Written by Uriel Araujo, researcher with a focus on international and ethnic conflicts
Last week, Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joly announced her country will be joining the EU monitoring mission in Armenia, in yet another sign of Western increased presence in the country, amid a humanitarian crisis in the aftermath of neighboring Azerbaijan 19 September military operation in the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh, also known as Artsakh – historically considered to be a sacred homeland of Armenians.
The ongoing EU Mission in Armenia (EUMA) builds upon the two previous European initiatives, and is headed by Markus Ritter, a German Federal Police’s officer and a former Head of the European Union Advisory Mission in Iraq. It is often described as a “civilian deployment” of the European Union’s Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP). Supposedly, there are no military personnel amongst the EUMA “observers”, but, according to its head, Markus Ritter, there are “ex-policemen” and “ex-border guards.” Also according to him, the mission does not provide monitoring results to Armenian authorities in Yerevan, but only to the EU headquarters. In April 2023, Ritter said: “Many Armenians believe there’ll be a spring offensive by Azerbaijan. If this doesn’t happen, our mission is already a success.” It would seem the Mission has not been much of a success, by his own measure, considering that last month Turkey-backed Azeri authorities in Baku did precisely that, as part of an ethnic cleansing campaign targeting ethnic Armenians.
Since 2020, about 2000 Russian peacekeepers have been deployed to the Azerbaijani-Armenian border region to ensure safe transit while enforcing a ceasefire agreement. The turmoil in the Lachin corridor which started in December 2022, in the aftermath of Moscow’s military campaign in Ukraine) provided Washington with a window of opportunity to increase influence in the region by offering mediation, with implications across Central Asia beyond the South Caucasus area – after all, the latter and the former are increasingly connected today. The EU in turn had already tried to mediate the conflict in December 2021, having only acquired a more significant presence there after the Ukrainian crisis.
In other words, while Russia has been distracted fighting its own proxy attrition war against the US in Ukraine (the West being largely to blame for the crisis in Ukraine since at least 2014), some new developments have been building up in the South Caucasus. I wrote, in May, on how an already overburdened Washington eyes Central Asia. Moscow in any case had been a guarantor of Armenia’s security, and the latter’s “turn to the West” can be described as a failure.
They say “the winner gets all”. This is not always the case, but Azerbaijan has certainly reaped some. Besides grabbing territory, according to a CMI September report, the country “will undoubtedly continue to benefit from the close security relations it has established with Turkey and Israel in the run-up to the war”, and, moreover, it enjoys the possibility of “linking its Nakhichevan exclave through Armenian territory”, thereby “eventually connect Turkey to Central Asia and China” through the Caspian Sea.
In the post-2022 world, energy-rich Azerbaijan is placed in a very advantageous position. The country takes part in Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative, cooperates militarily with Tel Aviv, and is seen by Brussels as an energy partner. From the perspective of energy-starved Europe, the South Caucasus nation is important due to post-Nord Stream Europe’s need to “diversify away from Russia” towards supposedly “more reliable” partners, in the words of European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen during her visit to Azeribajan’s capital Baku in July 2022. I’ve written before on how US-led NATO geopolitical goals and American geoeconomic policies towards Moscow have greatly harmed Europe, the continents great drama lying in the fact that it could not in fact afford to decouple from Russia energetically and it cannot easily separate from the US-controlled NATO’s structure.
In any case, since the current Ukrainian-Russian confrontation broke out in February 2022, Baku has been in fact courted by many different actors, greatly benefiting from the conflict, as a fossil fuel supplier which, according to several analysts, has the potential to evolve into becoming a renewable energy “haven”. Turkey in turn remains as a beneficiary of regional recalibrations brought about by the conflicts in Armenia and Ukraine, and it thus has a window of opportunity to pursue its ambitious (and dangerous) Neo-Ottomanist goals.
This state of affairs has worked quite well for the Azeris thus far and given it a certain degree of “immunity”, considering the fact that no major player would want to disrupt Central Asia’s delicate balance. On the other hand, by pursuing ethnic cleansing in Nagorno-Karabakh, as have described it both Council on Foreign Relations senior fellow David J. Scheffer, and Armenia’s ambassador-at-large, Edmon Marukyan, Baku has arguably already broken such balance in the most dramatic way. With the global spotlight on Eastern Europe and, more recently, in Palestine, it remains to be seen for how long the plight of Armenians will go on. The first United Nations mission to Nagorno-Karabakh was sent a month ago for the first time in 30 years, only to find a “ghost town” there, with ethnic Armenians having fled en masse.
In yet another sign of Yerevan distancing itself from the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) of which it is a member, on September 11, joint military exercises (Exercise Eagle Partner) between US and Armenian forces began. Armenia’s Defense Ministry said those were aimed to “increase the level of interoperability” with American forces in international peacekeeping missions. The US Army Europe and Africa Command stated that such exercises would help the country’s 12th Peacekeeping Brigade meet NATO standards. Armenia still hosts Russian military bases, despite Armenia’s prime minister Pashinyan reportedly having stated that they offer “no advantage” anymore. There are reports that Washington will also help Yerevan reform its law enforcement agencies, collaborating in a project launched by the European Union. Russophobic and neo-Mccarthyst policies similar to the ones are see today elsewhere in Europe should be expected. It is thus easy to see how further American-Armenian military cooperation can enhance tensions in an already boiling region in face of an increasingly militarized and NATOized Europa.
In any case, Western attempts at replacing Moscow as a guarantor of security in the South Caucasus region can only be described as a drastic failure, in face of an ongoing and unchallenged Turkey-backed ethnic cleansing campaign. Make no mistake, Russia is staying in the region and any ultimate peace deal should include Moscow. Washington knows this, but will keep backing the EU as a facilitator, while trying to further position itself in the region, as part of its Central Asia strategy – not a simple task, considering how overextended it already is.
MORE ON THE TOPIC:
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- Armenia Desperate To Join International Criminal Court, Damaging Ties With Russia