Cold war for Baku oil in the post-war years

In World War II the combination "oil and war" could be applied fully to Baku long before the beginning of the war on the European fronts. The characters in the defence of Baku and in the attacks on it changed like in a piece of theater of the absurd. "No pasaran!" the whole USSR exclaimed in unison, condemning the surge of fascism in Spain. At the same time, which was typical of Stalin, the USSR was "secretly" helping the republicans and secretly supplying petroleum products to Germany. Soviet people had the impression that the main events in Europe were taking place around Spain. Meetings were held throughout the country to support the republicans. Tens of thousands of young men asked to be sent to fight in Spain. But this was not how it was at all. The main, far more serious events, unbeknown to almost anyone in the USSR, were unfolding in secret around Baku in political and military campaign headquarters. Had one of those plans been realized, the war would have begun for the Soviet Union not with the bombing of Kiev and Minsk, but Baku, and the warring sides would have been different, and events in Europe would have taken a different course.

The "cold war" for Baku oil, the importance of which was understood by the leaders and generals of the top European countries, began in the pre-war years. To be more exact it had not died out but just before the war was of a particularly violent and targeted nature.

Before the war intricate political games were being played in Europe in which Baku was an indispensable, unwitting participant.

In the pre-war years, in an article on Iraq's entry into the League of Nations The Daily Herald, the organ of the British Labour Party, explicitly admits the anti-Soviet character of British policy. "Iraq still remains the hub of the overland and air routes to the east. It is still an important strategic point. The military are determined to hold Iraq as a base and a communications centre in the forthcoming war… They will be able to protect the route to India from Iraq. From Iraq they could strike a heavy blow on Russia (i.e. on Baku - Author) which is inaccessible otherwise. It is necessary to understand that we will stay in Iraq militarily. Our mandate has expired but we have the treaty instead. Iraq enters the League of Nations, but Great Britain does not leave Iraq."

In November 1932, the French Bulletin Quotidien was even more outspoken about the anti-Soviet trend of London's policy in Iraq, "The region of Mosul with the bordering mountains of Kurdistan can play a great part in the future, both in the sense of defence and attack in regard to the Soviet Caucasus… In the current strategic situation the possibility of air raids should not be ignored either, which change completely the problem of protecting oilfields, both Iraq Petroleum and Baku oilfields that are becoming equally vulnerable."

Thus, in the entire system of British imperialism and its policy in the Middle East, the most aggressive and anti-Soviet role belonged to Iraq, and especially, Mosul that was a powerful military base for offensives against Soviet Trans-Caucasus and for the organization of air raids on Baku.

Turkish historian Yakub Kadri Karaosmanoglu, the Turkish ambassador in Switzerland at the beginning of World War II, writes in his memoirs, "The French ambassador told me each time he met me, 'Your army numbers 25,000 or 30,000 people. Our army in the Middle East is about 500,000 people. Add to this the formidable power of the allied fleet. By taking the oil region of Russia (i.e. Baku) in five or 10 days, we will leave the motorized units of the Red Army without fuel.'"

Here is an eloquent extract from Gen Gamelin's memo to the head of the French government Reynaud, "Military action against the oil regions of the Caucasus should be directed at the vulnerable spots of the oil industry of the country. These are the industrial centres, places of oil storage or transportation. They are essentially three in number: Baku, Groznyy-Maykop and Batumi. Groznyy-Maykop is located on the northern slopes of the Caucasus range and too remote to be the object of military actions, even for aircraft. So that leaves Baku and Batumi."

A British task force of 100,000 people and a French task force of 50,000 were being trained in Finland for an attack on the USSR. A French army of 150,000, equipped with 100 aircraft, was concentrated in Syria intended for the invasion of Soviet TransCaucasus and the strike on the oil regions of Baku. Secret documents seized in the taking of Paris show that while preparing for a war against the USSR in 1939-40, Britain and France had plans of occupation of Baku and its districts. In recent years, documents have been made public which say that both Great Britain and France worked out plans to bomb Baku. Reports that Stalin was providing the fascist aggressor with oil were bound to put the French on alert. In October 1939 the US ambassador to France, William Bullitt, wired to Washington that Paris was considering the possibility of "bombing and destroying Baku". This was supposed to be done by the French Air Forces deployed in Syria.

Lev Bezymensky writes in his book Riddles of the Third Reich Deciphered, "The Finnish version being irrelevant, London and Paris were making plans to strike the Trans-Caucasus with air and naval forces first of all. That would have meant war against the USSR. On 28 March those plans were discussed by the Supreme Military Council, the joint Anglo-French war body. Naturally, it did not happen without the omnipresent Cadogan who later wrote in his diary, "10 o'clock. Supreme Military Council… Baku under discussion."

In 1939 the British journal East Europe and Modern Russia wrote, "The power that is reinforcing on the isthmus (the Caucasus) can stop the big Volga artery leading to Central Russia and take control of the truncated state of the present Great Russia. At the same time this power will have considerable opportunities to reach the Persian Gulf, Iraqi and Iranian oilfields. None of the existing world powers can allow any new world power to gain a foothold on the Caucasus isthmus. It would be beneficial for all the states concerned, viz. Turkey, England, Ukraine, the Axis countries, and also truncated Russia to form and recognize the union of states (Georgia, Armenia and Dagestan); the Caucasus union of states could be neutralized by means of agreement between the interested states, both great and small…"

In late October 1939 the question of bombing the Azerbaijan capital was considered by the British War Cabinet as well. However, by that time London had grown cold towards the idea of conducting bombing raids. In particular, the optimism of those who supported the idea was not shared by Prime Minister Chamberlain and First Lord of the Admiralty Churchill who suggested instead sending submarines to the Black Sea to intercept oil shipments. There were active opponents of this idea among the French, too. For instance, during the war and after it General de Gaulle criticized the crackpot ideas of some "hotheads" who thought of ways to destroy Baku oilfields instead of working out plans to confront Berlin.

"In the beginning of 1940, the year when in six months Germany's tank armies were to crush three armies of Belgium, England and Holland, each consisting of half a million people, the French government formed at last a tank division equipped with 180 tanks built in the 1920s. It had the air of a tragic farce about it, de Gaulle was in despair. And this is not yet the whole story of the French 'madhouse' of those years. In early 1940, the terrible year of its defeat, Paris sent an instruction to work out a plan to liquidate the Baku oilfields," Kavad Rash writes.

Wolfgang Bleier and other authors of the book Germany in World War II write, "Instead of preparing to hold off the attack of the fascists, the General Staffs of the West paid most attention to plans to intervene in the Soviet Union from Finland or Turkey. In his memoirs Charles de Gaulle neatly described this policy of the ruling circles in the western states. He wrote, 'There were very important persons who openly supported the ending of the war. I must say that certain circles were eager to see Stalin as their enemy rather than Hitler. They were actively looking for an opportunity for a better approach to Russia, whether with the assistance of Finland or by bombing Baku, or a landing operation in Istanbul, but would not deal the problem of curbing Germany anyway.'"

Fate decreed that at the height of the war, General Charles de Gaulle should visit Baku on his circuitous route to Moscow for a meeting with Joseph Stalin.

Here is the full text of the TASS report on General de Gaulle's meeting in Baku, dated 29 November, "27 November, 1400: The head of the Provisional Government of the French Republic, General de Gaulle, and accompanying persons arrived in Baku. At the airfield General de Gaulle was met by representatives of the government of the Azerbaijan SSR and by representatives of the People's Commissariat for Foreign Affairs and the People's Commissariat for Defence who had come from Moscow.

"A guard of honour was drawn up at the airfield where the French and Soviet national flags were flying. The orchestra performed the French and Soviet anthems. In the evening, General de Gaulle attended a performance of Koroglu at the Azerbaijan Opera House. Due to bad weather conditions, General de Gaulle and his entourage left Baku for Moscow on a special train."

In modern history French presidents are remembered mostly as supporters of Karabakh separatists, while de Gaulle, as a great statesman fighting fascism, devoted his whole life to the greatness of France.

The British embassy in Moscow thought that Britain could deal a knockout blow to the USSR by destroying the Baku oilfields, as "in the economic aspect Russia depends seriously on oil supplies from Baku. Besides, this region is situated within striking range of long-range strategic bombers based in Iraq." An expert on the USSR in the British Foreign Office, Maclean , was sure that French and British aircraft could "inflict serious damage on oil wells and oil refineries in Baku and in Northern Caucasus, oil transfer junctions in Batumi and Baku and on the pipeline connecting them". The Turkish newspaper Cumhuriyyet reported the formation of large army units in the Middle East which were to strike Baku oilfields and thereby deprive the USSR and Germany of petroleum products.

In January 1940 the French government instructed General Gamelin and Admiral Darlan to work out a plan for possible intervention in order to destroy Russian oilfields. In a report submitted on 22 February 1940, they say that Baku provided 75% of the total oil in the USSR, deprived of which, "the Soviet Union would find itself in a crisis". Another document drawn up by the chiefs of staff in March 1940 said, "The fundamental weakness of the Russian economy is its dependence on oil supplies from the Caucasus. Russian armed forces and agriculture depend on them heavily."

"Baku is 500 km distance from the Turkish border, and most of this territory is made up of the American plateau, a high mountain area, poor and devoid of any communications, and therefore unfit for ground offensive operations from Turkey," Gamelin said in his memo. "Ground operations are possible only from northwest Iran. But they would require Iran's consent, and the transfer of a considerable number of allied troops to the starting position, as the forces Iran has at its disposal in this region are altogether insufficient for the operation being planned. Due to these various difficulties in regard to ground operations an air attack on Baku ought to be planned… For action against Baku aircraft should be based either in Turkey, the region of Diyarbakir-Van-Erzurum, or Iran, Syria or Iraq."

Documents from the Public Record Office of Great Britain, declassified in 1972 in London, shed some light on the activity of highest royal military and diplomatic circles in 1939-40. These papers show that Britain continued to follow the Munich course of appeasement of Hitler's Germany, while at the same time working out plans to encourage German aggression against the USSR.

The documents include numerous detailed maps of the main oil regions of the Caucasus and seaports of the USSR with targets marked for bombing and even the number of bombs to be dropped on each of them with a detailed timetable of flights.

Anglo-American political circles were also waging a secret diplomatic war against the USSR. Let us quote here an extract from a British Foreign Office telegram to the British ambassador in Ankara, Hugh Knatchbull-Hughessen, "At present we are considering the possibility of our attack on Baku as part of our general survey of policy and strategy, which would mean the entry of Britain into a war against the USSR…"

In early 1940, British and French political circles were working on plans to occupy the Caucasus. On 7 March 1940 the commander of the Royal Air Force in the Middle East, Marshall Mitchell, arrived in Beirut on his way to Ankara and told the commander of the French army in Syria, General M. Weygand, that he had instructions to prepare for the possible bombing of the oil regions of Baku and oil refineries of Batumi. With the agreement of the Turkish commander-in-chief, Marshall Chakmak, he was to reconnoiter the regions of Diyarbakir, Erzurum, Kars and Lake Van with the aim of determining airfields for aircraft stopovers. British politicians were pursuing another goal - they wanted to use Turkey as a bridgehead to prepare for the invasion of the USSR and later to subdue Turkey itself.

After the Soviet-Finnish war, on 12 March, 1940, General Gamelin sent the following instruction to General Weygand, "The operation in the Middle East must be conducted under the British command, while the operation in the Caucasus under the Turkish command, the latter being realized by the Turkish armed forces with the participation of aviation and possibly special units of the Allies. You can get in touch with Marshall Chakmak on this issue and take part in all preliminaries concerning the Middle East. I am sending you detailed instructions on the operation in the Caucasus by courier…"

Marshall G.K. Zhukov said in his book Memories and Reflections, that in 1940 rumors were circulating in the world press that the British and French were planning to attack the Northern Caucasus, to bomb Baku, Grozny and Maikop. Then documents appeared confirming it. Churchill's anti-Soviet and anti-communist words and deeds, which he had never tried to conceal, coupled with numerous specific instances in diplomatic life at that time made Stalin treat information from imperial circles with suspicion.

Throughout the month of March 1940, the British and French command considered the "beginning military operations against the USSR". In the first half of April 1940 the French government discussed three times the report of General Weygand on preparations for invasion of the USSR, though Germany had already invaded Denmark and Norway. French Prime Minister Reynaud, who had replaced Daladier, demanded that all preparations for the attack on Baku should be finished in two weeks.

On 17 April General Weygand said in a written report, "Preparations for the bombing of the Caucasus oil fields has made such progress that we can calculate the time we will need for this operation… Discretion does not allow the operation to be arranged before the end of June or the beginning of July, especially if we take into account the absolute necessity to conduct the operation at the moment when everything is ready." Weygand's proposal was accepted and the date of the attack on the USSR was fixed as the end of June or beginning of July 1940. The first raids on the Soviet oil producing regions were planned for late June 1940. Representatives of the French army command in the Middle East assured the government that they should wage war not on the West but on the East. For instance, the Air Force Commander of Weygand's army in Syria, General Gournaud, spoke directly about it in conversation with the then French minister of aviation, "You will not fight on the Western Front. It is we who will fight in the Caucasus, just give us resources." All this was going on when Germany had already struck a blow against France.

Churchill wrote later in his book World War II, that on 31 January, 1941 he said to the president of Turkey, Ismet In?n?, "The attitude of Russia is uncertain, and it is our hope it may remain loyal and friendly. Nothing will more restrain Russia from aiding Germany, even indirectly, than the presence of powerful British bombing forces which could [from Turkey] attack the oilfields of Baku. Russia is dependent upon the supply from these oilfields for a very large part of her agriculture, and far-reaching famine would follow their destruction."

Simultaneously with preparations for an attack on the USSR from the north, the western states were planning a strike from the south. On 19 January, 1940 the French government suggested that General Gamelin and Admiral Darlan should draw up a plan for a "direct invasion in the Caucasus". This plan, later called the Southern Plan, envisaged an attack on the USSR from the Balkans and the Middle East. The French command even found the Southern Plan more promising than an attack from the north. General Gamelin said that, "If the Southern Plan is implemented, the general theatre of war will expand immensely: Yugoslavia, Romania, Greece and Turkey will send us reinforcement of 100 divisions, while Sweden and Norway cannot give more than 10 divisions." He suggested bombing oil derricks in Baku and oil refineries in Batumi first of all.

French and the British aircraft were to make their attacks on Soviet oilfields from Turkish airfields. The French ambassador in Ankara, Massigli, reported to his foreign ministry that he did not expect any obstacles from the Turkish government to the organization of an attack on the USSR. In his report Massigli referred to a conversation with Turkish Foreign Minister Saradjoglu who had shown him a telegram from the Turkish ambassador in Moscow in which he recounted the content of a conversation with the American ambassador. The latter had confidentially told his Turkish counterpart that the USSR was allegedly worried about "the danger of bombing and fire in the oil region of Baku" and that bombing could cause a huge fire which would spread very widely. "It will take months for the fire to be put out," he said, "and years until oil production can be resumed." Massigli replied that in his opinion modern bombers were capable of such a task, but would have to to fly over Turkey or Iran to reach Baku. "So you are afraid that Iran will object, aren't you?" the Turkish minister asked and Massigli concluded from this that Turkey would not object.

In February 1990 the British newspaper The Independent reported, "The British Foreign Office decided to block public access to the 50-year-old document on plans for a destabilization campaign by British intelligence agencies in the southern Soviet republics." The confidentiality of this document (unlike others declassified under the Statute of Limitations) was extended to 2015 under a court ruling. The document was dated 1940. According to the newspaper, the document proposed using hostility of the Muslims and other non-Russian peoples against the Russians with the assistance of English intelligence agents in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan," A. Drozdov writes.

Famous French publicist Jean Baumier wrote of the Anglo-French plans, "General Weygand, the then commander-in-chief of the French army in the Middle East, worked out another plan under which, with some reinforcement and 200 aircraft as he stated, he would occupy the Caucasus and enter Russia like a knife through butter."

Many years after the war, top Soviet pilot I.T. Yeremenko revealed another secret of the pre-war years concerning Baku oil. It turns out that all those years ago an air bridge was set up from Baku to faraway Spain.Yeremenko told a reporter that the war in Spain was at its height . In October 1936 the USSR began to provide military and technical support to the Republicans. Soviet volunteers, longing to fight fascism, went to the Pyrenees. In spring 1937 a group of pilots under Yeremenko's command left Baku on a special assignment; the group included Rybkin, Yakushin, Petrov, Shilyganov and Karpov. They traveled though France on fake Dutch passports, none of them knowing any foreign language at a sufficient level, and, as Rybkin wrote later, "not without adventure". However, the group reached their destination in time and intact. On the basis of that group the armed I-16 squadron headed by Yeremenko was formed in Spain. Fuel for the Republicans was sent from Baku via this route.

This shows that in pre-war Europe a political game without rules was under way or, to be more exact, any side could and did change the rules of the game to suit their own interests. Stalin was far from the most cunning player in this game. All the players used the oil factor as one of the most important, making plans and secret threats, bluffing and trying to outplay one another. The world's major pre-war leaders tried to derive the maximum profit for their own countries, often disregarding the interests of the others. And their behavior had its own logic. Many years later A. Zinovyev wrote, "Economy and politics function according to their own laws that have nothing in common with moral standards. Talk of moral politics and a moral economy are just ideological nonsense and demagogy meant for a fooled electorate. I do not know any single case in the history of humanity when someone was guided by morals in serious political and economic situations concerning the interests of countries, peoples, classes, masses etc. Moreover, had they done so, their behavior could hardly have been explained by just moral standards."

This idea is clearly confirmed by the actions of the politicians in the pre-war years, and not only then. If the oil factor is present in such games, the rules are tightened considerably. As we can see, oil pushed such factors as fascism, socialism, anti-fascism and anti-communism into the background - oil has no ideology! And oil rich Baku played an enormous role in this game without rules in pre-war Europe. When they wanted to weaken the USSR, they drew up schemes to bomb Baku. When the future allies started anticipating that the USSR could associate with Germany, they began planning to bomb Baku. When the USSR became their ally in the anti-Hitler struggle, they repeatedly expressed their anxiety about the safety of Baku. And finally, when Stalin and Churchill understood that Baku could pass to Hitler, they planned the liquidation of the Baku oilfields independently of one another.

In the Soviet and Russian press, especially during Gorbachev's perestroika when everything and everyone concerned in pre-war politics in Europe came in for criticism, we could often read that Stalin had not trusted his future allies and this strengthened Hitler's positions. Stalin was well aware of all or almost all of what has been set out above. The question arises in this regard, why should Stalin have trusted the future allies if they planned to strike the USSR right at its heart - the centre of its oil production! Such historic events must be approached not from the position of dictatorship or democracy, but relying only on hard facts. And the facts do not favour the democrats at all! PERHAPS NO OTHER TOWN OR CITY OF THE USSR APPEARED SO OFTEN IN CLASSIFIED DOCUMENTS OF THE PRE-WAR YEARS IN EUROPE AS DID THE AZERBAIJANI CITY OF BAKU. It certainly appeared in many of the documents I read when researching this book. This shows that oil was of critical importance in the European countries' pre-war political games. Plans to defend or capture Baku were in the foreground, and no longer just plans but reality, as early as the very beginning of World War II.

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