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Nagorno-Karabakh and the role of the EU

Monday, 17 June 2013

Greater EU engagement in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is both an imperative and a necessity: the conflict is the only one in wider Europe in which the EU has no direct role whatsoever, which is dangerous for both Brussels and for people in the region who strive for peace, said Richard Giragosian, the Director of the Regional Studies Center, an independent think-tank in Yerevan.

Giragosian warned that there are several factors necessitating greater EU engagement at the moment: not least an increasing risk of “war by accident” based on miscalculation and threat misperception, where small skirmishes can quickly spiral out of control.

He called on the EU to adopt a new policy approach based on ‘more for more’ but also on ‘less for less’, punishing bad behaviour as well as rewarding reform and progress. For too long, the West has looked for balance and parity in a region where it may be counterproductive to do so, he argued. If one or both sides fail to meet minimum expectations of behaviour, there should be less tolerance, and if necessary, less parity, he added.

He argued that the EU needs to adopt policy recommendations which emphasise the need to “cease and desist” and remind all parties to the conflict that there is no military solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh problem, which will only be solved by political and diplomatic means.

The European Union is becoming a major player in the Caucasus – and preoccupation with its own problems is no excuse for the EU’s lack of engagement in Nagorno-Karabakh, argued Zaur Shiriyev, Leading Research Fellow at the Centre for Strategic Studies in Baku.

He argued that the EU must increase its involvement in resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, for the following reasons:

  • Energy: sending Azerbaijani gas to Europe would reduce the EU’s dependency on Russia.
  • Russia is trying to pressure Azerbaijan and Armenia into joining a customs union and a Eurasian Union: these countries face a dilemma and must choose between the Russian or EU orbit. But Azerbaijan is becoming a more independent player in the region and is becoming more independent from Russian influence.
  • US engagement in the region has fallen under President Barack Obama.
  • Regional cooperation in a multilateral format is a crucial pillar of the EU’s Eastern Partnership.
  • The EU must capitalise on the ‘stick’ of the Association Agreements while it can.
  • The EU must become more visible as a conflict resolution player if it wants to boost its image in the region.

Philippe Lefort, EU Special Representative to the South Caucasus, argued that the debate on changing the format of the Minsk Group misses the point: “it took a long time to finalise the format, and changing it would be dangerous in itself,” he said.

There is no alternative plan, no better format and no more logical or rational solution than the existing Madrid Principles, said Lefort, stressing instead the importance of inducing the players “to take the risk of peace”.

The EU Special Representative said the EU could help in the following ways:

  • The EU must contribute to avoiding the resumption of armed conflict.
  • The EU must create incentives for peace.
  • The EU can help to create the conditions for transforming the conflict.
  • The EU can illustrate the benefits of a peaceful Caucasus connected by infrastructure, mobility and economic links to the European Union.

Stressing that he was expressing his own views and not those of the French government, Bernard Fassier, the former French Co-Chair of the OSCE Minsk Group, offered the EU three pieces of advice:

  • Try to develop a fresh impulse for promoting democracy in both countries.
  • More effectively link EU assistance and programmes in both countries to the condition of both governments ending their belligerent rhetoric and propaganda.
  • The EU could pressure Azerbaijan and Armenia to adopt more realistic military budgets, and urge them to develop the poorer areas of their countries instead.

Herman Herpelinck, Group Secretary General of the Belgian Senate, argued that the conflict needs to be transformed over the long term – and that only collaboration, politics and diplomacy can improve security. He warned that often the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh is described as pre-war rather than post-war, and stressed the need to adhere to the Madrid Principles. “The EU is engaged in preventing the conflict from spiralling out of control,” he said.

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