A little bit of background
Last summer, after the visit of the President of the European Council Charles Michel to the region, the EU declared its ambitions for mediation between Azerbaijan and Armenia. To get this role, the Europeans even had to revise the budgets of the financial packages for Azerbaijan and Armenia… they had to be made almost equal, which Baku called “honest mediation”.
Since last December, there have been several face-to-face meetings and videoconferences between the leaders of Azerbaijan and Armenia with Michel’s participation. There are three statements, the texts of which were approved by the Azerbaijani and Armenian leaders. The format of personal representatives was established. The priority was creating the conditions for a peace treaty and indirect participation in the process of unblocking and determining the borders between the countries.
Deadlines à la the Armenian way…
However… from the first meeting there was a problem of implementing the agreements within the stipulated period, that is, the issue of deadlines. After December 2021, having waited for three months, Baku signed a memorandum with Iran, demonstrating that it was not going to wait for a reaction from Irevan… The same happened later with the border commission…
The downside of EU mediation
The downside of the EU’s mediation mission is the lack of institutional ties (everything is based on the verbal agreement of the parties), and the absence of the EU “on the ground”. This fact puts all EU initiatives in a difficult position in the event of escalation, since there is nothing to refer to on the one hand and no leverage mechanisms on the other. One careless statement of EU Special Representative Klaar in Armenia brought all EU efforts into question… Sure, they can tweet… Sure, they can make a phone call after an escalation… so what?!
The EU’s only mechanism is money, the financial component. Political leverage mechanisms are available, but in the current environment using political mechanisms is fraught with complications in the regional balance… In the financial context, the EU support for Azerbaijan and Armenia is important, but not crucial. Azerbaijan’s position is more advantageous here, as our need for the EU finances is many times less than Armenia’s.
What we have today is the announced date of the surrender of Lachin, the expected decision on the Zangezur corridor announced by President Ilham Aliyev and Azerbaijan’s demand for the withdrawal of Armenian armed forces from Karabakh. Meetings in Brussels and Moscow are expected against this background.
If decisions are made, where will they be announced? In Moscow or in Brussels? Will Brussels continue to play the role of the party confirming the statements that are made in the trilateral format in Moscow?
Again, the EU has financial leverage, which it used to get involved in the mediation. And this leverage can be beneficial if handled wisely.
Let me remind you that Armenia finances the Armenian population of Karabakh and pays for the upkeep of the Armenian armed forces there. Money in the amount of $300 million from the Armenian budget goes to the Karabakh Armenians, who, in turn, pay for the service of Armenian citizens. The EU could stop financial support to Armenia through allowing the placement of Eurobonds, through which Armenia borrowed €750 million in 2021. In other words, the money coming from Europe creates opportunities for Armenia to keep armed forces in the territory of Azerbaijan and torpedo the normalization process.
Since Armenia has invited the EU to mediate, it must deliver on its commitments in due time, otherwise the groundwork is laid for escalation … and when there is escalation, Russian mediation comes to the fore, because the Russian peacekeeping contingent is “on the ground”. If Brussels seeks to maintain its position in mediation it must use the available mechanisms.
Azerbaijan has demonstrated that it adheres to the agreements and only resorts to the active use of force after Armenia pushes back the deadlines. To avoid a new escalation in late August or early September, the EU must act now. If, of course, the EU leadership is still willing to mediate…