Could the EU mission in Armenia pave the way for peace in the Caucasus?
    Eliminating grey zones

    ANALYTICS  21 November 2023 - 15:12

    Analytics Department Caliber.Az

    The Second Karabakh War between Azerbaijan and Armenia in 2020 significantly changed the regional geopolitical landscape and paved the way for new regional stakeholders, namely the European Union (EU) and the United States (US).

    The EU and the US promptly attempted to strike a peace deal between Baku and Yerevan in an attempt to end the long-term conflict in the South Caucasus. However, the peace negotiations between the warring parties stalled throughout 2023 due to frequent skirmishes between Azerbaijan and the Armenian armed groups in Karabakh.

    Moreover, the EU’s frequent criticism toward Azerbaijan, particularly after the September 19 events, boosted discontent in Baku, while official Yerevan slightly turned to the West for more security guarantees before signing the peace deal with Azerbaijan. Against this backdrop, the EU’s announcement on January 23 that it will deploy a new monitoring mission to Armenia in the border area comes as welcome news.

    The Armenian authorities had lobbied for and enthusiastically welcomed the move, seeing it as a deterrent against Azerbaijan. However, Azerbaijan declined the EU’s proposal to deploy a similar civilian mission on its soil as it believes that such civilian missions are not productive in terms of generating peace agreements.

    Moreover, Russia – Armenia’s main security patron also opposed the idea, though unsuccessfully. In February 2023, the civilian EU mission deployed a monitoring group alongside the Azerbaijan-Armenia borderline.

    The mission was proclaimed to build upon the work of its predecessor, the European Union Monitoring Capacity to Armenia (EUMCAP). The EUMCAP, staffed with 40 people, was deployed in October 2022. Armenia’s decision to invite EU observers shows it no longer considers it can rely solely on its decades-long strategic ally, Russia.

    In this context, cooperation with the EU is a rare opportunity for Yerevan to strengthen its position. However, with its limited authority, the EU civilian mission appeared to be an insufficient deterrence factor to prevent an escalation between the parties.
    Azerbaijan's decision to launch an anti-terrorist operation in Karabakh on September 19, 2023, highlighted the inability of the EU and Russia to act as capable interlocutors. Work on the peace agreement has now slowed.

    The Armenians believe—not without reason—that it would be imprudent to make such a critical decision while the world is preoccupied with Ukraine. The West and Russia may offer the South Caucasus something new once they free up their resources.

    As a result of the operation, Azerbaijan regained control over the entire Karabakh region, while the de-facto separatist regime was dismissed, with some former separatist leaders being arrested.

    For Armenia, the EU’s civilian mission on its soil is a shield and an important pillar of its current pro-Western foreign policy. Armenia sees it as an opportunity to enhance partnership with the EU and other Western countries, thus averting the Russian influence. Undoubtedly, Russia cautiously watched the deployment of the EU mission in Armenia and Yerevan’s rapprochement with the West.

    The Russian state media was quick to slam Armenia’s ruling government as Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov recently hinted at the idea that Armenia, like some other countries of the former Soviet Union, has a mighty lobby represented by a layer of non-governmental organizations, and they promote the interests of the United States and its allies.

    Notwithstanding vocal criticism from Moscow, Armenia enthusiastically proceeded to close partnerships with the EU, Canada, France, and the US. As such, in October 2023, Canada announced that it would join the EU mission in Armenia, becoming the first non-EU country to join the mission. At the same time, Nikol Pashinyan emphasized the importance of the decision of Canada to join the EU civil mission in Armenia.

    Although Azerbaijan declared the conflict is over on its end, Armenia is in no rush to halt its partnership with the EU. On the contrary, Yerevan recently signed a new document regarding the legal status of the EUMA. Hence, it is likely that Armenia will opt for strengthening the EUMA for the next two years with the possibility of an extension of its mandate as a potential leverage in the border area with Azerbaijan.

    Caliber.Az

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