Mikhail Baskhanov: "UK's unreasonable foreign policy destroys first Transcaucasian republics"
Doctor of History, Member of the UK's Royal Society for Asian Affairs, Mikhail Baskhanov, told Vestnik Kavkaza about the United Kingdom's role in the history of the Transcaucasian independent republics after the First World War and the two revolutions of 1917, as well as about contemporary British interests in the South Caucasus.
- In your estimation, how did the withdrawal of British troops from the Caucasus in 1919 affect the history of Transcaucasia?
- The UK played an exceptionally important role in the events in the Caucasus at a time when the emergence of the Caucasian independent states was taking place, but in addition to it there were other players, in particular, France and Italy, also involved in this issue to some extent. Therefore, it is necessary to raise the issue more broadly: on the policy of the allied powers in Transcaucasia before the Red Army's entry into the region. If speaking directly about the impact of the withdrawal of British troops from the Caucasus, and, most importantly, the change of British foreign policy approaches to the region and, in particular, to independent Azerbaijan, then it was a key event in the subsequent fate of Transcaucasia.
In those days the Bolsheviks were in such a stage, when they could be negotiated on a number of issues with the condition that the Transcaucasian independent states should be preserved. However, if during the First World War the positions of the British leadership were more or less unified, then since its end there were no common views in the government. It must be understood that the British political system is a very complex organism, consisting of parties, parliament, various figures occupying important positions in the Cabinet. They were quite major political figures, who gained their authority even before the First World War and strengthened it in the course of hostilities, they had different visions of the post-war arrangement of the world. When these opinions collided, they failed to quickly fuse into a homogeneous policy, which means that the time for action was lost.
Also there was a factor of financial problems, of great costs to foreign policy. Let me remind you that in general, the United Kingdom spent about 1 billion pounds sterling in current prices on its actions in Russia. I cite data on Russia because all the costs associated with the British occupation of Transcaucasia went under the 'Russia' article. In the Transcaucasia alone, the British Expeditionary Corps, prior to its withdrawal from the region, spent approximately 200-220 million pounds sterling, according to current standards. These are huge sums for a country that has withstood four years of intense armed confrontation. This combination of factors led to the loss of rationality in British politics - at a time of crisis when it was necessary to make fundamental decisions: to help or not to help foreign states.
Another problem was that the British leadership, above all, the military elite, made a long-time bet on General Anton Denikin. The inertia of consciousness that Russia is an ally and General Denikin, the Supreme Leader the Armed Forces of South Russia, is the real representative of the allied army, in fact, continued until the defeat of the Denikin army. It was superimposed on the loss of motivation to support the young Transcaucasian states. After the rout, of course, the approaches have changed, but the historical moment was missed: the Bolsheviks were rapidly gaining weight, and by the time when the UK was able to make a concerted decision, they had become different. The Bolsheviks emerged victorious in the civil war, their political leadership spoke another language and in other keys. As a result, missed opportunities and indistinct foreign policy led to the fact that the Transcaucasian republics ceased to exist as independent states.
- What role did the British troops play in the Nagorno-Karabakh crisis that erupted after the 1917 revolution?
- The role was largely positive. It was the British who had to assume the political responsibility to begin the analysis of the contradictions that had arisen at the beginning of this conflict. If before that, conflict situations took place primarily in Turkish territory, after the end of the First World War they moved to the internal regions of the South Caucasus. Of course, the British command did not have any pro-Azerbaijani, pro-Georgian or pro-Armenian policies, it pursued the interests of the UK. However, due to the fact that the Armenian nationalists were clearly destabilizing the situation, it caused a clear reaction from the British - a complete rejection of their actions. Every effort has been made to damp this aggression against the peaceful Turkic population by the available forces. It can be clearly traced through the British archival documents. The British military have repeatedly notified the leaders of Armenian nationalists that their aggressive actions are unacceptable and the Allies can take their own measures against them.
- What are the interests of the UK in today's South Caucasus?
- The interests of major powers are global and relate to a lot of regions, but there are regions that can be classified as painful, very sensitive to foreign policy manifestations. The Caucasus region these days is not only a knot of major national contradictions or actually open conflicts, which can escalate into new hostilities any time, but also a big problem for world politics. The disintegrated Caucasus, which is not in a peaceful state, is a very large destabilizing factor in neighboring regions with already existing military conflicts, such as Iraq and Syria. If we are talking about geopolitics and strategy, then the Caucasus for international relations and world diplomacy is a serious point of application of attention, effort and dialogue. It must be said that geopolitical issues also include the economic issues related to raw materials and their transportation, since oil is the blood of geopolitics. The struggle for those who possess both fuel sources and infrastructure for their supply, as well as the generation and distribution of incomes from it are also components of the world political process.
The UK has largely economic interests in the Caucasus, going back over two decades, that is, they are already traditional. As for politics, the activity of the UK in the Caucasus, despite all its powerful economy and diplomacy, largely depends on a set of other problems, and the settlement of the Azerbaijani-Armenian relations for London appears to be rather matter for the future, albeit for the nearest future. The UK will not participate in resolving this issue alone, we should expect the formation of a group of countries that are strong economically and militarily, authoritative, quite possibly, members of the Security Council (it is clear that this will be the United Kingdom, France, the US plus part of the EU or the whole EU), which will assume the role of the locomotive of the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement. For sure, Russia will join this process. In my opinion, the time is coming to solve this problem, it cannot be attributed to the field of history: distress and memories of the former life are too perceptible, the conflict has a too serious impact on the society, the political situation and the image of both countries. I think the issue is ripe, and it is necessary to start solving it today.