31st May 2023


The EU's Armenia mission needs a holistic rethink

  • The EU seems to want to play the peace-maker card, without starting from the right step — which is an equal acceptance by both sides (Photo:
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A few days ago, armed clashes led to several Armenian and Azerbaijani servicemen being killed or injured on the Armenia-Azerbaijan undemarcated border.

After the incidents the EU made a declaration urging the intensification of negotiations on the delimitation of the border, saying that it "continues to stand ready to support this process".

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But the recent EU monitoring mission to Armenia (EUMA) evidently did not provide full deterrence for a possible flareup, given these recent shootouts.

In February 2023 the EU deployed this EUMA civilian mission to defuse the risk of a new Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict.

According to the EU Council, the mission is going to "contribute to stability in the border areas of Armenia, building confidence on the ground, and ensuring an environment conducive to normalisation efforts between Armenia and Azerbaijan supported by the EU".

The problem is how this mandate of normalisation efforts can be realised when the mission was not accepted by Azerbaijan, who saw it as a biased operation. The mission was considered by Armenia as deterrence against Azerbaijan; nevertheless, it is not mandated to contain potential Armenian attacks or provocations against Azerbaijan. Which is why Azerbaijan didn't accept it.

Furthermore, Azerbaijan actually feared that the EU monitoring mission, which was not attached to the Armenia-Azerbaijan peace process, would simply be used by the Armenian side to procrastinate on negotiations.

These fears came true, unfortunately, as the negotiations are stuck. So, the EU seems to want to play the peace-maker card, without starting from the right step — which is an equal acceptance by both sides. This is a difficult start to work for peace negotiations.

The negotiating process therefore needs to see some proactive and more balanced approach from the EU Council, retaking the leadership that Charles Michel had in May 2022, when he called the president Ilham Aliyev and prime minster in Brussels to restart peace negotiations after the last meetings in August 2022 and in October 2022.

But it all should start first of all with the orderly removal of Armenian illegal military troops in Karabakh region, that have forced Azerbaijan's approach by setting up the Lachin corridor blockade, in order to preserve its security against Russia's illegal help with arms smuggling, including land mines.

In an echo of the situation in Georgia, it is important the guarantors act outside the information war and propaganda used by Russia.

This in order not to alienate Azerbaijan from the EU, and keep on the good path of the EU's 2010 report on the need for a EU strategy for the South Caucasus, on finding lasting solutions to the conflict, as well as supporting the continued economic and political integration of the three South Caucasus countries with the EU.

A more assertive role for the EU would mean a renewed, broad, and more effective political strategy in a region in the clutches of Moscow — which does not seem to point to the purely objective aim of regional stability.

To be sure, it was paramount that the EU would profit from Moscow's loss of credibility globally and regionally to undermine its hold and implement a much needed and hoped-for holistic strategy and vision in the South Caucasus, which is conducive to peace.

Gift to Moscow?

Nonetheless, what seems an unbalanced pro-Armenian bias can represent a gift to Moscow's imperialistic designs and holds tight an important peripheral European area in need of international management in order to ensure peace.

Therefore, should the EU start from the guarantee of the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan respecting its internal citizens (including the Armenian citizens of Karabakh) it would represent a great step for the legitimacy of the EU as real mediator.

If the EU steps out of its ideological bubble and works to safeguard the internationally-codified concept of territorial integrity, first of all clarifying that the separatists have no space when we comply with the state authority of Azerbaijan, it would prove that the arbitrary use of "separatism" for revanchist reasons is not acceptable.

Therefore, the legitimacy of secessionists (like the ones currently weaponised by Russia in Donbass, Transnistria, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia — internationally recognised as part of Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia respectively), cannot be accepted as it would create a dangerous precedent for any kind of self-aggrandisement and block any peace effort that is based on international law and national sovereignty.

In a time of tension between two different regional security strategies, represented by the EU and Russia, it is not advisable to carry on with nebulous outdated formulas in favour of the Russian ally, Armenia, with the feeble hope that this would eventually mean the longed-for disentanglement from the Russian clout.

The Azerbaijani concerns and rights should be finally addressed if the EU aims at reaching a comprehensive solution.

Recently it was revealed how the Iran-Armenia-Russia axis is collaborating against Ukraine.

Armenia seems to serve as a hub to supply sanctioned (including military) goods that support Russian aggression in Ukraine and provides the direct connection between Iran and Russia. Can the EU accept Armenia's deepening economic and military ties to Russia and therefore constitute nothing but a Russian outpost in the region, along with the breakaway regions in Georgia?

Only Armenia's real internal push for a change of course, from a de facto pro-Russian to a pro-EU country, will close the road to Russian sphere of influence in the region, and even the risk of another conflict that the West can't afford without paving the way to more Russian meddling.

Not only that, it would risk stopping profiting from Azerbaijan's balancing approach to international relations, and the generous investment opportunities the EU needs in order to proceed with energy diversification and the needed step-by-step supplanting of the Russian alternative.

This calls for a new reappraisal in the face of the new scenarios and challenges. The holistic approach cannot be ambiguous in nature. It has to be practical and in accordance with strategic concerns to be addressed. The EU, true to its vocation, should not give the impression that revanchism has a place in the international world order.

Author bio

Maurizio Geri is a former Nato defence strategist, currently recipient of EU Marie Curie Fellowship for a three-year research project on EU-Nato tech cooperation against Russian hybrid warfare, in the energy-resources security nexus.


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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