EU Mediation is Taking a Leading Role in Armenia-Azerbaijan Peace Negotiations
Image: Emmanuel Macron/Twitter
Following an escalation along the international border, which led to the deaths of over 200 troops, a meeting took place on October 6, 2022, between Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan. Held on the side lines of the first summit of the European Political Community in Prague, the meeting was facilitated by French President Emmanuel Macron and European Council President Charles Michel.
Following this quadrilateral meeting, a statement was released containing two key points:
1) Azerbaijan and Armenia confirmed “their commitment to the Charter of the United Nations and the Alma Ata 1991 Declaration through which both recognize each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.”
2) Armenia agreed to a short-term (2 months) civilian EU monitoring mission alongside the border with Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan, in its turn, “agreed to cooperate with this mission as far as it is concerned,” most likely because the mission will be deployed on Armenian (and not Azerbaijani) soil.
The Meeting’s Significance
The significance of these points can be seen in three main ways:
1) The principle of territorial integrity emphasized by Azerbaijan is included, while the statement does not mention anything about the right of people to self-determination, the principle previously underlined by the Armenian side with implied reference to the Armenians living in Karabakh.
2) As anticipated in previous analysis, the meeting reconfirms an enhanced role for the EU as an increasingly proactive mediator. This was the fifth session hosted by Charles Michel – the previous one held in Brussels on August 31.
3)The Brussels-led negotiation process seems to be making leaps forward, while the Russia-mediation track remains unclear. Although Russia might appear to be temporarily bogged down in Ukraine, one should not disregard Moscow’s ability to sabotage a possible EU-mediated peace deal between Baku and Yerevan.
The general outline of the proposed settlement is becoming clear now. Recognition of territorial integrity by each side has been confirmed. The international community has been putting pressure on the Armenian side to “lower the bar” and rule out the secession of Karabakh from Azerbaijan. As Prime Minister Pashinyan himself admitted (September 30, 2022), “neither Moscow, nor Brussels, nor Washington is ready to recognize the independence of Karabakh nor recognize it as part of Armenia.”
This implies that Armenia renounces its claims to Upper Karabakh, an area internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan. If applied retrospectively, this could mean that Armenia’s years of control of Upper Karabakh, along with seven adjacent districts, could be considered in violation of the territorial integrity norms leading to international legal implications. In a lawsuit submitted by Azerbaijan against Armenia, Baku demands that Yerevan pay reparations for the damage inflicted during the nearly three decades of occupation. Legal expert Nurlan Mustafayev estimates that the economic costs of Armenian military occupation may exceed $50 billion. However, that very possibility is likely to weigh heavily on Yerevan, for whom such reparations would be economically disastrous – so it is likely that to agree to any final peace deal, Azerbaijan would need to reassure Armenia that there would be a finite agreed limit to any such claims.
Militarily, the statement also implies that Armenia is expected to withdraw its remaining forces from the parts of Karabakh that are still under control of the Russian peacekeeping mission. In his interview in Prague, President Aliyev stated that “True, some of them [Armenian troops] have been withdrawn, but [others] remain on our land.”
The recognition of territorial integrity principle means that Azerbaijan will also have to return its troops to their positions before the September 13 clashes or, in the US diplomatic parlance, “to return its troops to initial positions.” Azerbaijan argues that its troops were acting in response to Armenian provocations. The deployment of the EU civilian mission in Armenia along the Armenian-Azerbaijani border should ensure stability during demarcation.
The role of the EU, considered an honest broker, has been praised by Azerbaijani officials, including presidential aide Hikmet Hajiyev who said in September 2022 that “Azerbaijan highly appreciates Charles Michel’s role in the peace process.” Azerbaijan’s preference for EU mediation stems from the fact that Russia exerts de facto control of some sections of Azerbaijani territory through its peacekeeping mission, giving Moscow potential leverage to manipulate negotiations to its advantage. Armenia also favours the EU, in part perhaps because Yerevan hopes to gain support from France, where a vocal diaspora tends to make Paris tilt somewhat pro-Armenia, at least according to popular belief. Russia is viewed as increasingly untrustworthy by Yerevan due to the weak response (indeed inaction) by Moscow and the CSTO during the recent clashes with Azerbaijan.
The EU deploying a civilian mission for just 2 months aims to back up the delimitation of the border and should be seen as more symbolic than an actual exercise of force. The EU troops will be civilians monitoring possible ceasefire breaches while the sides are expected to prepare and sign the peace agreement.
Russia’s Potential for Sabotage
However, while Russian influence is seemingly waning, Moscow is still the only power keeping the boots on the ground in Karabakh – as part of the 2020 Trilateral Ceasefire Agreement that ended the Second Karabakh War. Arguably, Russia has since taken effective security control of what remains of the former breakaway region of "Nagorno-Karabakh." Such a Russian protectorate over that part of Azerbaijan still gives Moscow the potential to sabotage or undermine any final resolution. As I argued elsewhere, Russia’s ambiguity with regard to the so-called “final status” of the Upper Karabakh region, the incomplete withdrawal of Armenian military forces from the area, the mandate of its PK contingent and possible extension of its term are some of the tools that the Kremlin can employ in future transactional diplomacy with both Yerevan and Baku