RUSSIA'S SPECTACULARly inept military intervention in Chechnya has temporarily overshadowed its ongoing manipulation of other Trans-caucasus spots. Yet Russia is closer than ever to its goal of obtaining carte blanche from the international community for conducting peacekeeping operations in the former Soviet Union. The first step toward recognition of the region as Russia's legitimate sphere of influence was a decision, made at the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) Budapest summit in December 1994, to enhance Moscow's mediation of a settlement in the disputed Azerbaijani enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh. Russia is also seeking to exert its powerful economic leverage to maintain control over Soviet successor states. Specifically, Moscow is intent on controlling the export of oil and gas from Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan - some suggest that the invasion of Chechnya was sparked by the need to control an important oil pipeline that runs through the North Caucasus to Novorossiisk.