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Thu. November 30, 2023
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European Union's No-Sum Game on Nagorno-Karabakh
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By David Davidian

The European Union (EU) is not directly involved in negotiations between Armenia and Azerbaijan regarding the region located between them, Nagorno-Karabakh (NK), yet member states heavily support the efforts of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group. “The Minsk Group, the activities of which have become known as the Minsk Process, spearheads the OSCE's efforts to find a peaceful solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. It is co-chaired by France, the Russian Federation, and the United States.” However, its efforts towards facilitating a resolution to this conflict remain elusive. US Secretary of State, John Kerry, in an Aspen Institute speech last month, regarding the lack of any progress on frozen conflicts such as NK and Israel-Palestine, stated “...because the leaders aren’t ready”. In other words, regarding NK, we are in a zero sum scenario where neither side is willing to compromise on their position. Azerbaijan demands full sovereignty over the region and the indigenous Armenians vehemently refuse to be ruled by Baku.

With the EU supporting claims of territorial integrity while simultaneously championing the right of self-determination for indigenous populations, it is not encouraging a political settlement in the NK case. The Minsk Group has a mandate to facilitate a negotiated settlement to this conflict, but it is difficult to see how it can for EU policy makers ultimately support both sides simultaneously. With such equivocation, the process is stalled. Co-chair Russia has continuously supplied advanced weaponry to both sides in the conflict. One can suggest Russia is the real winner here due to negotiations going nowhere. Either the EU thinks there is a workable reconciliation between claims of territorial integrity and popular self-determination or this is all show, appearing engaged in conflict resolution. The best hypothesis is to lean to the latter considering how France, much of the EU, and the US recognized Kosovo's declaration of independence from Serbia with the OSCE supervising Kosovo's elections. The EU also encouraged and supervised the secession referendum of Montenegro. OCSE's actions in the case of Kosovo were predicated on self-determination over territorial integrity. This is an inconsistent policy of the OSCE and its parent, the EU. What is Armenia or Azerbaijan to think about this? What of Catalonia or Scotland?

With negotiations stalled, Azerbaijan began a surprise offensive early this April against NK, shooting a warning shot across Armenia's bow. Azerbaijan captured about 8 sq. km of no-man's land, an area about the size Armenians captured from the Azerbaijani-administered exclave of Nakhichevan just a few years earlier. As a warning shot, it failed in intent. Azerbaijani soldiers mutilated bodies of old Armenian men and women in villages they entered, as well as beheaded an Armenian (ethnic Yezidi) soldier and displayed his severed head as trophy, seen on youtube. Acts like these reinforce the central demand of NK Armenians that they will never submit to Azerbaijani rule. While the EU and the OSCE were trying to use irreconcilable political tenets in the case of NK, fellow Minsk Group co-chair Russia watched its weaponry in action.

To be fair, the EU is not the proclaimed arbiter of the NK conflict, but it can influence events by not having arbitrary policies. Sure, Kosovo is in the EU's backyard, the Southern Caucasus is rather distant, but the Caspian basin gas is not. In the extreme case of an all-out war between Armenia and Azerbaijan chances are very high that Azerbaijan's hydrocarbon transport pipelines and fields would be destroyed. This is not in the interest of gas-hungry EU, yet the current EU/OSCE mechanisms appear to encourage, rather than discourage, a military solution to this conflict, at least viewed by Azerbaijan.

The status of the OSCE-brokered Madrid Principles – calling for Azerbaijani control over regions surrounding NK, return of all displaced peoples, and a subsequent referendum on the future of NK – is a reflection of the vagaries of EU policies. The recent April offensive has all but buried any reality these decade-old principles may have represented.

David Davidian is an Adjunct Lecturer at the American University of Armenia. He has spent over a decade in technical intelligence analysis at major high technology firms.

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