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13th Jun 2021

EU too divided to solve frozen conflicts, Azerbaijan says

  • The Black Sea and the Caspian Sea - where EU energy security meets frozen conflicts (Photo: lib.utexas.edu)

Oil and gas-rich rich Azerbaijan, home of another frozen conflict with its neighbouring Russian ally Armenia, does not consider the EU as a feasible peace broker in the region, Azeri deputy foreign minister Araz Azimov has said.

"The European Union is a powerful economic and political union of states, but in terms of acting in a united way, the EU is not there yet, especially in an environment that changes rapidly. The EU it is not able to act in an instrumental way", Mr Azimov said on his expectations of possible EU involvement in finding a solution for the frozen conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh.

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The senior official made the comment at a conference organized in Brussels by the European Policy Center on Wednesday (8 October).

The conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia, which still occupies the Azeri region of Nagorno-Karabakh, is currently mediated by the so-called Minsk group, created by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in 1992 and headed by France, Russia and the United States.

Other members of the Minsk group include Belarus, Germany, Italy, Portugal, the Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, Turkey as well as Armenia and Azerbaijan themselves.

"In the Minsk group there is a majority of EU countries and we do take their position into account. We need the EU's influence as an international actor, but we don't think the EU is a feasible partner in the Minsk group," Mr Azimov explained.

The EU's special representative to Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia, Peter Semneby, confirmed that the bloc "remains supportive of the work of the Minsk group" but didn't see as probable any change in terms of the EU joining the body as a full participant in its own right.

He dismissed the idea that the EU was unable to respond "forcefully" and "united" to crisis situations however, considering that in the recent war in Georgia it proved "very much able" to show "political will" in brokering a ceasefire agreement and in quickly deploying an observer mission on the ground.

Mr Semneby noted that it is the first European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) mission deployed on former Soviet union territory, designed to "stabilize the situation" after an "acute war."

EU role unclear

The status of the EUobservers remains unclear if Russians are to pull back by 10 October from the security zones and not granting them access into the two separatist enclaves, Azerbaijan's Mr Azimov countered.

"I think Russians will withdraw from the buffer zones, because they have no interest to stay. The six points [of the ceasefire agreement] will be implemented more or less, but then what will happen with South Ossetia and Abkhazia?" he asked.

"The main lesson of 08/08 [the day Russia sent troops into Georgia, following the attempt by the Georgian military to take over control of South Ossetia] is that the stability of the region is put under a big question mark, while separatist movements are being further promoted," the Azeri diplomat said, adding that it will be important what happens in Geneva on 15 October, when diplomatic talks are scheduled on the status of the two Georgian breakaway regions, whose independence has been only recognized by Russia and Nicaragua.

Mr Azimov spoke of the need for the EU to reconfigure its approach to Azerbaijan and start implementing the existing mechanisms from a 2006 energy partnership, not just talk about how important his country is for the bloc's energy security.

Azerbaijan is not aiming, like Ukraine or Georgia, to become a member of the EU, but could very well imagine "common areas for trade, economy, transport," he explained, "as far as is procedurally possible without entering the membership discussion."

West loses influence in Caucasus

While the Azeri minister talked about his country's ability to "balance" between its close ally US, but also Russia and Iran, emphasising "stability" and "political responsibility," Mustafa Aydın from the University of Ankara bluntly said that the region has dropped the whole idea of democratisation and Euro-Atlantic integration following the Russian invasion of Georgia.

"There is no talk of democratisation in the Caucasus any more. If authoritarianism worked in Russia, why not in the Caucasus as well? All the countries, including Turkey, have adopted a careful rhetoric towards Moscow, with 'stabilisation' being the key-word," Mr Aydin said.

Vladimir Socor from the NGO the Jamestown Foundation and a long time expert on the region said the "EU is by far not matching Russia in soft power in Azerbaijan" and the wider region.

The conflict in Georgia damaged the confidence of investors in the Caucasus energy corridor - the only direct link the EU has with the oil and gas-rich Caspian countries without passing through Russia - he explained.

He talked of the need for the EU and US to subsidise pipelines such as the planned Nabucco gas pipeline, which would bring Caspian gas to the European markets.

Nabucco sweetener criticised

Mr Socor criticised the incipient idea in the outgoing Bush administration to re-route Nabucco through Armenia instead of Georgia as a "sweetener" for getting an agreement on Nagorno-Karabakh.

Mr Azimov reassured the audience that such plans are not realistic, since a part of the project passing through Azerbaijan and Georgia to Turkey is already built.

He stressed that the government in Baku still supports the project, "but it shouldn't be the only one caring about Nabucco," calling on the EU to step up efforts to build the pipe.

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