On November 25, 2022, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev stated that he would not take part in the upcoming Brussels summit with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, scheduled for December 7, 2022. The official reason for that demarche was the proposed participation of French President Emmanuel Macron in the summit. It should be noted that President Macron has been involved in the Armenia-Azerbaijan negotiation process since December 2021, when the first Brussels summit took place. Macron joined the phone call between Pashinyan, Aliyev and European Council President Michel on February 4, 2022. The subsequent three summits in Brussels—April, May and August 2022—took place without the attendance of the French president. However, President Macron retook the stage on October 6, 2022. After hours of discussions, Aliyev, Pashinyan, Macron and Michel endorsed a statement that paved the way for the deployment of European observers to Armenia. President Aliyev cited the November 15, 2022 resolution of the French Senate, which called for sanctions against Azerbaijan, as well as Macron’s October 12, 2022 interview, where he condemned Azerbaijani attacks against Armenia on September 13-14, 2022, as the reasons why Macron should not take part in Armenia-Azerbaijan negotiations.
Meanwhile, it should be noted that France was always perceived as a country with strong ties with Armenia. If that fact was unacceptable to Aliyev, he should have rejected Macron’s participation in the first Brussels meeting held in December 2021. He should not have accepted Macron’s invitation to have a quadrilateral negotiation in Prague. The Armenian Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that an agreement to continue negotiations in “Armenia, Azerbaijan, the EU, and France format” was reached during the Prague meeting on October 6; thus, Armenia did not make any last minute changes by suggesting that President Macron should take part in the December 7 meeting. Aliyev’s statement about the cancellation of the December 7 summit comes with increasingly belligerent rhetoric from the Azerbaijani president. In his two major speeches – November 8 and November 25 – on Armenia-Azerbaijan relations and the future of Nagorno Karabakh, the Azerbaijani leader used non-diplomatic language. He threatened Armenia and the Nagorno Karabakh Republic with a new war if Yerevan and Stepanakert did not accept Azerbaijani demands. These developments were in stark contrast with the seemingly positive momentum in late September-October 2022. Assessing the real reasons behind this change in Azerbaijani rhetoric is challenging. Some experts believe Baku was unhappy with the results of the October 31, 2022, trilateral summit in Sochi and the meeting between the foreign affairs ministers held on November 7, 2022, in Washington, D.C. Regardless of the reasons behind this change, the developments of the last three weeks are pretty worrisome. The destruction of the Brussels format will put Armenia-Azerbaijan negotiations and the Nagorno Karabakh conflict settlement process into the framework of the ongoing Russia-US confrontation, as the only remaining functioning formats will be Russian and American platforms.
Meanwhile, the EU was the only mediator which did not look at the conflict settlement process only through a geopolitical lens. The EU did not pursue goals of pushing Russia out of the South Caucasus or transforming Armenia into another launchpad of anti-Iranian activities. The EU does not view the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict as a way to balance its relations with Baku and Yerevan or use it as leverage on both countries. The primary goal of the EU is to provide stability around its neighborhood, including the South Caucasus, as the instability may penetrate the EU.
the primary priority is to prevent new aggression by Azerbaijan.
In this context, if the EU is pushed out of the negotiation process, it will only complicate Armenia-Azerbaijan relations. Thus, all external actors interested in the stability of the South Caucasus should make efforts to keep the Brussels format functioning. Suppose the Azerbaijani president continues his objections against President Macron’s participation. In that case, the EU may seek to organize a meeting between the Armenian Security Council Secretary and foreign policy aide to President Aliyev with the participation of the EU Special Representative in the South Caucasus. The resumption of these meetings may create a necessary environment for keeping the EU format alive. As the chances of the signature of the Armenia-Azerbaijan peace treaty by the end of 2022 are decreasing, the primary priority is to prevent new aggression by Azerbaijan.
On December 3, 2022, Azerbaijan closed the Goris-Stepanakert highway for several hours, claiming that illegal mining is underway in the Nagorno Karabakh Republic and that Azerbaijani relevant state agencies should be allowed to monitor inside the Nagorno Karabakh Republic. In recent weeks, Azerbaijani leadership, including President Aliyev, hinted at Azerbaijan’s intention to close the only highway connecting Armenia with the Nagorno Karabakh Republic, viewing it as another leverage to put pressure on the Nagorno Karabakh Republic and Armenia. The December 3 incident proved the volatility of the situation around the Nagorno Karabakh Republic. It emphasized the necessity to keep all communications channels open between Armenia and Azerbaijan, including the Brussels format.