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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Books should be for everyone, says Els, 8. Publisher Scholastic now agrees
booksAn eight-year-old saw a pirate book was ‘for boys’ and took on the publishers
Life and Style
Mary Beard received abuse after speaking positively on 'Question Time' about immigrant workers: 'When people say ridiculous, untrue and hurtful things, then I think you should call them out'
tech
Life and Style
Most mail-order brides are thought to come from Thailand, the Philippines and Romania
life
News
i100
Life and Style
tech
Voices
Margaret Thatcher, with her director of publicity Sir Gordon Reece, who helped her and the Tory Party to victory in 1979
voicesThe subject is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for former PR man DJ Taylor
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Cancer Research UK: Corporate Partnerships Volunteer Events Coordinator – London

Voluntary: Cancer Research UK: We’re looking for someone to support our award ...

Ashdown Group: Head of IT - Hertfordshire - £90,000

£70000 - £90000 per annum + bonus + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: H...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions