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RESTART
INITIATIVE

Building Connections for Development in
Azerbaijan and the South Caucasus

What Role for the EU in Armenia-Azerbaijan Relations?



The November 2020 Russian-brokered ceasefire agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan left many questions unanswered, not only in terms of its implementation but also in terms of whether the West has any role in any processes that might emerge. Not only were the US and European Union taken by surprise by last year’s war, but they have also largely remained marginalised or absent from developments since.


That might change given the recent announcement that President Ilham Aliyev and Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan could meet on the sidelines of the Eastern Partnership Summit due to be held in Brussels on 15 December, but the EU’s objectives in facilitating such a tête-à-tête appear quite modest. While confidence building measures are vital, especially in the humanitarian sphere, the question still remains…


What more can the European Union do?


Russia’s peace deal for Armenia and Azerbaijan has halted the war over Nagorny Karabakh and exposed the Western countries as bystanders. The Europeans must now try to help shape a lasting peace on the ground – Thomas de Waal

In an opinion piece written a week after the 2020 ceasefire agreement, Carnegie Endowment Senior Fellow Thomas de Waal noted that both Armenians and Azerbaijanis view the European Union as a less than credible actor while France continues to be viewed as particularly controversial in Baku. Not for the first time, de Waal suggests that it might be better for Paris to renounce its seat in the OSCE Minsk Group in favour of another country such as Germany or the EU itself.


“Western countries were pushed to the margins and will need to work hard to make themselves relevant again,” he wrote, adding that the conflict between two members of the Eastern Partnership challenges EU hopes to take on a more strategic role in the region. Instead, there is much work that needs to be done in the post-war environment where the EU could potentially play a role, especially in terms of reconstruction and supporting the return of IDPs, perhaps in cooperation with the UN.


“That engagement also requires great humility,” says de Waal. “The Western powers should acknowledge that they basically allowed themselves to be bystanders to the great-power deal that halted the new war over Nagorny Karabakh.”


If the European Union wants to be more active in peacebuilding, the implementation of concrete socio-economic projects with the mutual participation of Azerbaijan and Armenia is vital for peaceful interaction of the two nations – Parviz Yarmammad

In The Parliament Magazine, Parviz Yarmammad says that the South Caucasus remains an important region for the EU because of the energy and transportation projects that already run through it. However, the EU needs to earn the trust of both sides and the recent allocation of €2.6 billion to Armenia, while Azerbaijan received only €140 million, has not helped achieve that.


Instead, he says, the EU should involve both countries in socio-economic projects where mutual cooperation and interaction can be developed.


On the tactical level, the EU’s role should expand to post-conflict management and to foster an environment in which people-to-people relations in both countries gradually stabilize. Clearly, economic opportunities will be a sphere where both countries may recognise the existence of mutually shared interests – Borut Grgic and Bernhard Knoll-Tudor

There have also been calls by Borut Grgic and Bernhard Knoll-Tudor for the establishment of a Karabakh Development Bank, modelled after the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), but involving Azerbaijan, Armenia, and the EU, to help finance necessary infrastructure projects such as power and water management as well as to support small to medium-sized business initiatives.


This would also offset any perceived risk for general investment in what still remains a conflict zone.


They also suggest the creation of free economic zones and the involvement of TRACECA, itself established with financing from the European Commission. Armenia and Azerbaijan are members, as is the EU, and its Secretariat is in Baku. Other areas could include supporting educational and cultural linkages and exchanges while the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), though not related to the EU, could support cross-border media initiatives.


“Further, the European Commission could publish calls for tech innovation in the context of the EU’s Eastern Partnership dimension, sponsoring projects jointly authored by Azerbaijani and Armenian teams of coders, subject to selection by an expert jury.”


Following the ceasefire agreement that ended the Second Karabakh War in November 2020, leaders in both Baku and Yerevan have expressed interest in unlocking regional connectivity. The EU would be well placed to facilitate the resumption of this railway connection, thanks to the experience acquired from various EUBAM missions, particularly in the Transnistrian region. EU involvement would be consistent with its thrust to support stability and prosperity in the framework of its Eastern Partnership – Emmanuel Dreyfus and Jules Hugot

On PONARS Eurasia, Emmanuel Dreyfus and Jules Hugot acknowledge the role the EU has already played in terms of railway connectivity through Transnistria and by supporting the establishment of conflict management systems, not only in Ukraine and Moldova, but also in Georgia. With Tbilisi hesitant to publicly support the 3+3 regional format favoured by Ankara and Moscow, the EU could still involve it in any regional framework in a way that is more acceptable to the government.


In the same vein, LINKS Europe Director Dennis Sammut says that despite inaction to date, the EU does at least have a relatively ‘clean slate’ compared to other international actors. “Issues related to connectivity, investment, human development and education should dominate the Brussels talks. Here the EU needs to be generous and ambitious, and insist on frameworks that will require the two sides to work together, preferably also with the participation of the Georgians.”


Sochi and Brussels will be two different meetings and they need to be approached differently by all sides. The EU should not try to replicate Sochi in Brussels. That would be both disingenuous and unachievable. But with some astute diplomacy and a measure of goodwill from all sides, the Brussels meeting can also be meaningful, and can in the long term end up being even more significant for the future peace and prosperity of the South Caucasus – Dennis Sammut

“The recent armed conflict is a wake-up call to Brussels to stake its claim in a territory that has geostrategic and immense cultural significance,” according to Grgic and Knoll-Tudor. At Restart Initiative, we agree and it was with this in mind that we recently held meetings with the German Foreign Ministry and the Munich Security Conference.


Further, we strongly believe that the Eastern Partnership Summit in Brussels on 15 December is an opportunity for the EU to outline how it now plans to engage Armenia and Azerbaijan in order to contribute to regional peace and stability in the South Caucasus.