Russia has criticized a decision by the European Union to send a civilian mission to Armenia’s border with Azerbaijan.
“We see this as yet another attempt by the EU to interfere by any means in the normalization of relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan, to oust our country’s mediation efforts,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said during a press briefing on October 11.
The EU announced the decision after a quadrilateral meeting between Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, European Council President Charles Michel and French President Emmanuel Macron on the sidelines of a pan-European summit in Prague on October 6.
“There was an agreement by Armenia to facilitate a civilian EU mission alongside the border with Azerbaijan,” according to a statement released by the European Council. “Azerbaijan agreed to cooperate with this mission as far as it is concerned.”
The mission, which will begin in October for a maximum of two months, plans to “build confidence” and contribute to demarcating and delimiting the border.
Pashinyan also met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Prague on October 6, the first-ever meeting between the two leaders. Pashinyan and Erdogan “discussed the process of normalization of Armenia-Turkey relations and possible further steps in that direction,” according to a statement from the Armenian PM’s office. The Turkish president’s office said little about the meeting, except that Erdogan “received” Pashinyan in Prague.
Special envoys appointed to negotiate the normalization of Armenia-Turkey relations agreed in July to “enable the crossing of the land border between Armenia and Turkey by third-country citizens” and commence direct air cargo trade. Turkish authorities have said that the negotiation process depends on the signature of a peace treaty between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijan had opposed an EU border observer mission as recently as October 5, according to EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell. Borrell said that the EU had proposed such a mission following the two-day war launched by Azerbaijan on Armenian territory from September 13-14 that left over 300 dead.
“Armenia agrees, but Azerbaijan does not,” Borrell told the European Parliament on October 5. “What do you want me to do? Send the troops of the European Union without the agreement of the two parties to the conflict? I’m sure you don’t.”
Borrell was the latest Western leader to unequivocally condemn Azerbaijan for the attacks, stating that it is “absolutely clear and verifiable fact that Azerbaijani artillery and drone units have shelled areas on Armenian territory, destroying civilian and military infrastructure, and that Azerbaijan is occupying positions in Armenia.”
Yet Azerbaijan apparently reversed its position on an EU mission the next day following the lengthy quadrilateral meeting on the margins of the European Political Community.
Armenia and Azerbaijan also “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. They confirmed it would be a basis for the work of the border delimitation commissions and that the next meeting of the border commissions would take place in Brussels by the end of October.”
The first meeting of a bilateral commission to demarcate and delimit the Armenia-Azerbaijan border met on May 24 following a trilateral meeting between Pashinyan, Aliyev and Michel in Brussels the previous day. The commission has not met since then.
Armenian ambassador-at-large Edmon Marukyan said that Azerbaijan would have to withdraw its troops from Armenian territory under this agreement.
“Azerbaijan can no longer make any territorial claims against the sovereign territory of Armenia in the delimitation process, which also means that the Azerbaijani military must withdraw from the territories it has occupied until this moment,” Marukyan said on October 7.
Marukyan further said that “any possible future aggression by Azerbaijan will be monitored on the ground” by the EU civilian mission, and the parts of Armenian territory under Azerbaijani occupation will be recorded.
The statement released by the European Council following the quadrilateral meeting made no reference to Artsakh. While speaking with reporters in Prague, Aliyev said that the fate of the Armenian population of Artsakh is an “internal matter” that will be addressed through direct negotiations with authorities in Artsakh rather than with Armenia.
“The Armenians living in Karabakh are our citizens,” Aliyev said. “We will not discuss their fate or future life with any country, including Armenia.”
Aliyev seemed to preclude any autonomous status for Artsakh within Azerbaijan that would grant its Armenian population special rights or guarantees for its security.
“Armenians will enjoy the same rights as citizens of Azerbaijan,” he said. “In any case, they can rest assured that their lives integrated into Azerbaijani society will be much better than their present life.”
The Artsakh leadership has said repeatedly that any status under the jurisdiction of Azerbaijan is unacceptable and would lead to ethnic cleansing. Aliyev said little to relieve fears that the inclusion of Artsakh in Azerbaijan would result in the displacement of its Armenian population.
“If people believe that they need to live as citizens of Azerbaijan, I think they will not regret that. But if this is not suitable for someone, they can choose another place of residence for themselves,” Aliyev said.
Armenian authorities have said in recent months that a peace deal between Armenia and Azerbaijan should address the rights and security of the Armenians of Artsakh. The government now appears to want to separate the Artsakh conflict from a peace agreement, as Pashinyan said during a televised interview on September 30 that there should be no reference to Artsakh in a peace treaty.
The European Council statement also does not address the unblocking of regional transport and communication links. While speaking with reporters, Aliyev said that Armenia and Azerbaijan had not reached an agreement regarding a transport route that would connect Azerbaijan and its exclave Nakhichevan through southern Armenia.
“Today, when I again asked the Prime Minister of Armenia to finally give us a route for the highway, unfortunately, I still did not get an answer. It is not funny anymore because it is not that large of an area,” Aliyev said.
Azerbaijan has continually demanded a so-called “Zangezur corridor” that would operate in Armenia’s southernmost Syunik province without customs or passport controls. Pashinyan has said that Armenia is prepared to provide Azerbaijanis access to Nakhichevan through Armenia yet rejected the creation of a corridor.
“Breaking one’s commitment is, of course, an extremely shameful fact. However, we are still patient and restrained,” Aliyev said.
Pashinyan also said that he and Aliyev had not reached an agreement on opening transportation links.
“In Prague I reconfirmed again our proposal on unblocking of all regional communications. Azerbaijan again did not respond positively,” Pashinyan tweeted after the meeting. “I reiterate, Armenia is ready for unblocking all regional communications with full respect of our sovereignty and legislation.”
The West has appeared to step up its diplomatic engagement in the South Caucasus following the two-day war in Armenia. Meanwhile, Armenian authorities have expressed their dissatisfaction with Russia’s refusal to provide military assistance against Azerbaijani attacks on its sovereign territory.
“We proceed from the fact that the only key to reconciliation between Baku and Yerevan, the establishment of lasting peace and long-term stability in the region, is the full implementation of the tripartite statements,” Zakharova said during the October 11 press briefing. The tripartite statements refer to the ceasefire agreement brokered by Russia on November 9, 2020, as well as agreements to reopen transport routes and demarcate the Armenia-Azerbaijan border.