The EU’s Engagement in the Reconciliation Process Between Armenia and Azerbaijan: Can It Lead to Peace?

The EU’s Engagement in the Reconciliation Process Between Armenia and Azerbaijan: Can It Lead to Peace?

While Russia has been occupied with its invasion campaign in Ukraine, the EU has sought to increase its role in the reconciliation process between Armenia and Azerbaijan. On May 22, Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents met in Brussels to discuss the peace process. The meeting was facilitated by European Council President Charles Michel and led to substantial results with regard to reconciliation between the two countries. Armenia and Azerbaijan made an agreement on transit lines, such as the Zangezur corridor connecting Azerbaijan to its Nakhchivan enclave via Armenia. The two sides also decided to delineate boundaries and organise an international committee to deal with the issue.

Ever since the end of the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war, it was evident that the West was absent in the war and peace talks. Meanwhile, Russia maintained a dominant role not only militarily, but politically as well. However, it is widely agreed that the Kremlin’s real determination is to block real progress since a continuing dispute served its interests. Moscow may be less interested in building peace between the two sides as ending the conflict would render the peacekeeping mission unnecessary. 2000 peacekeeping troops that Moscow has maintained in Karabakh since 2020 remain a guarantee that it will continue to play a major role.

Nevertheless, it seems now that the EU is trying to increase its role and push forward peace negotiations. The representatives of the two South Caucasian countries have been meeting in Brussels since December 2021. Russian politicians have criticised the EU involvement and accused the EU of interference in the peace process.

While Russia still retains a powerful position in the region, it does so mainly through military leverage. Therefore, it is highly dubious that the Kremlin is intent on helping the peace process since a deal would dilute its influence. Considering this, both Armenia and Azerbaijan are interested in the EU’s active engagement in the processes as a geopolitical counterweight against Russia. The rise of the EU’s role in the peacebuilding process strongly appeals to Azerbaijan, where there is a sense that Russia’s agenda may be dominated by a wish to maintain its troops in the region. Furthermore, Baku is interested in boosting its energy export to the EU, especially at the time of Russian isolation by the West. In the meantime, Yerevan is interested in a substantial amount of financial incentives offered by the EU.

One of the most significant breakthroughs of the Brussels Summit in May was the first and long-waited meeting between the Armenian and Azerbaijani state commissions on the boundary between the two countries. The commissions started their work on the following day. It is noteworthy that the border commission was supposed to meet in Moscow on May 16-17 but it never took place. The May 24 meeting of the border commissions was finally at an unspecified spot on the Armenia-Azerbaijan border, which many believe might have been an attempt to reduce Russia’s influence in the process.

While Russia’s aggression against Ukraine remains a threat to the entire South Caucasus, it is also an opening for the reconciliation process between Armenia and Azerbaijan. It is a danger due to a potential military escalation but remains a great opportunity as the EU has made significant progress through the summits it has convened.

The EU prioritises the delineation and demarcation of the Armenia-Azerbaijan border, reopening transportation links between the two sides and eventually reaching an agreement to end their decades-old conflict. However, it is not clear whether Russia is interested in this as well. Should Armenia and Azerbaijan reach reconciliation and peace, Russia’s military presence becomes irrelevant. Meanwhile, the EU is becoming actively engaged in the process. According to Michel, Aliyev and Pashinyan are going to meet in Brussels meet again in July or August. If these meetings are held systematically, more tangible results might follow and lead Armenia and Azerbaijan to sustainable peace.

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