Azerbaijan: Europeans at the border, why?

Azerbaijan: Europeans at the border, why?

Duty of neutrality

The deployment of a mission under the European flag in a member country of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a military alliance headed by Moscow, which also hosts thousands of Russian soldiers, is unprecedented. This dual presence, in the context of the war led by Russia in Ukraine, seems unnatural. On the ground, the contingent of EU observers refuse to talk politics. But in early February, a Russian unit prevented them from entering the village of Nerkin Hand, in the east of the country, where four Armenian soldiers had just been killed by Azerbaijani fire.

“Out of 1,900 patrols, there was only one incident of this type,” emphasizes Markus Ritter, head of the mission. Most of the time we have no contact with Russian soldiers. And when we have to go through their checkpoints, we are accompanied by Armenian soldiers. They negotiate for us. » According to European sources, the mission remains vigilant in the face of cyberattacks coming from Russia. Since its launch, the Kremlin has accused Brussels of serving its interests by imposing “its mediation on Azerbaijan and Armenia”, while seeking “destabilization in the South Caucasus”. Experts see this as Moscow's fear of losing its closest ally in the region.

In Yerevan, the Armenian government is increasing its calls towards the West in order to broaden the scope of its foreign policy. The Armenians criticize Moscow for its passivity, particularly during the loss of the separatist enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, forcibly recovered by the armies of Baku in September 2023. Relying on Russia alone for its security is no longer enough. Ararat Mirzoyan even went so far as to speak of possible “accession to the European Union”, without specifying either the modalities or the timetable. An eccentricity in the eyes of Russian diplomacy.

Because it only takes a quick survey of Armenians outside the capital to see that the European Union only appears here as a vague colossus. Its presence is barely indicated by a few star-spangled flags placed at the entrance to shops and projects financed by Europe. Since the signing of a comprehensive and reinforced partnership agreement in 2017, the EU has paid more than 346 million euros to Armenia. Latest funding to date, at the end of February: 5.5 million euros to support refugees from Nagorno-Karabakh, in addition to the 12.2 million already announced.

Countering the Russian presence

Agriculture, energy, transport…: “Which sector has not been invested by the EU? » underlines Richard Giragosian, director of the Regional Studies Center, a think tank based in Yerevan. Answer: defense, which is not within its prerogatives. However, if there is no European army, there is a Russian army, perceived as powerful and well established. “This story of accession to the EU is a bluff which serves to give the Armenian government new weight, to counterbalance a relationship with Russia which was until now asymmetrical,” adds the researcher.

Behind a pillbox manned by Russian soldiers, a huge photo of Vladimir Putin welcomes the inhabitants of the village of Paruyr Sevak, a stone's throw from the Azerbaijani border. A camouflage net and a few sheets of metal are enough to reassure Julia Barsamya, a retired Russian teacher. In the surrounding area, enemy drones have already flown over the school. “I sleep better when I know the Russians are there. » And the European Union observation mission? “What mission?” » she replies, adjusting her glasses. A photo of the white 4x4s in front of her eyes, she adds: “Ah, them! I don't know who they are, but their cars are making noise. »

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