European intermediaries, political challenges, and a sustainable peace in Nagorno-Karabakh
Marina Kaljurand, Estonian Member of the European Parliament, Chair of the EP Delegation to the South Caucasus
Ms. Kaljurand, as the chair of the EP delegation to the South Caucasus, how do you evaluate the role of Europe in this very volatile region?
This is a very good, but also a very difficult question. I hear from my counterparts and partners in the South Caucasus, with the exception of Georgia, that Europe has not maintained a sufficient presence and that it has not paid enough attention — and when I say Europe, I mean the European Union (EU). My reading is that the EU can cooperate with Armenia and Azerbaijan to the degree that it wants. That is the reason their relationship with Moldova and Georgia, for example, is at a higher level. Armenia and Azerbaijan have chosen their own ways to cooperate with the EU. Armenia has the Customs Union and the Collective Security Treaty which both limit our cooperation. I think the policy of the EU has increasingly been to work in the region and to go only as far as the respective country wants.
Now, as to conflict resolution, I am really happy to see that especially after the second war in Nagorno-Karabakh, the EU has been paying more attention to the region. I am optimistic about the EU monitoring mission being deployed in Armenia. I really hope that it will be one of the positive steps leading to conflict resolution. Of course, the participation of Charles Michel, president of the European Council, is the highest level at which the EU can intervene and engage. This is a very positive signal that the EU has not forgotten the region and that it wants the South Caucasus to be a closer partner. We are ready to cooperate with these two countries so long as they want to cooperate with us.
As you have mentioned, the European Council’s President, Charles Michel, is actively trying to mediate between Armenia and Azerbaijan to find sustainable solutions and peace in the region. The OSCE Minsk Group seems to be uninvolved in this process. What is Europe’s ultimate goal in the region: gaining strength or weakening Russia?
I do not think that one excludes the other. The EU still supports the Minsk Group’s engagement, but we see the reality. We see that the Minsk Group has been inactive and that there is the question of trust from Azerbaijan concerning France. So, we see all these difficulties. That is the reason why all different formats and engagements should be looked on and should be used.
I might not like it, but I must appreciate Russia’s involvement when the war was stopped. Without Russia’s involvement, I do not know what would have happened. I am not happy that it was Russia, I would have liked for it to be the Minsk Group or the EU negotiating the ceasefire. But we cannot turn a blind eye to the Russian peacekeepers’ presence in Nagorno-Karabakh. Are they doing enough? I do not think so because we still see tensions and escalations. So, at this point the international community should use all the power it has to come to a sustainable peace agreement. The EU’s aim is not to push anyone out of the region, our aim is to maintain a serious presence in the region and to avoid hearing that “the EU is not paying enough attention to us.”
For almost a year now, we have been witnessing how united Europe can be and how the system of sanctions can work if European leaders have the political will. But it is hard to say the same for the South Caucasus. It seems that Europe did not pay attention to what happened during September when the sovereign territory of Armenia was once again violated by Azerbaijan, and is moving forward and speaking about economic ambitions with Azerbaijan even while there are still serious unresolved humanitarian problems in the region. Furthermore, the European Commission’s president, von der Leyen, calls Azerbaijan “a worthy partner.” Where are the so-called Western values, does this stance align with European values?
As Chair of the South Caucasus Delegation, I made a very strong statement the morning after Azerbaijan’s attack and it happened to be during a plenary session of the European Parliament. At the beginning of the plenary session, one Member of the EP, Marini, made a statement in support of Armenia. If you just visit YouTube or the Parliament’s web page, you will see how united the European Parliament was in applauding that statement. I cannot speak on behalf of the EU institutions, but I can speak on behalf of the European Parliament and will repeatedly say that war is never the solution. The first and second wars were mistakes. There has to be a peaceful solution and we have to do everything to bring countries together. Coming back to the second part of your question… Yes, the EU has an energy partnership with Azerbaijan, but we should not forget that the percentage of energy the EU will receive is really very small and it will not come at the cost of human rights. So, the EU will continue to do what it has done and survey the human rights and democracy situation in Azerbaijan.
How do you imagine a sustainable peace in the South Caucasus? Is it really possible when we take into consideration Azerbaijan which acts as the victorious party and thinks it can dictate anything it wishes on one side, and Armenia which is going through hard times, at least psychologically, on the other. Add to this Azerbaijani gas, which is a must have for Europe. So, in this atmosphere, how realistic is peace? Which is more important, Europe’s economic concerns or fair solutions to conflicts in the South Caucasus, including the rights of the Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians who feel completely abandoned by the international community? It seems as if we are discussing a peace treaty without talking about the rights and the security of the indigenous people of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Firstly, the Peace Treaty depends on the political will of both parties. There can be no sustainable peace treaty if there is no political will. Lawyers can write a peace treaty in half an hour. Is there enough political will today? I doubt that. I would like to be optimistic, but based on what I have seen so far, Prime Minister Pashinyan and President Aliyev agreed to come together and find solutions after the meetings with President Charles Michel. But once back home, the rhetoric changed and became aggressive. A month after their meeting in Brussels, Azerbaijan attacked Armenia. So, there is not enough political will. I hope I am mistaken, I hope the political will comes from both sides. But I must say that in any case, the future of the people living in Nagorno-Karabakh is on the table and will continue to be on the table. I partially agree that there is no international presence. Yes, only the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is on the ground, others do not have authorization to enter, but international organizations are there. I am frequently in contact with the ICRC. They have a good idea of what is going on and they do what they can. As to the future of people living in Nagorno-Karabakh — yes, it should absolutely be discussed, their fundamental rights have to be protected. The people, whatever their origins, should have full assurance that they will not be left behind. The international community will follow the situation closely and their rights will be protected.
Since the 2020 war, Turkey’s involvement in the region has increased and it now has a military presence on the ground. Turkey continues to condition establishing diplomatic relations with Armenia on Armenia-Azerbaijan relations. How do you see Turkey’s role in the South Caucasus being developed?
I agree with you that Turkey’s role especially during the war has grown. Azerbaijan made no secret of Turkey’s close cooperation with them during the war. But I can say the same for Russia. Russia is selling arms both to Armenia and Azerbaijan. President Erdogan is trying to somehow be an intermediary as well. It is not important who achieves the goal, whether it be Russia, Turkey, or the EU. Of course, I hope the EU will be successful, but if this agreement is concluded with any of the other parties and it finally brings peace in the region, I will be happy.
As the former foreign minister of Estonia and the head of the EP delegation of relations with the South Caucasus, how do you imagine the future of the Eastern Partnership policy? Does the format serve the primary purpose for which it was created? It is assumed that the Eastern Partnership should and can play a role in the relations of the European Union with Azerbaijan and Armenia.
Despite difficulties, the Eastern Partnership has been successful. The partnership has brought all parties closer and has established structured cooperation. As to the enlargement and the future of the partnership, it is a very hard question. As a policy, “more and more” works very well and we have witnessed that in Georgia. The EU is there and will cooperate and will provide support concerning democratic reforms, as long as the people want to be close to the EU. Ukraine is a good example.
Speaking of Ukraine, how does the Russia-Ukraine war influence the South Caucasus?
Geopolitically speaking, it is a big security threat not only to the whole region but also for Europe. However, the security issues which need to be discussed with Russia should not be with Putin. I do not see him at the table. Yes, we should exchange and have a dialogue with Russia concerning prisoners of war, etc., but he cannot be part of future security in Europe. Besides everything, Armenia and Georgia are making monetary gains, with their GDP growing thanks to much closer economic ties. It is a moment of decision-making. Do Armenia and Georgia want easy money from Europe, which is not sustainable at all, or do they prefer closer ties on a fundamental basis? We are here to assist as long as they have interests and the will to cooperate.
You are always trying to be as balanced as possible and you try to avoid “bothsideism,” which is rather common in Europe. You are not afraid to call things by their name. From your balanced point of view, what should the peace treaty being discussed between Armenia and Azerbaijan look like so that it can be called fair and just?
It is very difficult for me to say, but one thing is for sure. The treaty should be agreed on by both sides. Both sides should say, “This is the best that I can do,” and lend their support. I have been in negotiations with Russia for almost ten years. I negotiated border issues and the withdrawal of Russian troops from Estonia with Russia. This experience gives me the ability to listen even if I do not agree. I will not compromise my values, but I try to understand their thought process, and perhaps, after 30 years in diplomacy, I have a better understanding of the importance of listening to others and then adjusting my suggestions and decisions. As I always say, never give up principles, red lines, and values. I do not know if the sides will make European experts party to their treaty negotiations, but I hope that it will be the best treaty for both sides. There can be no sustainable peace treaty if one party is in the corner. There have to be compromises on both sides.
Last but not least, as you mentioned in the beginning, you are very optimistic concerning the EU’s monitoring mission at the Armenia-Azerbaijan border to help reinstate mutual trust and peace as well as demarcate the Armenia-Azerbaijan boundaries. The OSCE, to the dissatisfaction of both Azerbaijan and Turkey, has sent a fact-finding mission to Armenia. Iran has opened a consulate in the south of Armenia. A senior official from the U.S. State Department has visited one of the sections of Armenia’s border with Azerbaijani which saw heavy fighting last month. What does all this mean?
I think the international community is taking a balanced position and is watching what Azerbaijan is doing with its victory. We have to assist the other side to be equal around the table. Without making predictions or decisions, Armenia has to feel that we are not leaving them alone.