EU divided over Armenia-Azerbaijan normalization process - OPINION

  29 March 2024    Read: 965
 EU divided over Armenia-Azerbaijan normalization process -  OPINION

Anadolu Agency has published an article entitled “EU divided over Armenia-Azerbaijan normalization process”. reprints the article by Javid Valiyev, head of the foreign policy analysis department at the Baku-based Center of Analysis of International Relations (AIR Center).

Amidst the geopolitical power struggle that took place in the South Caucasus after the Second Karabakh War, the European Union (EU) found itself grappling with defining its position towards the Armenia-Azerbaijan normalization process. Initially, pragmatic leaders like President of the European Council Charles Michel and President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen took the lead in navigating this complex diplomatic process. However, as time progressed, the involvement of French President Emmanuel Macron and the High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President Josep Borrell had a detrimental impact on both the Azerbaijan-Armenia normalization process and the broader South Caucasus policy of the EU.

Macron and Borrell's common strategy

Macron and Borrell had the similar goal of unilaterally supporting Armenian theses, arming Armenia, and monopolizing the EU's South Caucasus policy. At the November 2023 meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council, led by Josep Borrell, the parties agreed to expand the number of EU observes in Armenia and offer military assistance to Armenia through the European Peace Facility. In his post-meeting statement, Josep Borrell threatened Azerbaijan, saying that any breach of Armenia's territorial integrity would be unacceptable and would have serious implications for their ties. When Josep Borrell made this comment, Armenian forces were still occupying 8 villages in Azerbaijan.

Borrell demonstrated solidarity with France during the diplomatic tensions between Azerbaijan and France. Following the arrest of agents in Azerbaijan collaborating with French diplomats, who were gathering intelligence against Iran and Türkiye, the French diplomats involved were subsequently deported.

In tandem with Josep Borrell's exploration of options to provide non-lethal support to Armenia through the European Peace Facility, France swiftly took action by initiating arms agreements with Armenia. In October 2023, a significant arms deal was struck between France and Armenia. During Armenian Defense Minister Suren Papikyan's visit to Paris in 2023, an agreement was signed for the supply of 3 GM200 radars by the French defense group Thales to the Armenian Ministry of Defense. French Defense Minister Sebastien Lecornu announced that Armenia would also receive short-range surface-to-air missiles from another French company in the near future. He further affirmed France's willingness to provide more advanced long-range systems to Armenia. Additionally, Lecornu disclosed plans to deploy a French military advisor specializing in air defense to Armenia, to help neutralize "possible attacks by potential aggressors."

The publication of a joint statement by the Armenian Prime Ministry and the Azerbaijan's Presidency on December 7 was widely regarded as a significant positive step towards peace between the two nations. However, the positive momentum generated by this declaration was dampened when an Armenian soldier injured an Azerbaijani soldier on the Azerbaijan-Armenian border on February 12. This incident had a detrimental effect on the normalization process between the two countries. Shortly after this border incident, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan visited France on February 23 to engage in discussions concerning regional security and the normalization process. Following Pashinian's visit, Lecornu traveled to Armenia, where new military agreements were signed between the two parties. Although specific details regarding these agreements were not disclosed, media reports suggested that Armenia signed a supply contract with the French company PGM, which specializes in manufacturing sniper rifles.

Following Lecornu's visit, the Minister of National Defense of Greece, Nikos Dendias, conducted a 1 day visit to Armenia on March 4, 2024. During the visit, discussions centered on further enhancing bilateral defense cooperation and addressing developments in regional and international security and defense matters. In a press statement, Dendias emphasized the success of the Armenia-Greece-Cyprus trilateral collaboration in the defense sector and expressed openness to the possibility of expanding cooperation to include France and India, forming a quadrilateral partnership. Papikyan confirmed ongoing negotiations for trilateral cooperation between Armenia, Greece, and Cyprus. Subsequently, on March 6-7, the Foreign Minister of Greece Cyprus Constantinos Kombos visited Armenia. At the conclusion of the visit, Armenia announced its decision to establish an embassy in Greece Cyprus, underscoring the deepening diplomatic ties and mutual commitment to cooperation between the nations involved.

European rational politicians stepped in process

Azerbaijan was strongly dismissive of the events between France and Armenia, as well as Armenia and the EU. Azerbaijan claimed that the intention of this program was to divide the South Caucasus. Azerbaijani lawmakers and intellectuals have begun discussions about exiting EU institutions. At a time when the EU's need for Azerbaijan intensified in the context of the Ukraine-Russia War, France's unilateral stance raised the risk of the EU straying away from the developments in the South Caucasus.

As a result, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz stepped in and asked Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev to attend the Munich Security Conference with Pashinyan. This meeting was a tripartite meeting, mediated by Scholz. From Munich, both leaders directed their foreign ministers to launch a fresh procedure to define borders.

On the other side, while the Armenian diaspora and lobby urge for sanctions on Azerbaijan, European Commissioner for Energy Kadri Simson visited Azerbaijan on March 1 to attend the 10th ministerial meeting of the "Southern Gas Corridor" (SGC) project advisory board. Simson also attended the second meeting of the European Commission's "Green Energy Advisory Council". When we take into consideration the positive role played by the European Council President Charles Michael in the normalization process, the summit in Munich and Simson's visit to Azerbaijan demonstrated that the EU had distinct approaches to the Azerbaijan-Armenia normalization effort.

As a result, as with many issues today, the EU lacks a single foreign policy strategy in the normalization process between Azerbaijan and Armenia. France, Greece, and Greece Cyprus are attempting to equip Armenia in the region and establish multidimensional military cooperation by involving India in the process. Some European governments understand that this is not in the EU's energy, security, or transportation interests. Because the relevance of Azerbaijan as an alternate energy supply and transportation route for the EU demonstrates that the EU cannot simply side with Armenia. At the same time, Azerbaijan's reasonable position toward the EU makes a substantial contribution here.

However, France's policy creates a fragmentation in the region, which distances Armenia and Azerbaijan from the peace process. If Caucasus is moving away from the peace process, the possibility of a new conflict is high. This does not comply with the EU's energy, security and transportation policies.

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