Monday

4th Mar 2024

Opinion

Is this weekend a unique chance for Armenia-Azerbaijan peace?

  • US secretary of state Antony Blinken (c) meeting in Arlington, Virginia on 4 May with the foreign minister of Azerbaijan, Jeyhun Bayramov (left), and the Armenian foreign minister Ararat Mirzoyan (right) (Photo: Azerbaijan ministry of foreign affairs)
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This Sunday (14 May), the leaders of Azerbaijan and Armenia will resume peace talks in Brussels. They follow the meeting of Armenian foreign minister Ararat Mirzoyan and Azerbaijani foreign minister Jeyhun Bayramov and their delegations from 1-4 May at US-hosted talks in Arlington, Virginia.

Some sources even claim that the meeting in Brussels might lead to peace treaty. Even though not much has been said about the details of the talks in the US, it is still a rather surprising development looking at the number of incidents which have happened on the ground this year.

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In the latest one, on 23 April, Azerbaijan set up a checkpoint on the only road that connects Karabakh and Armenia — the Lachin Corridor — blatantly ignoring a ruling of the International Court, which had called on Baku to stop the blockade of the enclave which had already begun in December 2022.

And in the beginning of April, a clash between Armenia and Azerbaijan even led to seven soldiers being killed. The general fear of a severe outbreak of violence was also echoed in an interview of the head of mission of EUMA, the EU's monitoring mission in Armenia, where he claimed that "Many Armenians believe there'll be a spring offensive by Azerbaijan. If this doesn't happen, our mission is already a success."

EUMA will (once fully operational) consist of 100 unarmed personnel, of which about 50 will work as monitors.

Baku has not been happy about the deployment, constantly complaining about EUMA. President Ilham Aliyev described EUMA with its expanded mandate as "very unpleasant" and felt it would disrupt direct negotiations between Azerbaijan and Armenia.

To ease tensions, the mission and the EU's special representative (EUSR) inform Azerbaijan in advance about the routes that the monitors plan to take.

The clashes around Karabakh and at the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan during the last two months have shown how volatile the situation is, and that the EU is taking quite a risk in deploying EUMA to the border region.

The mission intends to contribute to reducing tensions in the conflict areas and near the border between the two countries. It also feeds into analyses of the situation on the ground and in that way helps inform the EU's efforts on border delimitation and demarcation. This includes the area near the Lachin corridor and Nagorno-Karabakh.

But the EU is facing potential pitfalls.

Russian forces in Armenia

Russia has been skeptical of EUMA, considering the mission an attempt to displace Russian influence in the region. In addition to the 2,000 peacekeepers in Karabakh, Russia has nearly 3,000 military and Federal Security Service (FSB) border guards in Armenia, controlling, among other things, the state border with Iran.

They also intercepted several patrols of the EU's temporary predecessor mission in 2022 on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border. This shows that in places where the demarcation between Armenia and Azerbaijan is unclear EUMA, too, could find itself in tricky situations.

An increased engagement through EUMA and the talks led by EU Council president Charles Michel are not only an opportunity for the EU to make an important contribution to the stabilisation of the conflict — it could also be a turning point for the South Caucasus, where the traditional Russian presence is struggling to retain its influence.

Germany has become the major contributor to EUMA, not only providing the German head of mission, but also about 15 percent of EUMA's staff, by far the largest national contribution of any EU member states.

Berlin might be seen as a more neutral broker than Paris, which has been hamstrung by Azerbaijan's claim that it is merely acting on behalf of the large Armenian community in France. Both chancellor Olaf Scholz and foreign minister Annalena Baerbock have highlighted the German contribution to EUMA in recent speeches.

And it was at the Munich Security Conference in February 2023, where Aliyev and Nikol Pashinyan met the last time and even shared a panel.

In 2023, the EU commands an interesting combination of instruments, which now seem to yield useful results.

EUMA can observe, verify, and build trust on the border, complementing the demarcation process, the tripartite talks between Michel, Pashinyan and Aliyev, and the work of the EU special representative for the Southern Caucasus and Georgia.

For Armenia and Azerbaijan, the talks in Virginia and now in Brussels can offer a unique chance for peace — even tough incidents from the ground might continue to tell a different story.

Author bio

Tobias Pietz is deputy head of team analysis at the Centre for International Peace Operations (ZIF) in Berlin.

Disclaimer

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

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