Azerbaijan is our friend because it has oil and an expensive oil pipeline has been built all the way across the Caucasus and Turkey down to the north-east tip of the Mediterranean. This enables us to access oil without it crossing Russian territory. It is a great asset to the west except that it tends to silence our criticism of some jolly unsavoury Human rights attitudes of the Azeri government. These underlie the war over the Nagorno Karabakh enclave which locals claim as independent and Azeris claim as theirs. Also the human rights of Christians and other religious groups are suppressed without us doing a great deal about it .. partly because we value the oil.
Russia recently invaded Georgia. Georgia appealed to NATO for help, unsuccessfully. Georgia is a partner of NATO but not a member and NATO didn’t come to Georgia’s help. It was understandably tricky to do so. It was a long way away and it would have meant taking on a nation with a massive nuclear arsenal. Fairly understandably we backed down but it wasn’t a glorious episode for NATO. It is, at least, an example of the need to stay involved in ordinary circumstances to try to avert crises like this happening but it’s not easy.
Armenia. An ancient landlocked Christian civilisation perched high in the Caucasus with “cordial relations” I understand from Wikipedia, with Iran and Georgia. The mainly Muslim Azeris and mainly Christian Armenia are tense and the wounds over an alledged genocide of Armenians at the hands of Ataturk father of modern secular Turkey are still a cause of tension.
These are all traumatised post Soviet states with weak democracy, weak human rights, a precarious natural environment for agriculture, rich oil and gas and other mineral deposits that rich nations want to get their hands on and a fear of Islamism taking over.
China is involved and has established the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation including all central asian republics (the “Stans”) except Turkmenistan (which is more isolated) together with Russia and with Iran, Pakistan and India as observers all of which must scare the Foreign Office – or if it doesn’t we should write in more! These lands occupy the vast tract of the Asian landmass. They are busy building a railway across Asia to deliver Chinese exports quicker than by ship without danger from pirates lurking in the Malacca Straights and off Somalia. It’s a concern.
And we have bases in the wider region for supplying Afghanistan.
Turkmenistan is a one party state ruled for many years by a man who liked to be called “The Father of the Turkmen” who was treated to a compulsory virtual worship. He died in 2006 but there’s been little change. I don’t know what influence we have but it would be a real test of our goodwill to succeed in bring wholesomeness to this weird place with, presumably, real people who really suffer. I imagine we buy there oil though so they can’t be that bad…. or…
The story of British involvement in Central Asia is more colourful by Craig Murray our Ambassador to Uzbekistan who stood up for human rights of Uzbek people but lost his job in the process.