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EU mission in Armenia will delay deployment of CSTO troops to the region and reduce possibility of war, say experts

On January 23, the European Council announced the establishment of a special civilian mission in Armenia to monitor the situation in the region, with particular attention being paid to stability in the country’s border areas. Yerevan officially requested Brussels to deploy its representatives in late December amid the continuing blockade of Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh) and regular aggravations on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border. Experts interviewed by The Insider believe that the mission can be considered a diplomatic victory for Yerevan, while the presence of European observers will reduce the risk of further escalation.

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Timeline

The EU decided to establish a civilian mission in Armenia despite Russia viewing itself as the main guarantor of security in the region through its military base in Gyumri. Yerevan, however, has recently been displeased with Russia, as the latter did not help prevent a war in Nagorno-Karabakh in the fall of 2020 or an attack on the Armenian regions of Syunik and Gegharkunik by Azerbaijani troops in September 2022. When the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) summit, attended by Vladimir Putin, was held in Yerevan in November last year, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan refused to sign the final declaration, as the document did not unequivocally condemn Azerbaijani aggression. Pashinyan later cancelled the CSTO military exercises on Armenian territory scheduled for 2023.

In October, a delegation from the European Union visited the regions attacked a month prior. The mission documented the destruction and presence of the Azerbaijani military on sovereign Armenian territory.

In mid-December, Azerbaijan blocked the Lachin corridor, the only road that connects Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh) with Armenia, isolating 120 thousand people in the self-proclaimed republic from the outside world. The region faced a shortage of food and medicine, with the local authorities introducing a rationing system.

A diplomatic victory

The creation of a EU mission in Armenia “looks like a notable diplomatic victory for Yerevan,” Arkady Dubnov, a political scientist and expert on Central Asia, told The Insider. According to Dubnov, Yerevan has managed to “internationalize” the problem of its conflict with Baku “to a greater extent than it was done by the OSCE Minsk Group, whose efforts ended in a rather inglorious fashion.”

“The European Union made this decision, as far as I understand, despite Moscow's quiet opposition, recently voiced by [Russian Foreign Minister] Lavrov. He said that the presence of this mission would complicate the signing of a peace treaty with Azerbaijan,” the expert said. “Besides, this shows that the idea of a CSTO peacekeepers' mission, which was much-discussed and which Moscow insisted on sending, can be considered postponed for a long time, if not buried altogether.”

Dubnov added that, according to Lavrov, the success of the EU’s initiative will be jeopardized if Baku refuses to sign off on the mission’s presence. Due to the mission being located on Armenian territory, Azerbaijan has so far maintained a reserved position, as direct objections would confirm its intentions to claim part of Armenia’s territory.

The mission can also lead to Baku seeing its positions as compromised, Dubnov believes. According to the expert, it is impossible to make forecasts in the current situation as the level of mutual distrust in the region remains very high.

“No one believes in peace with Azerbaijan”

The establishment of the EU mission captures the political interest in the South Caucasus and the Armenian-Azerbaijani issue, says political scientist, economist, and senior researcher of the Caucasus Institute in Yerevan Hrant Mikaelian.

“You can say that the EU is trying to subjectivize itself as a security player, although [the mission] is a platform of civil observers, and the preliminary mission, which was sent three months ago, has already produced certain results, some of which were reflected in the European Parliament resolution on the situation in the region – the Lachin corridor and Azerbaijani aggression – presented several days ago,” the expert explained in a conversation with The Insider.

Mikaelian added that the creation of the mission demonstrates the EU's readiness to compete with Russia in regional security. According to the expert, Brussels is counting on a sustainable peace between Yerevan and Baku – Armenia, however, does not believe in it.

“Azerbaijan has regularly voiced its goals and intentions to seize Yerevan at the official level, especially in recent days, so no one believes in peace with Azerbaijan,” the political analyst explained. “In case of a full-scale war, not only the European mission, but also Russian peacekeepers or other limited [security] formats won’t be able to restrain the aggression. If Azerbaijan aims to escalate on a smaller scale, such as those recorded in the 2010s, when there was a more or less stable, albeit asymmetrical, balance between the sides, then the mission can stop these small-to-medium-size escalations. <...> Therefore, if Azerbaijan doesn’t have the goal of large-scale war, the mission can have a positive effect on stabilizing the situation. If it does have this goal, then [the EU mission] can reduce the likelihood of a full-scale war.”

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