RUS
Global perspective through the lens of regional issues
RUS
Search
Publications

Competition of globalization models. Heydar Aliyevs policy as an example for post-Soviet space

photo: media.az
12 December 2023

December 12 is the Memorial Day of Azerbaijans national leader Heydar Aliyev (2023 will see the 20th anniversary of his decease). Thousands of articles were written and hundreds of books were published about this politician and statesman in which Heydar Aliyev is perceived, above all, as the creator of the modern Azerbaijan. Let us consider from the height of the current historical era what role he had played in the Soviet governance system, how he influenced it and what he could achieve during the process of transformation transition into the post-Soviet period.

A figure of historic proportions

It is extremely symbolic that in the year of the 100th anniversary of the birthday of the great Azerbaijani leader Baku returns under its sovereignty the entire territory of the country having finally terminated the existence in history of the separatist regime in Karabakh.

During the ten years that Heydar Aliyev had been the Head of an independent Azerbaijan (1993-2003) the Karabakh conflict was a major problem of the republics military and strategic security, was a source of an economic crisis and, for a while, of political instability. Aliyev not just responded to this conflict from the time the first hotbeds of the Armenian-Azerbaijani inter-ethnic crisis appeared in the mid-1980-s in the territory of Armenia and then in the Nagorno-Karabach autonomous region, but also tried to curb this challenge which actually was one of the reasons he staged a comeback to the big politics after the Soviet period of a career in the top echelons of power. The majority of Azerbaijans foreign policy turns, as well as the oil and gas strategy were motivated by the need to find a solution to resolve the conflict.

On the other hand, the Karabakh problem, though important, but is, nevertheless, one of other aspects of an interesting and wide-scale history of Azerbaijan which developed adequately as part of the USSR and inherited a powerful economic complex from the Soviet economy for subsequent development within the national sovereign model.

It is worth noting that the destiny of Heydar Aliyev repeated the main turns of Azerbaijans history as part of the Soviet Union, while the politician himself was the author of the most significant, pivotal decisions for the development of the Azerbaijani Soviet Socialist Republic since the early 1970-s. Suffice it to note several times when the republics history and Heydar Aliyevs biography merged within the same destiny.

He was born several months after the USSR had been formed (10.05.1923). At the age of twenty two he witnessed the USSR with a group of allies to become victorious in World War II; at the same time the Azerbaijani Soviet Socialist Republic had a chance to expand its territory on account of Northern Persia which from 1941 to 1946 was under the control of the Soviet troops.

Having started service in the state security bodies (1944) Heydar Aliyev delved deep into the problematics of Azerbaijanies life in Iran and Turkey. At forty four he became Chairman of the KGB in the Azerbaijani Soviet Socialist Republic and just two years later his candidacy was reviewed for appointment as the First Secretary of Azerbaijans Communist Party. As the head of the Soviet republic he became a member of the Politburo of the CPSU Central Committee.

Heydar Aliyev eyewitnessed many key events of competition between the Soviet and western systems and took part in many key events of the Soviet power being a prominent political actor, he foresaw certain processes, in particular, disintegration of the Soviet Union. [1]

In some events Heydar Aliyev had to act as a «firefighter». Probably, the most dramatic episode was his work as the head of the governmental commission on investigation of the shipwreck of the passenger liner «Admiral Nakhimov» (this and other episodes were described in detail in the authors political chronicle of Heydar Aliyev collected in several volumes «Personality and epoch» by the writer Elmira Akhundova).

It is well known that Heydar Aliyev as an administrator of huge economic complexes and as a politician having strategic vision had a lot of leadership qualities and enjoyed certain support by the apparatus to struggle for the post of the Soviet Unions leader, General Secretary of the Politburo of the CPSU Central Committee. Of course, the chance to reach this level of power was not an easy one; it was believed that a native from a union republic (Central Asia or Caucasus) could not be elected by the Areopagus of the Politburo to the post of general secretary for the fear of Stalins rule still prevailed over the Soviet elite.

Nevertheless, let us imagine that Heydar Aliyev succeeded. In this case we would have received another, more smooth option of integrating the Soviet system with the capitalist forms of economy (China managed to achieve something similar). After all, who knows, the new union treaty led by the general secretary Aliyev (it is believed that the first drafts of this strategy were made by Yuri Andropov) might have guided the union republics to a less conflict course. Perhaps, we would have avoided many post-Soviet wars, including the current conflict between Russia and Ukraine. At the same time, inevitable modernization of the Soviet political system and economy might have been made without chaos and fatal mistakes. Anyway, several decades later this particular opinion was voiced by Nikolai Ryzhkov who was Chairman of the USSR Council of Ministers in the mid-1980-s (1985-1991). [2]

Convergence attempts

But first a minor digression. The history of the past seventy years from the 1950-s-1960-s to the 2020-s may be viewed as the pulsing of decade-long cycles of thaws and cold spells between the Soviet-Russian and Western-Atlantic communities during which both parties to the process tried at the start of thaw periods to find the ways to converge the systems (mutual involvement in the globalization process) in the face of common challenges.

The convergence scenarios were noticeably different and simplified. In the initial period they looked as paired movement in joint projects (for example, space exploration, fundamental physics research), then as complete dissolution of socialism in capitalism (the idea that had had ripened by the 1980-s-1990-s and became the keynote of the Soviet Union disintegration).

It is worth noting that now, in the early 2020-s, confrontation between Russia and the West looks like Moscows U-turn towards another course of the global process, and not the withdrawal from it: instead of the western orbit, consolidation with Asia and the Global South was selected (the nucleus is the BRICS countries) with all the linkages to the international regulation institutions WTO, WHO, IAEA remaining intact. Therefore, the reality of global development is not ignored, but Russia is looking for her place in it, her own scenario.

In each of the conventional decade-long cycles, in the struggle for the own model or, to be more precise, for the own scenario of globalization we saw a number of both tactical rapprochements and collisions between the West and Russia. There were periods of mutual understanding and attempts to accomplish great missions in space, ecology, fundamental science.

The 1970-s were a time of a significant thaw between the Soviet Union and the USA for two visits to the USSR by President Nixon in 1972 and 1974 with trips to a number of Soviet cities made a deep impression. In the same period the war in Vietnam was terminated. In 1974 Moscow was selected as the venue of Olympic Games-80. In a struggle with Los-Angeles preference during the voting was given to the Soviet capital which was obviously not incidental being a symbolic pass by Washington to Moscow in a new joint game.

1975 saw rapprochement on space programs: docking of the Apollo and Soyuz spacecraft was made. In the future one could expect joint flights to the Moon and Mars. By the way, it is worth noting that owing to the efforts of Heydar Aliyev and his son Ilham Aliyev Baku was the only capital of the union republics/post-Soviet states where the International Astronautical Congress was held twice (in 1973 XXIV Congress, in 2023 LXXIV Congress). It is the biggest forum of major technological companies exploring near Earth orbits and outer space.

Finally, a cultural-educational breakthrough was made in the paradigm of «universalism and globalism» a childrens musical film «The Blue Bird» with Elizabeth Taylor, Jane Fonda, Ava Gardner, Margarita Terekhova starring. Later many Moscow English-focused schools staged with pleasure Maeterlincks piece as school performances (it was specified in the methodical recommendations of the USSR Ministry of Education). Thus the future generation of «perestroika pioneers» was formed. By the way, we should also remember in this connection the reform of Soviet education which, besides Konstantin Chernenko, was also supervised by the staff of Heydar Aliyev in the USSR Council of Ministers. It resulted in the transition of the secondary general school to eleven-year learning.

Since 1977 dominant tendencies turned towards confrontation with the West also observed throughout a decade until October 1986 when the meeting of Gorbachev and Reagan was held in Reykjavik. It is recognized that this is a landmark milestone of the end of the last stage of the cold war (major event of this decade is a war in Afghanistan).

In the Soviet Union proper on the level of the Politburo of the CPSU Central Committee and the USSR Council of Ministers there were rival groups that saw the processes of convergence of systems in a different way: as we already know, eventually the simplest model was implemented that within just a few years «drained away» the entire wealth of social and infrastructure achievements, including the security system.

According to many historians, «simplification» of convergence to plain and fast dismantlement of the Soviet system turned out to be one of the consequences of ousting Heydar Aliyev from the political Olympus of the USSR. The group that politically supported Mikhail Gorbachev (its nucleus comprised representatives of Armenian ethnic origin) proved to be more skilful in intrigues than industrial managers in the ministries («economic executives») and a part of defence and security chiefs able to support Heydar Aliyev.

Modernization «windows»

Let us rewind the time back to the late 1960-s. Thats when the idea of convergence of Soviet and western systems appeared after an acute phase of confrontation that had started in 1959 and reached its peak in 1962 when the Caribbean crisis broke out. By the end of this decade a number of prominent scientists of the western world had developed an idea to gather all intellectual forces on the same site that would have weighty importance for the First World powers as a consultative forum; thats how the idea of the Club of Rome was born and its main idea is that «there are no nations, there is only humanity». This theme gradually began to captivate the minds of some Soviet leaders.

A precursor of the Soviet-American thaw of the early 1970-s had been negotiations in the American city of Glassboro (1967) between Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin and US President Lyndon Johnson. At the same time a number of rapprochement projects were approved, among them is the Soviet-American International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), it was formed in 1972 under the guidance of academician Jermen Gvishiani. Several years later (in 1976) an All-Union Research Institute for Systems Studies (VNIISI) was established as an IIASA branch with dual subordination: to the State Committee on Science and Technology of the Council of Ministers of the USSR and to the Academy of Sciences of the USSR.

Subsequently many economists from the future teams of «liberal reformers» would undertake practical studies there. Among them are: Yegor Gaidar, Anatoly Chubais, Stanislav Shatalin (one of the authors of the «500 days» shock reform program); future high-ranking official, RF vice-prime-minister Alexander Zhukov, Petr Aven, the core shareholder of the Alfa group and even the future political manipulator Boris Berezovsky. All of them underwent a study course at this institute. In short, as we shall see later it was engaged in the intensive molding of cadres for the future «komsomol of perestroika».

At the same time, besides the above-mentioned «design bureau» where the teams of economic theorists got together, an HQ of reforms in the management structures was also formed. In 1982 Yuri Andropov set up a secretariat on economy of the CPSU Central Committee. Nukolai Ryzhkov (from September 1985 to January 1991 Chairman of the USSR Council of Ministers) was appointed as its head.

Later N. Ryzhkov would tell: «We studied Chinese experience very thoroughly. By 1985 the Chinese had been going along the way of reforms for six years, we saw their pluses and minuses. We studied the book «Prosperity for all» by Ludwig Erhard (the author of the FRGs social market economy strategy). I realized very well that the process of transition to a new model would be painful. For this reason, we built reforming methods with regard to this danger. The task of basic industries was to make it possible for the country to live further. Therefore, one part of the ministries was working in the old manner, for instance, the hydrocarbon industry. Five ministries were selected where it was planned to introduce market elements as an experiment, for example, the light industry. [3]

At that time Heydar Aliyev supervised the implementation of first reforms in the light industry as deputy to Ryzhkov in the USSR Council of Ministers.

Election to the Politburo of the CPSU Central Committee and appointment to the post of First Deputy to the Chairman of the Council of Ministers was motivated by the practical results achieved by Heydar Aliyev in governing Azerbaijan in the 1970-s. [4]

Suffice it to say that from a relatively average republic of the Soviet Union Azerbaijan became one of the leaders. By 1977 the volume of industrial production versus 1970 had increased there by 75%. New industries appeared, such as precision machinery, automobile assembly plant in Ganja, air conditioner manufacturing plant with Japanese equipment, deep water jackets factory that became the main enterprise to build production platforms in the Caspian Sea in the 1990-2000; generation of electric power increased considerably. The  Mingachevir hydro power plant, the biggest in South Caucasus, was built which now generates about a quarter of electricity consumed in Azerbaijan and a number of other facilities were commissioned.

One more trait of Heydar Aliyevs professional outlook is an interest to sociology. In the early 1980-s a Center for Sociological Studies was established in Lenkoran (a key district in the south of Azerbaijan with subtropical agriculture, it adjoins the Iranian border zone). It was perhaps the first one on the periphery of the Soviet Union. At that time Andropovs famous phrase «we live without knowing the country» was voiced. Historians believe that it was said in June 1983: «Up till now we have not properly studied the society in which we live and work, have not fully discovered the objective laws inherent in it».

In a sense this rhetorical utterance does not quite accurately reflect the situation. In 1968 the Institute of Concrete Social Research (IKSI) under the Academy of Sciences of the USSR and the department of methods for concrete social research at the philosophy faculty of Moscow State University came into existence. By 1972 after political castigation of the course that Yuri Levada had been conducting many of his staffers joined the industrial groups of specialists in various spheres gathered to evaluate the prospects of the economic system.

Large volume texts were written and classified «for official use only». These were timed to the scheduled congresses of the CPSU (a number of researchers note that in 1976 these papers were handed over to the State Planning Committee «Gosplan»).

Nevertheless, owing to the IKSI Social Research Institute a number of regions in the Soviet Union set up scientific schools which, along with the conduct of sociological surveys, were engaged in the training of sociologists. All of them mostly functioned in large cities, such as Novosibirsk, Samara, Rostov. 

A similar structure in Lenkoran was, of course, a rarity. At the same time, Heydar Aliyevs attention to sociology is understandable: it reinforced certain cadre decisions in the Azerbaijani Soviet Socialist Republic and helped to keep his fingers on the pulse when he was already in Moscow, in the Council of Ministers.

«Perestroika»: a number of tactical mistakes in the absence of quality strategy

The Soviet Government tried to resolve a complex task: to integrate three elements in the new model market relations, state regulation and social policy.

Various options were proposed. But the problem was that there was no clear-cut goal-setting from the top, from the political HQ which rather observed the developments responding to acute conflicts inside the system and to emergency situations. At the same time, the implementation of strategic scale programs either lagged behind or the simplest scenarios were selected from the package proposed while failures were attributed to the force majeure circumstances.

Such were the realities of the USSR Council of Ministers when Heydar Aliyev happened to be there in November 1982 after he became a member of the Politburo of the CPSU Central Committee. It was already difficult to change something in a radical way. However, there was still time before the collapse. As early as the mid-1980-s it became clear that the system must be subjected to reforms and transferred to the «globalization» mode (convergence of systems). Partly the joint monograph «Modelling of the processes of the world development and cooperation» edited by academicians J. Gvishiani and E.Velikhov sheds some light on the situation in governance and on the selection of a strategy of those years.

There was no example of China yet to look at and there were no options suitable to the USSR for creating an «investment paradise» to attract western production capabilities. It was simultaneously necessary to change the degree of confrontation in the cold war, to update the ideology and, in parallel, to bolster the chains of Soviet industrial cooperation that made products competitive on the world market.  Such cooperation was used in the field of medium and heavy engineering, including even machine tool engineering, which is quite often forgotten. Besides, by todays standards the USSR had a huge base of friendly economies of the COMECON member-states which is by far more extensive than that available now in the territories of the CIS/EAEU.

Fine tuning of these processes called for and experienced executive and a politician with strategic vision for decades ahead as the head of the Soviet system, such as Heydar Aliyev. However, the political process elevated to the top populist Mikhail Gorbachev from the Stavropol region who could talk a lot, but had no serious management experience.

At the very beginning of the radical changes it seemed that the system would cope with this challenge. There was a time when the healthy forces could still have formed an effective team. The Plenum of the CPSU Central Committee held in December 1983 took a decision «on complex improvement of management». But on February 9, 1984 Yuri Andropov died, then seriously ill Chernenko came to power for a little while and then Gorbachev became a new General Secretary.

At the end of April 1984 the Politburo of the CPSU Central Committee adopted a resolution «to partially amend the decisions of the CPSU Central Committee dated February 1984 and to form on March 7, 1984 a standing commission on the improvement of management of the Politburo of the CPSU Central Committee, including comrades Tikhonov as Chairman, Gorbachev, Aliyev, Romanov, Dolgikh, Kapitonov, Ryszhkov». The first session of this commission was held on May 15, 1984. It took a decision to set up a working group and a scientific section. Management of the scientific section was vested in academician Gvishiani, Director of the VNIISI Research Institute.

As academician Stanislav Shatalin later stated, «by the will of fate, the VNIISI Research Institute was more and more becoming the center for transplanting «alien» methods into the Soviet economy» while the Soviet leadership purposefully did not interfere with that. N. Ryzhkov remembers that Gorbachev deemed it necessary not only to transfer enterprises to full economic accountability and self-financing and in this connection to withdraw from directive and indicative planning as early as January 1, 1988, but also to let prices float freely, i.e. to do then what Yegor Gaidar would do later.

Since the autumn of 1987 Heydar Aliyev already had no influence on taking strategically important decisions in the USSR for he fell out of favor and left the Council of Ministers and the Politburo.

The first outbursts of inter-ethnic clashes in the South Caucasus were not curbed by the Kremlin successfully in spite of the methods of economic leverage and party regulation. The accumulated explosive potential was the most acute in the area where Armenians lived compactly. The process of power fragmentation in the Soviet Union entered the final straight.

Post-USSR period: commencement of post-Soviet dynamics

It is common knowledge that in the past fifty years of political history of the USSR/CIS at least two and sometimes three generations of political leaders changed from Gorbachev (Yeltsin) to Vladimir Putin, from Heydar Aliyev to Ilham Aliyev; a third generation of «forty years olds» came upon the stage. They did not see the horrors of World War II and are ready to «rush headlong into the fight» without evaluating forces and consequences. These are V. Zelensky, M. Saakashvili, N. Pashinyan. The third generation inherited the actual conditions of disintegration of the Soviet Union without knowing how to manage that. On the one hand, the strategy of freezing the post-Soviet armed conflicts did not bring political satisfaction, on the other hand, forceful solutions ran into the need to come to terms with Russia.

Here a question cropped up raised back in the 1960-1970-s: which model of globalization is to be selected for the Soviet and then for the post-Soviet space? Russia insisted that she has advantages, bears responsibility in this territory and, therefore, expects a prerogative from the rival forces in the West.

In the past thirty years we several times witnessed this issue to go out of the dead end into a policy of force.

One of the examples is the war of August 2008 in response to Tbilisis aggression against South Ossetia. Incorrect evaluation of forces or too much ambition led Mikhail Saakashvili, the leader of a new generation of post-Soviet politicians, to the fiasco in Georgia that entailed the loss of a part of the territory and then a prison term (after a cycle of political administrative activities in Ukraine). Thats the price of the mistake in selecting a strategy and staking on the extraregional partner (USA).

The chain of mistakes made by M. Saakashvili and N. Pashinyan is particularly evident in contrast with Azerbaijans policy under the guidance of Heydar Aliyev during the years critical for the republics existence. Having come to power in the already independent state in a state of war (1993) Heydar Aliyev did not continue it, through the loss of almost 20% of the territory as a result of Armenian occupation looked absolutely unacceptable. However, a politician should have a long will and not just wait for new circumstances and favorable global events influencing the region, but also make the right choice.

Heydar Aliyev counted on an independent direct dialogue with Russia. Having received such a partner as Vladimir Putin he managed to agree on the strategy of settlement of the Karabakh conflict. It was so long-term that the final settlement in the interests of Azerbaijan was accomplished only in 2024, but much more effectively and efficiently than it could be done in the scenario when the bet was made on the West only. Of course, we cannot make a credible judgement on the conceptual fundamentals of rapprochement between Heydar Aliyev and Vladimir Putin that had occurred a while ago, but it is highly likely that being pragmatic and having experience of work in the intelligence and counterintelligence (KGB of the USSR) they thought over the possibility of a multi-party Slavic-Turkic alliance able to create a regional nucleus in order to stabilize the global security system that began to collapse.

In a way Heydar Aliyev still «embraces» Russian-Azerbaijani relations. He showed Vladimir Putin Azerbaijans significance in resetting partnership of the post-Soviet republics and in building a new common home for the Eurasian space, he gave directions to the then beginner in politics Ilham Aliyev how to work with the Kremlin on this strategic agenda. I would not be surprised if he had managed in good time to come to terms with Putin on Karabakh, too, and «resolve the issue» within 15-20 years to come. Politicians of this kind look far ahead, have a long will and can fulfil promises even if one of them ceased to exist and has nobody to report to. Thanks to Heydar Aliyev Azerbaijan remained one of Russian allies even if it is not formally a member of legal entities of collective integration formats.

1. Heydar Aliyev: I always wanted Azerbaijan to be independent. «Kommersant», 05.09.2000. https://www.kommersant.ru/doc/156945

2. Nikolai Ryzhkov: «I would choose Aliyev or Shcherbytsky». Newspaper «Kultura», 12.03.2015. https://portal-kultura.ru/articles/history/91137-nikolay-ryzhkov-ya-by-vybral-alieva-ili-shcherbitskogo/

3. Nikolai Ryzhkov: we are marking time because we chose the wrong way. «Argumenty i facty in Belarus», 24.09.2019. https://aif.by/social/nikolay_ryzhkov_my_topchemsya_na_meste_potomu_chto_vybrali_nepravilnyy_put

4. November Plenum of the CPSU Central Committee. Heydar Aliyev and Nikolai Ryzhkov. /Political portraits. Leonid Brezhnev, Yuri Andropov, R.A. Medvedev https://history.wikireading.ru/288396.

16+
4 office, XXIVd premise , 5 floor, 2 Novodmitrovskaya Str., 2 bldg., Moscow, Russia 127015.
Savyolovsky City Business Center, Davis Tower
Ph. +7 (495) 767-81-36
Ph./Fax: +7 (495) 783-68-27
E-mail: info@caspian.institute
Legal footer
All the rights for the materials published on this website reside with the Caspian Institute for Strategic Studies. Reprint of materials and their use in any form including in digital media is permissible strictly subject to exclusive reference to CISS.
2022-2024, Caspian Institute for Strategic Studies
top
Caspian Institute for Strategic Studies
Publications

Competition of globalization models. Heydar Aliyevs policy as an example for post-Soviet space

photo: media.az
12 2023

December 12 is the Memorial Day of Azerbaijans national leader Heydar Aliyev (2023 will see the 20th anniversary of his decease). Thousands of articles were written and hundreds of books were published about this politician and statesman in which Heydar Aliyev is perceived, above all, as the creator of the modern Azerbaijan. Let us consider from the height of the current historical era what role he had played in the Soviet governance system, how he influenced it and what he could achieve during the process of transformation transition into the post-Soviet period.

A figure of historic proportions

It is extremely symbolic that in the year of the 100th anniversary of the birthday of the great Azerbaijani leader Baku returns under its sovereignty the entire territory of the country having finally terminated the existence in history of the separatist regime in Karabakh.

During the ten years that Heydar Aliyev had been the Head of an independent Azerbaijan (1993-2003) the Karabakh conflict was a major problem of the republics military and strategic security, was a source of an economic crisis and, for a while, of political instability. Aliyev not just responded to this conflict from the time the first hotbeds of the Armenian-Azerbaijani inter-ethnic crisis appeared in the mid-1980-s in the territory of Armenia and then in the Nagorno-Karabach autonomous region, but also tried to curb this challenge which actually was one of the reasons he staged a comeback to the big politics after the Soviet period of a career in the top echelons of power. The majority of Azerbaijans foreign policy turns, as well as the oil and gas strategy were motivated by the need to find a solution to resolve the conflict.

On the other hand, the Karabakh problem, though important, but is, nevertheless, one of other aspects of an interesting and wide-scale history of Azerbaijan which developed adequately as part of the USSR and inherited a powerful economic complex from the Soviet economy for subsequent development within the national sovereign model.

It is worth noting that the destiny of Heydar Aliyev repeated the main turns of Azerbaijans history as part of the Soviet Union, while the politician himself was the author of the most significant, pivotal decisions for the development of the Azerbaijani Soviet Socialist Republic since the early 1970-s. Suffice it to note several times when the republics history and Heydar Aliyevs biography merged within the same destiny.

He was born several months after the USSR had been formed (10.05.1923). At the age of twenty two he witnessed the USSR with a group of allies to become victorious in World War II; at the same time the Azerbaijani Soviet Socialist Republic had a chance to expand its territory on account of Northern Persia which from 1941 to 1946 was under the control of the Soviet troops.

Having started service in the state security bodies (1944) Heydar Aliyev delved deep into the problematics of Azerbaijanies life in Iran and Turkey. At forty four he became Chairman of the KGB in the Azerbaijani Soviet Socialist Republic and just two years later his candidacy was reviewed for appointment as the First Secretary of Azerbaijans Communist Party. As the head of the Soviet republic he became a member of the Politburo of the CPSU Central Committee.

Heydar Aliyev eyewitnessed many key events of competition between the Soviet and western systems and took part in many key events of the Soviet power being a prominent political actor, he foresaw certain processes, in particular, disintegration of the Soviet Union. [1]

In some events Heydar Aliyev had to act as a «firefighter». Probably, the most dramatic episode was his work as the head of the governmental commission on investigation of the shipwreck of the passenger liner «Admiral Nakhimov» (this and other episodes were described in detail in the authors political chronicle of Heydar Aliyev collected in several volumes «Personality and epoch» by the writer Elmira Akhundova).

It is well known that Heydar Aliyev as an administrator of huge economic complexes and as a politician having strategic vision had a lot of leadership qualities and enjoyed certain support by the apparatus to struggle for the post of the Soviet Unions leader, General Secretary of the Politburo of the CPSU Central Committee. Of course, the chance to reach this level of power was not an easy one; it was believed that a native from a union republic (Central Asia or Caucasus) could not be elected by the Areopagus of the Politburo to the post of general secretary for the fear of Stalins rule still prevailed over the Soviet elite.

Nevertheless, let us imagine that Heydar Aliyev succeeded. In this case we would have received another, more smooth option of integrating the Soviet system with the capitalist forms of economy (China managed to achieve something similar). After all, who knows, the new union treaty led by the general secretary Aliyev (it is believed that the first drafts of this strategy were made by Yuri Andropov) might have guided the union republics to a less conflict course. Perhaps, we would have avoided many post-Soviet wars, including the current conflict between Russia and Ukraine. At the same time, inevitable modernization of the Soviet political system and economy might have been made without chaos and fatal mistakes. Anyway, several decades later this particular opinion was voiced by Nikolai Ryzhkov who was Chairman of the USSR Council of Ministers in the mid-1980-s (1985-1991). [2]

Convergence attempts

But first a minor digression. The history of the past seventy years from the 1950-s-1960-s to the 2020-s may be viewed as the pulsing of decade-long cycles of thaws and cold spells between the Soviet-Russian and Western-Atlantic communities during which both parties to the process tried at the start of thaw periods to find the ways to converge the systems (mutual involvement in the globalization process) in the face of common challenges.

The convergence scenarios were noticeably different and simplified. In the initial period they looked as paired movement in joint projects (for example, space exploration, fundamental physics research), then as complete dissolution of socialism in capitalism (the idea that had had ripened by the 1980-s-1990-s and became the keynote of the Soviet Union disintegration).

It is worth noting that now, in the early 2020-s, confrontation between Russia and the West looks like Moscows U-turn towards another course of the global process, and not the withdrawal from it: instead of the western orbit, consolidation with Asia and the Global South was selected (the nucleus is the BRICS countries) with all the linkages to the international regulation institutions WTO, WHO, IAEA remaining intact. Therefore, the reality of global development is not ignored, but Russia is looking for her place in it, her own scenario.

In each of the conventional decade-long cycles, in the struggle for the own model or, to be more precise, for the own scenario of globalization we saw a number of both tactical rapprochements and collisions between the West and Russia. There were periods of mutual understanding and attempts to accomplish great missions in space, ecology, fundamental science.

The 1970-s were a time of a significant thaw between the Soviet Union and the USA for two visits to the USSR by President Nixon in 1972 and 1974 with trips to a number of Soviet cities made a deep impression. In the same period the war in Vietnam was terminated. In 1974 Moscow was selected as the venue of Olympic Games-80. In a struggle with Los-Angeles preference during the voting was given to the Soviet capital which was obviously not incidental being a symbolic pass by Washington to Moscow in a new joint game.

1975 saw rapprochement on space programs: docking of the Apollo and Soyuz spacecraft was made. In the future one could expect joint flights to the Moon and Mars. By the way, it is worth noting that owing to the efforts of Heydar Aliyev and his son Ilham Aliyev Baku was the only capital of the union republics/post-Soviet states where the International Astronautical Congress was held twice (in 1973 XXIV Congress, in 2023 LXXIV Congress). It is the biggest forum of major technological companies exploring near Earth orbits and outer space.

Finally, a cultural-educational breakthrough was made in the paradigm of «universalism and globalism» a childrens musical film «The Blue Bird» with Elizabeth Taylor, Jane Fonda, Ava Gardner, Margarita Terekhova starring. Later many Moscow English-focused schools staged with pleasure Maeterlincks piece as school performances (it was specified in the methodical recommendations of the USSR Ministry of Education). Thus the future generation of «perestroika pioneers» was formed. By the way, we should also remember in this connection the reform of Soviet education which, besides Konstantin Chernenko, was also supervised by the staff of Heydar Aliyev in the USSR Council of Ministers. It resulted in the transition of the secondary general school to eleven-year learning.

Since 1977 dominant tendencies turned towards confrontation with the West also observed throughout a decade until October 1986 when the meeting of Gorbachev and Reagan was held in Reykjavik. It is recognized that this is a landmark milestone of the end of the last stage of the cold war (major event of this decade is a war in Afghanistan).

In the Soviet Union proper on the level of the Politburo of the CPSU Central Committee and the USSR Council of Ministers there were rival groups that saw the processes of convergence of systems in a different way: as we already know, eventually the simplest model was implemented that within just a few years «drained away» the entire wealth of social and infrastructure achievements, including the security system.

According to many historians, «simplification» of convergence to plain and fast dismantlement of the Soviet system turned out to be one of the consequences of ousting Heydar Aliyev from the political Olympus of the USSR. The group that politically supported Mikhail Gorbachev (its nucleus comprised representatives of Armenian ethnic origin) proved to be more skilful in intrigues than industrial managers in the ministries («economic executives») and a part of defence and security chiefs able to support Heydar Aliyev.

Modernization «windows»

Let us rewind the time back to the late 1960-s. Thats when the idea of convergence of Soviet and western systems appeared after an acute phase of confrontation that had started in 1959 and reached its peak in 1962 when the Caribbean crisis broke out. By the end of this decade a number of prominent scientists of the western world had developed an idea to gather all intellectual forces on the same site that would have weighty importance for the First World powers as a consultative forum; thats how the idea of the Club of Rome was born and its main idea is that «there are no nations, there is only humanity». This theme gradually began to captivate the minds of some Soviet leaders.

A precursor of the Soviet-American thaw of the early 1970-s had been negotiations in the American city of Glassboro (1967) between Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin and US President Lyndon Johnson. At the same time a number of rapprochement projects were approved, among them is the Soviet-American International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), it was formed in 1972 under the guidance of academician Jermen Gvishiani. Several years later (in 1976) an All-Union Research Institute for Systems Studies (VNIISI) was established as an IIASA branch with dual subordination: to the State Committee on Science and Technology of the Council of Ministers of the USSR and to the Academy of Sciences of the USSR.

Subsequently many economists from the future teams of «liberal reformers» would undertake practical studies there. Among them are: Yegor Gaidar, Anatoly Chubais, Stanislav Shatalin (one of the authors of the «500 days» shock reform program); future high-ranking official, RF vice-prime-minister Alexander Zhukov, Petr Aven, the core shareholder of the Alfa group and even the future political manipulator Boris Berezovsky. All of them underwent a study course at this institute. In short, as we shall see later it was engaged in the intensive molding of cadres for the future «komsomol of perestroika».

At the same time, besides the above-mentioned «design bureau» where the teams of economic theorists got together, an HQ of reforms in the management structures was also formed. In 1982 Yuri Andropov set up a secretariat on economy of the CPSU Central Committee. Nukolai Ryzhkov (from September 1985 to January 1991 Chairman of the USSR Council of Ministers) was appointed as its head.

Later N. Ryzhkov would tell: «We studied Chinese experience very thoroughly. By 1985 the Chinese had been going along the way of reforms for six years, we saw their pluses and minuses. We studied the book «Prosperity for all» by Ludwig Erhard (the author of the FRGs social market economy strategy). I realized very well that the process of transition to a new model would be painful. For this reason, we built reforming methods with regard to this danger. The task of basic industries was to make it possible for the country to live further. Therefore, one part of the ministries was working in the old manner, for instance, the hydrocarbon industry. Five ministries were selected where it was planned to introduce market elements as an experiment, for example, the light industry. [3]

At that time Heydar Aliyev supervised the implementation of first reforms in the light industry as deputy to Ryzhkov in the USSR Council of Ministers.

Election to the Politburo of the CPSU Central Committee and appointment to the post of First Deputy to the Chairman of the Council of Ministers was motivated by the practical results achieved by Heydar Aliyev in governing Azerbaijan in the 1970-s. [4]

Suffice it to say that from a relatively average republic of the Soviet Union Azerbaijan became one of the leaders. By 1977 the volume of industrial production versus 1970 had increased there by 75%. New industries appeared, such as precision machinery, automobile assembly plant in Ganja, air conditioner manufacturing plant with Japanese equipment, deep water jackets factory that became the main enterprise to build production platforms in the Caspian Sea in the 1990-2000; generation of electric power increased considerably. The  Mingachevir hydro power plant, the biggest in South Caucasus, was built which now generates about a quarter of electricity consumed in Azerbaijan and a number of other facilities were commissioned.

One more trait of Heydar Aliyevs professional outlook is an interest to sociology. In the early 1980-s a Center for Sociological Studies was established in Lenkoran (a key district in the south of Azerbaijan with subtropical agriculture, it adjoins the Iranian border zone). It was perhaps the first one on the periphery of the Soviet Union. At that time Andropovs famous phrase «we live without knowing the country» was voiced. Historians believe that it was said in June 1983: «Up till now we have not properly studied the society in which we live and work, have not fully discovered the objective laws inherent in it».

In a sense this rhetorical utterance does not quite accurately reflect the situation. In 1968 the Institute of Concrete Social Research (IKSI) under the Academy of Sciences of the USSR and the department of methods for concrete social research at the philosophy faculty of Moscow State University came into existence. By 1972 after political castigation of the course that Yuri Levada had been conducting many of his staffers joined the industrial groups of specialists in various spheres gathered to evaluate the prospects of the economic system.

Large volume texts were written and classified «for official use only». These were timed to the scheduled congresses of the CPSU (a number of researchers note that in 1976 these papers were handed over to the State Planning Committee «Gosplan»).

Nevertheless, owing to the IKSI Social Research Institute a number of regions in the Soviet Union set up scientific schools which, along with the conduct of sociological surveys, were engaged in the training of sociologists. All of them mostly functioned in large cities, such as Novosibirsk, Samara, Rostov. 

A similar structure in Lenkoran was, of course, a rarity. At the same time, Heydar Aliyevs attention to sociology is understandable: it reinforced certain cadre decisions in the Azerbaijani Soviet Socialist Republic and helped to keep his fingers on the pulse when he was already in Moscow, in the Council of Ministers.

«Perestroika»: a number of tactical mistakes in the absence of quality strategy

The Soviet Government tried to resolve a complex task: to integrate three elements in the new model market relations, state regulation and social policy.

Various options were proposed. But the problem was that there was no clear-cut goal-setting from the top, from the political HQ which rather observed the developments responding to acute conflicts inside the system and to emergency situations. At the same time, the implementation of strategic scale programs either lagged behind or the simplest scenarios were selected from the package proposed while failures were attributed to the force majeure circumstances.

Such were the realities of the USSR Council of Ministers when Heydar Aliyev happened to be there in November 1982 after he became a member of the Politburo of the CPSU Central Committee. It was already difficult to change something in a radical way. However, there was still time before the collapse. As early as the mid-1980-s it became clear that the system must be subjected to reforms and transferred to the «globalization» mode (convergence of systems). Partly the joint monograph «Modelling of the processes of the world development and cooperation» edited by academicians J. Gvishiani and E.Velikhov sheds some light on the situation in governance and on the selection of a strategy of those years.

There was no example of China yet to look at and there were no options suitable to the USSR for creating an «investment paradise» to attract western production capabilities. It was simultaneously necessary to change the degree of confrontation in the cold war, to update the ideology and, in parallel, to bolster the chains of Soviet industrial cooperation that made products competitive on the world market.  Such cooperation was used in the field of medium and heavy engineering, including even machine tool engineering, which is quite often forgotten. Besides, by todays standards the USSR had a huge base of friendly economies of the COMECON member-states which is by far more extensive than that available now in the territories of the CIS/EAEU.

Fine tuning of these processes called for and experienced executive and a politician with strategic vision for decades ahead as the head of the Soviet system, such as Heydar Aliyev. However, the political process elevated to the top populist Mikhail Gorbachev from the Stavropol region who could talk a lot, but had no serious management experience.

At the very beginning of the radical changes it seemed that the system would cope with this challenge. There was a time when the healthy forces could still have formed an effective team. The Plenum of the CPSU Central Committee held in December 1983 took a decision «on complex improvement of management». But on February 9, 1984 Yuri Andropov died, then seriously ill Chernenko came to power for a little while and then Gorbachev became a new General Secretary.

At the end of April 1984 the Politburo of the CPSU Central Committee adopted a resolution «to partially amend the decisions of the CPSU Central Committee dated February 1984 and to form on March 7, 1984 a standing commission on the improvement of management of the Politburo of the CPSU Central Committee, including comrades Tikhonov as Chairman, Gorbachev, Aliyev, Romanov, Dolgikh, Kapitonov, Ryszhkov». The first session of this commission was held on May 15, 1984. It took a decision to set up a working group and a scientific section. Management of the scientific section was vested in academician Gvishiani, Director of the VNIISI Research Institute.

As academician Stanislav Shatalin later stated, «by the will of fate, the VNIISI Research Institute was more and more becoming the center for transplanting «alien» methods into the Soviet economy» while the Soviet leadership purposefully did not interfere with that. N. Ryzhkov remembers that Gorbachev deemed it necessary not only to transfer enterprises to full economic accountability and self-financing and in this connection to withdraw from directive and indicative planning as early as January 1, 1988, but also to let prices float freely, i.e. to do then what Yegor Gaidar would do later.

Since the autumn of 1987 Heydar Aliyev already had no influence on taking strategically important decisions in the USSR for he fell out of favor and left the Council of Ministers and the Politburo.

The first outbursts of inter-ethnic clashes in the South Caucasus were not curbed by the Kremlin successfully in spite of the methods of economic leverage and party regulation. The accumulated explosive potential was the most acute in the area where Armenians lived compactly. The process of power fragmentation in the Soviet Union entered the final straight.

Post-USSR period: commencement of post-Soviet dynamics

It is common knowledge that in the past fifty years of political history of the USSR/CIS at least two and sometimes three generations of political leaders changed from Gorbachev (Yeltsin) to Vladimir Putin, from Heydar Aliyev to Ilham Aliyev; a third generation of «forty years olds» came upon the stage. They did not see the horrors of World War II and are ready to «rush headlong into the fight» without evaluating forces and consequences. These are V. Zelensky, M. Saakashvili, N. Pashinyan. The third generation inherited the actual conditions of disintegration of the Soviet Union without knowing how to manage that. On the one hand, the strategy of freezing the post-Soviet armed conflicts did not bring political satisfaction, on the other hand, forceful solutions ran into the need to come to terms with Russia.

Here a question cropped up raised back in the 1960-1970-s: which model of globalization is to be selected for the Soviet and then for the post-Soviet space? Russia insisted that she has advantages, bears responsibility in this territory and, therefore, expects a prerogative from the rival forces in the West.

In the past thirty years we several times witnessed this issue to go out of the dead end into a policy of force.

One of the examples is the war of August 2008 in response to Tbilisis aggression against South Ossetia. Incorrect evaluation of forces or too much ambition led Mikhail Saakashvili, the leader of a new generation of post-Soviet politicians, to the fiasco in Georgia that entailed the loss of a part of the territory and then a prison term (after a cycle of political administrative activities in Ukraine). Thats the price of the mistake in selecting a strategy and staking on the extraregional partner (USA).

The chain of mistakes made by M. Saakashvili and N. Pashinyan is particularly evident in contrast with Azerbaijans policy under the guidance of Heydar Aliyev during the years critical for the republics existence. Having come to power in the already independent state in a state of war (1993) Heydar Aliyev did not continue it, through the loss of almost 20% of the territory as a result of Armenian occupation looked absolutely unacceptable. However, a politician should have a long will and not just wait for new circumstances and favorable global events influencing the region, but also make the right choice.

Heydar Aliyev counted on an independent direct dialogue with Russia. Having received such a partner as Vladimir Putin he managed to agree on the strategy of settlement of the Karabakh conflict. It was so long-term that the final settlement in the interests of Azerbaijan was accomplished only in 2024, but much more effectively and efficiently than it could be done in the scenario when the bet was made on the West only. Of course, we cannot make a credible judgement on the conceptual fundamentals of rapprochement between Heydar Aliyev and Vladimir Putin that had occurred a while ago, but it is highly likely that being pragmatic and having experience of work in the intelligence and counterintelligence (KGB of the USSR) they thought over the possibility of a multi-party Slavic-Turkic alliance able to create a regional nucleus in order to stabilize the global security system that began to collapse.

In a way Heydar Aliyev still «embraces» Russian-Azerbaijani relations. He showed Vladimir Putin Azerbaijans significance in resetting partnership of the post-Soviet republics and in building a new common home for the Eurasian space, he gave directions to the then beginner in politics Ilham Aliyev how to work with the Kremlin on this strategic agenda. I would not be surprised if he had managed in good time to come to terms with Putin on Karabakh, too, and «resolve the issue» within 15-20 years to come. Politicians of this kind look far ahead, have a long will and can fulfil promises even if one of them ceased to exist and has nobody to report to. Thanks to Heydar Aliyev Azerbaijan remained one of Russian allies even if it is not formally a member of legal entities of collective integration formats.

1. Heydar Aliyev: I always wanted Azerbaijan to be independent. «Kommersant», 05.09.2000. https://www.kommersant.ru/doc/156945

2. Nikolai Ryzhkov: «I would choose Aliyev or Shcherbytsky». Newspaper «Kultura», 12.03.2015. https://portal-kultura.ru/articles/history/91137-nikolay-ryzhkov-ya-by-vybral-alieva-ili-shcherbitskogo/

3. Nikolai Ryzhkov: we are marking time because we chose the wrong way. «Argumenty i facty in Belarus», 24.09.2019. https://aif.by/social/nikolay_ryzhkov_my_topchemsya_na_meste_potomu_chto_vybrali_nepravilnyy_put

4. November Plenum of the CPSU Central Committee. Heydar Aliyev and Nikolai Ryzhkov. /Political portraits. Leonid Brezhnev, Yuri Andropov, R.A. Medvedev https://history.wikireading.ru/288396.