Second quarter of the 20th century is characterized by unfolding of a fierce geopolitical rivalry around one of the world’s most significant geopolitical and geo-economic regions – the Caucasus. This was a rational carry-over of a geo-historical process that had lasted in this region in the previous two centuries.
It was no coincidence that a classic of German geopolitics Karl Haushofer incorporated the Caucasus into the world map of ”fighting zones along continent’s borders” together with ”historically known zones of struggle” – the Bosphorus, Gibraltar, Suez Canal zone and other conflictogenic areas of the early 20th century.
Geopolitical importance of the Caucasus – this natural bridge from Europe to Asia – had substantially increased immediately in the wake of the end of Sovietization of the region in the 1920s. In that period, number of the Western and Eastern nations already started displaying keen interest towards this region, and particularly to thriving Baku oil industrial district. In general, the Caucasus became a subject of ”great geopolitical game” that had recommenced in between the wars. From that period on, joint staffs and intelligence services of leading Western nations developed different versions of exclusion of oil-rich regions of the Caucasus from the USSR and establishment of some sort of oil nation.
Poland was on the most active countries in the ”Caucasian direction” in the 1930s. In the mid 1920s, the Polish secret services, especially the 2nd Bureau of the Joint Staffs, already managed to forge ties with the leaders of Caucasian immigration in Turkey. According to the plans, once Germany commenced the military operations against the Soviet Union, Poland was to provide military and technical assistance to the local insurgency, who, according to the Poland’s view, were inevitably due to emerge in the Caucasus. Suffice it to say that in the years 1921-1940 the area of the Northern Caucasus saw at least six major anti-Soviet uprisings.
Japanese intelligence community was also interested in the Caucasus, in the context of their plans with respect to Turkestan, Yakutia and Mongolia. This country had stepped its activity in the south of the Soviet Union, from the direction of Turkey, Iran and Afghanistan in the late 1930s. Moreover, similar to the Polish intelligence services, the Japanese established close contacts with the Caucasian immigration, aiming to employ it for organization of subversions, awareness campaign among the local population and putting together insurgency units in the event of the start of a war. The Japanese were particularly looking into the means of undertaking subversions in Baku oilfields, storage and refining facilities in Grozny, and in the Caspian – to impede fuel supply to the estuary of Volga. Furthermore, the Japanese were explicitly telling the leaders of the Caucasian immigration that the very first well-organized uprising in the Caucasus would enable the establishment of a Caucasian government, to be immediately recognized by Japan and Germany.
Fascist Italy was also paying attention to the Caucasus. Maintaining ties with immigration circles from the Caucasus, the Italian intelligence services were collecting information in the situation in the Soviet Trans-Caucasus, evaluating the questions of supplying insurgent units in the Caucasus with arms and ammunition and even considering covert deployment of regular Italian army units allegedly for exploration of agricultural and forest concessions in the areas along Iran-Soviet and Turkey-Soviet borders.
Turkey had its centuries-long strategic interests in the Caucasus as well. Indicative of this were the attitude of the Western nations towards Turkey’s plans for the Caucasus in the 1920s. The general perception was that takeover of the Soviet Caucasus by Turkey was obvious progress and it conformed to the interests of the Western powers. In particular, the British government had no objections regarding the handover of Ajaria, and parts of Armenia and Azerbaijan (up to Kura River) to Turkey. Government of Turkey could also count on obtaining credits for developing the new territories. The general idea was that presence of Turkish troops in the Caucasus would lead to military uprising in Azerbaijan, with further spillover to the Central Asia.
In the summer of 1932, the Joint Staffs of the Turkish military, through its military intelligence branch started overseeing technical aid operations for the immigrants from the Caucasus in the establishment of military-reconnaissance points along the Soviet borders. In the meantime, Turkey tried not to exacerbate its relations with the USSR, seeing it as premature. Turkey’s leadership having enjoyed generally amicable relations with the northern neighbor, that by the way, buttressed Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in the most difficult times was reluctant to groundlessly compound these ties with hasty and risky actions. Nonetheless, on the eve of the WWII the propaganda for unification of the Muslims of the Caucasus under the patronage of Turkey was increased.
Certainly, Germany’s intelligence services were conducting an active work in the Caucasus, and particularly in Baku. On 17 October 1930 the future chief of the RSHA’s Department 4 (Gestapo) Heinrich Muller visited Baku (disguised as an engineer named Crause) as part of the Krupp Concern’s delegation, for the organization of intelligence gathering network from the members and activists of the Armenian underground nationalist organization “Dashnaktsutsyun” for carrying our subversions in the city of petroleum. German military intelligence organization (Abwehr) was also quite busy with deploying its own intelligence network throughout the Caucasus, relying largely on the leaders of the Caucasian immigration.
The Western nations were also happy to engage the North Caucasus’s Cossacks known for their traditional animosity towards the ”red” Moscow. In this context, the most fascinating aspect is associated with famous colonel T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia) who while being deployed in Peshawar and Karachi was conducting intelligence activity against the Soviet Union from the adjacent territories. Colonel suggested the establishment of a British protectorate over the Caucasus, whereas the territories of the old Don, Kuban, Kalmykia, Stavropol, Terek, Crimea, Lower-Volga region and Orenburg were to be the new nation allied with England. However, this ambitious project was cut short by the death of Lawrence in a traffic accident in May 1935.
All in all these far-reaching plans were destined to failure thanks to effective counter-intelligence performance of the Soviet intelligence community and cardinally changed military-strategic priorities of the Western powers with respect to the Caucasus in the course of the WWII.
Doctor of historical sciences, Professor
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