E.U. attempt to unlock the Karabakh Issue

For more than 30 years, Armenians and Azeris have been at the throat of each other, first in their respective country, then in the Karabakh Region, inhabited for centuries by an Armenian majority. For Armenians, Azeris are ‘Turks’, trying to finish the job that Turkey itself started in 1915-1916, this time through the “de-Armianisation” of Karabakh. For Azerbaijanis, Karabakh is a recognised part of their territory since the end of the USSR, in which Armenians are welcomed, as citizens of Azerbaijan. If they refuse, they have to leave. In this decades long bloody “frozen conflicts, the two countries do not play with the same cards:  Armenia is a  landlocked country, without natural resources, contrary to energy rich and sea connected Azerbaijan.


The life of Karabakh inhabitants is largely decided abroad and they put hopes on international mediators. They have to cope with national power games in Baku and Yerevan using shamelessly the one million of displaced persons since the first war in early 1991, which costed dozens of thousands lifes. They feel betrayed, poorly cared for, and formed the core of lobbies, or political parties, fiercely opposed to any ‘concessions’ and impossible to ignore at elections’ time. In 2020, thousands fled again following the victory of Baku when poorly equipped Armenian soldiers were killed like rabbits by drones sold by Turkey, already inferior to the reinforced Azerbaijani army, financed by the oil revenues. This ‘second war’ ended thanks to a tripartite agreement signed on 10 November 2020 by Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia. They accepted the presence of Russian peacekeepers to protect the Armenian population of Karabakh. But they had divergent understanding of other points, notably one concerning the obligation of each countries to ensure “safe movement of citizens, transport, and cargoes in any direction along the Lachin corridor”; or the one about “ensuring unrestricted movement between mainland Azerbaijan and the Nakhichevan Autonomous” region in the south.

As the West and Russia had their attention fixed on Ukraine, on 12 December 2022, “ecologists” cut the Lachin corridor to protect Karabakh nature from an industrial development by Armenians. The corridor is the only road between Karabakh and, through Armenia, the outside world. People were left freezing all through the mountains winter, dying of hunger and lack of medical care. After mild protest of the West, with Russia limiting its efforts limited to humanitarian aid, Baku acted on 23 April. In fact, Azerbaijan police and soldiers intervened ‘to protect the activists’ and installed checkpoints, supposedly for preventing weapons contraband. For Armenians, it is a blockade under another name.


By stepping into this region, EU is not entering terra incognita. The Europeans have opened a Caucasus desk in 1993; devised successive formula of a Stability Pact for the Caucasus; included the 3 Caucasus countries into the Neighbourhood Policy launched in March 2003; since May 2009, the Eastern Partnership covers the six Eastern European neighbours closer to EU (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine). Here again, the war in Ukraine modified the picture, by replacing hopes of cooperation with Russia by open hostility, and because Russian military invasion modified the vision of CIS countries about their own security.

Undoubtedly, this is the right moment for EU’s direct involvement in Caucasus, to push forwards a much-expected peace treaty and not another cease-fire agreement. It is not without political risk, the main one concerning the risk of EU to be, not for the first time, overtaken by hubris, this mixture of arrogance and overconfidence when stepping into a complex situation.

Minefields abound, hence the need for EU to succeed by:

** Paying attention to all the new regional environment, which includes the presidential elections in Turkey, the initiative by the Saudi western ally to rewrite the map in the Middle East, affecting Iran.

** Presenting a united front, by keeping a grip on individual initiatives. Lately, Lithuania, which already prided itself for its role in EU going tougher on China, has turned its attention to the Caucasus. Vilnius expects the visit of president Aliev by the end of May, and president Nauseda declared the EU-Azerbaijan cooperation a ‘political priority’, and not only in the energy field.

** Preserving its image of ‘honest broker’ and defender of “values”. This can be blurred in the light of the emotive speech of President of the Commission von der Leyen to Baku in March 2023, the second in less than a year. This is not the first time that Europeans are mixing energy, human rights, and the Karabakh conflict, witness the visit of Herman Van Rompuy in July 2012. But president Aliev’s record was then better, and energy dialogue was about building new pipelines away of Russian territory, not to back sanctions against Russian, a country she described in front of Aliev in undiplomatic terms.

** Assessing properly the role of Russia in the region and among the countries directly involved. Armenia and Azerbaijan. They have been hoping for a Western involvement, but are not ready for the clear-cut choices the West is asking for. They value Russia ‘slow diplomacy’, which allow for a certain level of vagueness, even hypocrisy, when requested by their internal situation, and want to keep commercial links. Armenian prime minister attended the 9 May parade on Red Square; on 12 May, Azerbaijani foreign minister Ceyhun Bayramov met Igor Khovaev, the special representative of the Russian foreign minister for the normalisation of relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers will meet in Moscow on 19 May to discuss Russian aide for the “reopening of regional transport infrastructure”.

** Making sure that the EU initiative is not appearing as by-produce of American policy, and certainly not a second Dayton agreement when a war in the center of Europe needed American intervention to end. Unfortunately, Michel’s invitation leaked when US State Secretary Anthony Blinken had just announced that, after, after 4 days of trilateral discreet discussions with his guests Pashinian and Aliev, progress have been made towards a durable peace agreement and that the discussion will continue. Of course, the two leaders were more cautious, speaking of ‘steps in the right direction’, despite still divergent positions “on key questions”.

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