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24th Nov 2020

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No role for EU states in Nagorno-Karabakh peacekeeping, Russia says

  • Russian ambassador Vladimir Chizhov: idea of EU states' mission 'no longer valid' (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

European monitors are not invited to help enforce a new peace deal between Armenia and Azerbaijan, Russia's EU ambassador has told EUobserver.

But Western diplomacy might be helpful in future talks on a permanent peace accord, Vladimir Chizhov added.

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  • De-facto Armenian capital of Stepanakert in Nagorno-Karabakh before most of its inhabitants fled (Photo: Marco Fieber)

"There were some references to this [a mission by Nordic EU countries] a week-or-two ago, but this is no longer valid ... Russian peacekeepers will manage," he said on Tuesday (10 November).

Chizhov spoke as the first columns of 1,960 Russian troops began to arrive in the conflict zone in the Nagorno-Karabakh region in Azerbaijan after 45 days of warfare, which killed thousands of people on both sides.

"As soon as it [the peace deal] was announced, 10 Ilyushin-76 transport planes departed from their base - this is a specialised peace-keeping brigade, based in the [Russian] city of Ulyanovsk - and, one-by-one, brought troops and equipment," he said.

"They [Russian soldiers] will be lightly armed with firearms, meaning not-heavy weapons", which they will be entitled to use for "self-defence," if need be, the diplomat said.

Azerbaijan had voiced interest in seeing its ally, Turkey, contributing troops to the peacekeeping mission, but Turkey also had no role to play, either in the former combat zone, or in a new military coordination centre that was being created to manage operations, Chizhov added.

"The agreed statement doesn't mention Turkey even once," he said, referring to the 482-word text of the peace deal, which was signed in the small hours of Tuesday morning.

"There will be a military coordination centre, but there won't be any Turks there, only Russians, Azeris, and Armenians," he added.

And any Syrian mercenaries that might have been imported by Turkey to fight on the side of its Azeri ally would also be expected to leave, Chizhov indicated.

"I've seen reports certain fighters were brought from various places, including Syria," he told this website.

"They are not mentioned [in the peace deal], but, I believe, it's now the job of the Azeri armed forces to deal with them in the way that they perceive properly," Chizhov said.

The mooted European mission was to have been led by Germany and Sweden, according to sources in Brussels.

The German foreign ministry could not be contacted on Tuesday.

But the Swedish foreign ministry told EUobserver: "To date, we have not received any official request to contribute to a peacekeeping force or any other international mission".

And an EU foreign service spokesman said: "There is no decision by the EU in this regard".

"EU member states will have an opportunity to discuss at a high level next week ... what the EU can or should do" in reaction to events, the spokesman added.

Tuesday's deal came after Azeri forces, backed by Turkish drones, conquered the Armenian-held town of Shusha in Nagorno-Karabakh and threatened to enter Stepanakert, the largest Armenian-held city in the disputed region.

The vast majority of Armenians living there have fled to Armenia-proper and may never return, amounting to what Lara Setrakian, an Armenian journalist speaking to EUobserver from Yerevan, called "ethnic cleansing".

Armenia was also forced to agree "at the tip of a spear", Setrakian said, to cede control of strategic territories around Nagorno-Karabakh and to create a future land corridor, to be policed by Russia, allowing Azeris to travel through south-east Armenia to the Azeri exclave of Nakhchivan.

Winners and losers

It amounted to Armenian "capitulation" for Azerbaijan president Ilham Aliyev and saw people dancing in the streets of Baku.

It was "painful", according to Armenian prime minister Nikol Pashinyan, and led to anti-government riots in Yerevan.

And the outcome was widely seen by analysts, from think-tanks such as the European Council for Foreign Relations (ECFR) and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, as an embarrassment for the EU and for Nato, whose member state, Turkey, had fuelled the conflict, using high-tech drones it bought from Nato states.

"The real winners are Turkey and Russia. Moscow tightened the screws of its control of Armenia ... and Turkey got a much better share of influence in the South Caucasus," the ECFR's Nicu Popescu said on Twitter.

"The West comes out as a big loser, because Europeans and Americans were not able to step up to the plate," Carnegie's Paul Stronski told this website from Washington.

For Setrakian, the best thing the EU could do now, is to pour in support for democracy in Armenia, to help stop Russia-friendly oligarchs from taking control.

Meanwhile, for Chizhov, France and the US, who, together with Russia, co-chair the so-called Minsk Group, which had tried to keep the peace for the past 30 years of frozen conflict, will have a role to play in negotiating the long-term future of the region.

"At some point, the diplomatic negotiating process will have to restart to deal with long-term issues, including the final status of Nagorno-Karabakh," he said.

"I haven't seen any viable alternative to that [the Minsk Group]," he added, on which structure might do the job.

But if the West came out as a loser, the conflict also posed questions on the viability of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO), a Russia-led defence alliance of six former-Soviet states, which was meant to protect its members, including Armenia, from external aggression.

Russian protection

Pashinyan had called for CSTO help, which never came, because, for Russia, Azerbaijan never attacked Armenia itself, despite multiple reports of strikes inside Armenian territory.

One of those even saw an Azeri rocket shoot down a Russian military helicopter over Armenia on Monday, killing two crew members.

But for Chizhov, that was not enough to merit CSTO mutual defence.

"This is a very unfortunate accident, which the Azerbaijani ministry of defence has acknowledged," the Russian ambassador told EUobserver.

"The helicopter was shot in Armenian airspace - that's true - shot by a manpad [man-portable air defence system] from the ground. And the place where the manpad was, was presumably Azerbaijan, I understand from geography, perhaps the Nakhchivan autonomous region of Azerbaijan," Chizhov added.

"[But] I wouldn't call it an act of aggression, it was a tragic mistake," he said.

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