Monday

21st May 2018

'Accidental war' waiting to happen on EU periphery

If or when a full-blown conflict erupts between Armenia and Azerbaijan, it will probably begin like this.

According to a senior source in the Armenian defence ministry, on 27 April Azerbaijani troops sneaked over the Armenian border in the north-east province of Tavush and took up positions on either side of a road connecting the villages of Movses and Aygepar.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • Nagorno-Karabakh has one of the highest mine-related accidental injury rates in the world according to demining charity The Halo Trust (Photo: halotrust.org)

At around 2am local time - the source said - they opened fire from close range at the windscreen of an approaching car carrying out-of-uniform Armenian soldiers. They killed 28-year-old David Abgaryan, 21-year-old Arshak Nersisyan and 26-year-old father-of-one Aram Yesayan.

The killing is a "clear provocation," the source told EUobserver in Yerevan on 5 May.

He added: "We have not reacted yet. I underline: 'Yet'."

For its part, the Azerbaijani foreign ministry told this website the incident never took place. It says Armenia staged the hoax to create an atmosphere of crisis so that its ruling party would do well in elections on 6 May.

Disturbing claims and counter-claims are nothing new in the 25-year-long "frozen" conflict over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. But in this case outside observers favour the Armenian line.

The Minsk Group - a club of French, Russian and US diplomats tasked with mediating between Baku and Yerevan - in a statement on 27 April condemned "such senseless acts." A senior EU diplomat in Yerevan told EUobserver that the Armenian account of the ambush is "credible."

The 27 April incident marks an escalation because killings normally take place along the "line of contact" on the Nagorno-Karabakh border, not in Armenia or Azerbaijan proper.

It also comes in a dangerous new environment.

Open conflict used to be unlikely because neither side could win. But petro-rich Azerbaijan is altering the balance of power. According to the Stockholm-based arms-control institute, Sipri, it spent $11 billion on weapons in the past five years compared to less than $2 billion by Armenia.

Its latest purchase - $1.6 billion of drones and missiles from Israel - could be decisive if Israel also builds a joint training and maintenance facility.

Peter Semneby, until recently the EU's special envoy to the region, told this website: "The danger of an incident spiralling out of control is gradually increasing."

'Accidental war'

Richard Giragosian, a Yerevan-based US analyst who used to advise the CIA and the Pentagon, said Azerbaijan killed the Armenian soldiers to look important before assuming the rotating presidency of the UN Security Council on 1 May.

He also noted that the risk of an "accidental war" in which a minor incident blows up is getting bigger.

If it does, it will be felt far beyond Nagorno-Karabakh.

In terms of direct threats to EU interests, it would increase oil prices by destroying the BTC oil pipeline from the Caspian Sea to the Mediterranean. It would also halt EU plans to reduce energy dependence on Russia by building a gas pipeline through the region.

Meanwhile, Russia - which has 5,000 soldiers at its base in Gyumri, Armenia - is obliged to intervene under the terms of the Nato-type Collective Security Treaty Organisation. The US has 300 diplomats and thousands of Armenian-American passport holders in Yerevan at any given time.

Looking further afield, Turkey is a historic ally of Azerbaijan and Iran is unhappy about the installation of Israeli weapons on its northern flank.

The EU has so far limited its role in the conflict to offering cheap visas and free trade for Armenia and Azerbaijan if things go well.

But Giragosian says it should do more: "It needs to send a message to Azerbaijan that there is a price to pay for ceasefire violations and to put pressure on Armenia to take positive unilateral steps, such as pulling back snipers [from the line of contact]."

'How many will I lose?'

Amid the geopolitical considerations, Armenia is sure of one thing: if fighting escalates, its friends will leave it to its own devices.

"If something goes wrong on Nagorno-Karabakh ... what will happen? Let's do a scenario. The EU will say: 'We seriously condemn this and we call on all parties to halt immediately.' The UN Security Council will debate a resolution calling on all sides to do this or that. There will be a commission [of enquiry]," Armenian deputy foreign minister Zohrab Mnatsakanian told EUobserver.

Looking back to the recent funerals of Abgaryan, Nersisyan and Yesayan, he added: "How long will it all take? Three days? Five days? How many people will I lose during these three days? This is the way we think."

US vote on Armenian genocide angers Turkey

Ankara has recalled its ambassador from Washington in protest over a resolution recognising the Armenian genocide in 1915. The move may also jeopardise a timid revival of Turkish-Armenian relations, one of the few elements of progress noted by the EU in its last Turkey monitoring report.

EU too divided to solve frozen conflicts, Azerbaijan says

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.

EU banks throw their weight behind Nabucco pipeline

The EU's Nabucco gas pipeline received a boost on Monday as the European Investment Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the World Bank made a first written commitment that may lend the project up to €4 billion, half of its total cost.

Analysis

EU has no 'magic bullet' against US Iran sanctions

EU leaders in Sofia will discuss how they can protect the bloc's economic interests against US threats to sanction companies doing business in Iran. But their options are limited.

Opinion

Ratifying CETA after 'Achmea scandal' is anti-European

While few people in Europe have heard of the 'Achmea' ruling, the case will have far-reaching consequences. Member states must understand the implications of the case quickly - especially those considering ratifying the EU-Canada trade agreement.

News in Brief

  1. Trump warns Nato allies' low budgets will be 'dealt with'
  2. Only Estonia, Greece and UK hit Nato spending target
  3. EU to start process to counter US Iran sanctions
  4. Macedonia PM sees 'possible solutions' in Greek name row
  5. EU takes six countries to court over air pollution
  6. New Catalan leader sworn in without reference to Spain
  7. Merkel and Putin revive dialogue in troubled times
  8. European companies putting Iran business on hold

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersOECD Report: Gender Equality Boosts GDP Growth in Nordic Region
  2. Centre Maurits Coppieters“Peace and reconciliation is a process that takes decades” Dr. Anthony Soares on #Brexit and Northern Ireland
  3. Mission of China to the EUMEPs Positive on China’s New Measures of Opening Up
  4. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOld White Men are Destroying Macedonia by Romanticizing Greece
  5. Counter BalanceControversial EIB-Backed Project Under Fire at European Parliament
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersIncome Inequality Increasing in Nordic Countries
  7. European Jewish CongressEU Leaders to Cease Contact with Mahmoud Abbas Until He Apologizes for Antisemitic Comments
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual Report celebrates organization’s tenth anniversary
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Cooperation Needed on Green Exports and Funding
  10. Mission of China to the EUPremier Li Confirms China Will Continue to Open Up
  11. European Jewish CongressCalls on Brussels University to Revoke Decision to Honour Ken Loach
  12. Sustainable Energy Week 2018"Lead the Clean Energy Transition"- Register and Join Us in Brussels from 5 to 7 May

Latest News

  1. Zuckerberg and Trump top the EU's agenda This WEEK
  2. Integration of Syrian refugees in Europe needs scrutiny
  3. Bulgarian PM: No asylum reform without stronger border
  4. Eight countries to miss EU data protection deadline
  5. Italian populists to defy EU debt rules
  6. Commission 'playing tricks' with EU budget figures
  7. How France escaped EU legal action over chemical ban
  8. 'Connectivity' trumps enlargement at Balkans summit

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EU Green Week 2018Green Cities for a Greener Future. Join the Debate in Brussels from 22 to 24 May
  2. Nordic Council of Ministers12 Recommendations for Nordic Leadership on Climate and Environment
  3. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOxford Professor Calls for an End to the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  4. ACCAPeople Who Speak-Up Should Feel Safe to Do So
  5. Mission of China to the EUProgress on China-EU Cooperation
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersWorld's Energy Ministers to Meet in Oresund in May to Discuss Green Energy
  7. ILGA EuropeParabéns! Portugal Votes to Respect the Rights of Trans and Intersex People
  8. Mission of China to the EUJobs, Energy, Steel: Government Work Report Sets China's Targets
  9. European Jewish CongressKantor Center Annual Report on Antisemitism Worldwide - The Year the Mask Came Off
  10. UNICEFCalls for the Protection of Children in the Gaza Strip
  11. Mission of China to the EUForeign Minister Wang Yi Highlights Importance of China-EU Relations
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersImmigration and Integration in the Nordic Region - Getting the Facts Straight