EU monitors visit Gegharkunik region, October 18, 2022

EU Starts New Monitoring Mission to Armenia-Azerbaijan Border

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By Nane Sahakian

BRUSSELS (RFE/RL) — The European Union announced on Monday, February 20, the launch of a new and more long-term monitoring mission to Armenia’s volatile border with Azerbaijan which is strongly opposed by Russia.

It said that the 100 or so monitors sent by various EU member states will strive to “contribute to stability in the border areas of Armenia, build confidence and human security in conflict affected areas, and ensure an environment conducive to the normalization efforts between Armenia and Azerbaijan.”

“The total — exclusively civilian — staff of the EUMA [EU Mission in Armenia] will be approximately 100, including around 50 unarmed observers,” the EU added in a statement.

It did not specify whether the other members of the two-year mission will carry weapons. Recent news reports said that the EU monitors will include officers of the German police and the French gendarmerie.

The EU already deployed 40 civilian monitors to Armenian border areas in late October on a two-month mission agreed during an Armenian-Azerbaijani summit in Prague. The agreement followed the September border clashes between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces which left more than 300 soldiers dead.

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The Armenian government asked for another monitoring mission in late December, saying that it would lower the risk of fresh armed incidents on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border. The EU formally granted the request on January 23, drawing criticism from Russia as well as Azerbaijan.

The Russian Foreign Ministry claimed that EU monitors “can only bring geopolitical confrontation to the region” and accused the EU of seeking to “push back Russia’s mediation efforts at any cost.”

Earlier in January, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov rebuked Armenia for refusing a similar mission offered by the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) during a November summit in Yerevan.

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan declined the offer on the grounds that other members of the Russian-led military alliance refused to condemn Azerbaijan’s offensive military operations along the border.

Pashinyan gave another reason for the rebuff on February 8. He claimed that unlike the EU, the CSTO does not recognize Armenia’s current borders.

Armen Baghdasaryan, an Armenian political commentator, said Yerevan should take the Russian criticism very seriously.

“Russia will want to show that the EU mission is not effective and that security mechanisms proposed by the EU do not work,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service. “The shortest way of showing that is [to provoke] new clashes on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border which the EU observers cannot influence in any way.”

Baghdasaryan suggested at the same time that the EU monitors could prevent another large-scale Azerbaijani attack on Armenia in the coming months. But he was skeptical about their longer-term impact, arguing that the EU has not given Yerevan any security guarantees.

Russian border guards stationed in Syunik province are inspected by Russian Ambassador Sergei Kopyrkin, May 24, 2022

Pashinyan indicated on February 8 that the European observers will also be monitoring Russian troops stationed in his country. He said Azerbaijan has told Western powers that its “aggressive actions” are a response to increased Russian military presence there.

“Our Western partners started rebuking us that ‘you are planning aggressive actions because there is a buildup of Russian and Armenian troops planning to attack Azerbaijan and the poor Azerbaijanis have to seize [Armenian] border heights to counter that threat.’ We said, ‘OK, come and monitor on the ground and see if that is true,’” Pashinyan added in remarks denounced by his domestic political opponents.

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