Regional powers voice concerns over US-EU-Armenia meeting
    A delicate balancing act in the South Caucasus

    ANALYTICS  06 April 2024 - 18:29

    Fuad Muxtar-Agbabali

    Russia, Azerbaijan, and Türkiye have expressed concerns and criticisms regarding the April 5 trilateral US-EU-Armenia meeting, viewing it as a potential threat to regional stability and an attempt to undermine their influence.

    Azerbaijan and Türkiye have voiced apprehensions about Armenia's military build-up and the exclusion of Azerbaijan from the discussions, warning of heightened tensions and geopolitical confrontation in the region.

    Russia perceives the meeting as a Western effort to draw Armenia away from its traditional alliances, particularly with Moscow. Meanwhile, Iran's lack of visible reaction suggests a cautious stance, possibly reflecting its efforts to maintain diplomatic balance and avoid entanglement in regional rivalries.

    Overall, these reactions underscore the complex geopolitical dynamics and competing interests in the South Caucasus.

    Azerbaijani & Turkish concerns

    Azerbaijan – the powerful and dominant nation of the South Caucasus and Türkiye's strategic ally - shares Russia's apprehensions regarding the trilateral meeting. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has expressed concerns about Armenia's military build-up and the potential implications for regional stability.

    Additionally, Türkiye has criticized the exclusion of Azerbaijan from the discussions, warning that such initiatives could exacerbate tensions and lead to a geopolitical confrontation in the region.

    US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s April 3 and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen's April 4 phone calls to President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan shed light on concerns surrounding the trilateral meeting.

    Blinken and Leyen emphasized the focus of the April 5 meeting would be economic development issues of Armenia, assuring President Aliyev that it wasn't directed against Azerbaijan. However, Aliyev expressed apprehensions regarding the meeting's preparation stage, which included topics like military support to Armenia and joint military exercises, fearing they would exacerbate regional tensions and provoke conflicts.

    President Aliyev also highlighted the baselessness of accusations against Azerbaijan, particularly regarding intentions to attack Armenia. He denounced lies spread by the French foreign minister during a press conference in Paris with the US top diplomat, emphasizing Azerbaijan's adherence to the Almaty Declaration and the Prague agreement.

    Aliyev criticized the non-transparent preparation process of the trilateral meeting, stressing the importance of inclusivity and the need to address Azerbaijan's concerns to avoid escalating tensions and creating new dividing lines in the South Caucasus.

    This exchange underscores the delicate geopolitical dynamics and the necessity for transparent and inclusive diplomatic efforts to foster peace and cooperation in the region.

    In the same vein, the Turkish Foreign Ministry in a statement underscored the pivotal moment for peace in the South Caucasus following Azerbaijan's territorial reclamation and sovereignty restoration in Karabakh.

    The ministry lambasted the Brussels trilateral meeting for excluding Azerbaijan, warning against its potential to escalate tensions and disrupt regional stability. Emphasizing the importance of an impartial approach from external actors, it called for respect for regional dynamics and equal treatment of all parties involved.

    The message reiterated Türkiye's commitment to fostering lasting peace in the region and leveraging the current opportunity for constructive dialogue between Azerbaijan and Armenia. This stance reflects Türkiye's strategic interests in regional stability and its role as a mediator in the ongoing conflict resolution efforts. (https://www.mfa.gov.tr/no_-55_-ermenistan--abd-ve-ab-arasinda-5-nisan-2024-tarihinde-bruksel-de-duzenlenecek-uclu-toplanti-hk.en.mfa)

    Russian concerns & criticisms

    The Russian Foreign Ministry characterized the meeting as yet another attempt by the West to embroil the region in a geopolitical confrontation, emphasizing the potentially destabilizing consequences and the creation of new dividing lines.

    Russia reiterated its commitment to comprehensively deepen and expand relations with Armenia based on the principles that are laid out in the foundational bilateral documents and agreements signed within common integration associations.

    Moscow is convinced that the progressive development of the Russian-Armenian alliance will contribute to the realization of the fundamental interests of the Russian and Armenian peoples and strengthening of the regional security and stability.

    “The West also does not abandon its attempts to destroy the fundamental basis of Armenian-Azerbaijani normalization which relies on a set of trilateral statements by the leaders of Russia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan made in 2020-2022, which envisage measures to unblock transport links and economic ties, to delimit the border, to draft a peace treaty, and to consolidate mutual trust through contacts of public leaders and experts.

    “Under the pressure from Washington and Brussels, Yerevan suspended the implementation of these agreements, on many of which, particularly the issue of lifting the mutual transport blockade, the parties were close to adopting mutually acceptable solutions. Moscow remains ready to facilitate the long-awaited peace between Azerbaijan and Armenia in every possible way.

    “Regional and bilateral issues in the South Caucasus should be addressed following the principle of regional responsibility as agreed during the second meeting of the 3+3 Consultative Platform on October 23, 2023, in Tehran, where Armenia was a participant. We call on external players to respect these agreements, and the authorities in Yerevan to take into account the concerns of neighboring states when pursuing their foreign policy,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said.

    Russia's concerns stem from its perception of the meeting as a Western effort to undermine its influence in the region and Moscow contends that the West seeks to exploit Armenia as a tool to advance its own interests, including efforts to weaken the Kremlin partnerships in the South Caucasus. Moscow has criticized what it perceives as attempts by Washington and Brussels to push Armenia away from Russia, urging Yerevan to prioritize its longstanding relationship with Moscow.

    Furthermore, Russia emphasized the economic benefits and security guarantees it provides to Armenia through its membership in the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). Russian officials argue that the financial aid pledged by the West pales in comparison to the substantial support Armenia receives from Russia, both economically and militarily.

    Armenia's strategic shift

    The anticipated financial aid from the EU and the US fell short of Yerevan's expectations, especially considering Armenian leaders' ambitious aspirations for EU candidate status. While the EU maintains an open-door policy, it is seemingly driven by its own agenda, including reducing Russia's influence in the region. Consequently, Armenia may find itself in a situation akin to Georgia, which obtained candidate status but faces limited prospects for full EU membership due to geopolitical realities. Armenia's interest in NATO cooperation, despite its formal CSTO membership, further underscores its strategic recalibration towards the West.

    However, former Prime Minister Hrant Bagratyan's comparison of Western aid to Russia's substantial support highlights a stark contrast. Despite the promises from the EU and the US, Russia remains Armenia's primary benefactor, as evidenced by the vast disparity in financial contributions. Bagratyan's statement underscores the geopolitical complexities and economic dependencies shaping Armenia's foreign relations and aid dynamics. This raises questions about Armenia's long-term strategic alignment and the efficacy of Western assistance in the face of entrenched regional dynamics.

    Armenia's participation in the US-EU meeting signals a strategic shift in its foreign policy, moving closer to the West and distancing itself from its traditional ally, Russia. Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan's government has sought to diversify its international partnerships and reduce its reliance on Moscow. However, this shift has strained relations with Russia and raised concerns among neighboring countries, particularly Azerbaijan.

    Challenges & opportunities for Armenia

    While Armenia seeks to leverage its partnership with the US and the EU to promote economic development and strengthen its democratic institutions, it faces challenges in balancing its relations with Russia and managing regional tensions. The modest financial aid pledged by the West underscores the limitations of Armenia's dependence on external support and the need for a pragmatic approach to foreign policy.

    Prospects for regional stability

    The US-EU-Armenia meeting highlights the complex geopolitical dynamics in the South Caucasus and the competing interests of regional and global powers. The region's unresolved conflicts continue to pose challenges to stability and security. Moving forward, constructive dialogue and diplomatic engagement will be essential to address these challenges and promote peace and cooperation in the region.

    Caliber.Az

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