EU's civil mission & Iran's puzzling silence
The second Karabakh war, which ended with Azerbaijan's victory, had significant geopolitical implications for the South Caucasus that are accepted by various powers showing their interest in the region.
The signing of a peace agreement between Azerbaijan and Armenia, the beginning of the border delimitation and demarcation process, and the opening of regional communication routes were critical topics on the post-war agenda. However, no real results were achieved. In accordance with paragraph 6 of the trilateral statement signed on November 10, 2020, Azerbaijan has established conditions for the movement of people and goods on the Lachin-Khankendi road, which provides the only direct road link between Armenia and the Armenians living in Karabakh.
However, Armenia has not yet fulfilled the obligation assumed, according to paragraph 9 of the mentioned statement, which envisages free transport communication between the western districts of Azerbaijan and its Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic of Azerbaijan. Armenia's provocations on the conventional border with Azerbaijan (widespread use of landmines) has posed a serious risk to the regional security.
Given the Russia-Ukraine conflict and the resulting energy, transport, and logistics crisis, the importance of the South Caucasus for the West is significantly increasing. Precisely in order to ensure the regional stability and peace, as well as the security of renewable energy and transport routes for the West, the Prague talks resulted in the decision to deploy the EU civil mission on the Azerbaijan-Armenia conventional border for a two-month term. Even though the mission expired last December, on January 23, 2023, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell announced the deployment of a new EU civil mission with initial mandate of two years.
Although there had been a consensus regarding the first mission sent to the conditional Azerbaijan-Armenia border, the decision on deploying a new mission was made without taking Baku's opinion into consideration. The Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry stated that the relevant decision of the Council of Europe on establishing a monitoring mission in Armenia should not impede the normalization process between Azerbaijan and Armenia, and should not become a pretext for Armenia to avoid fulfilling its obligations. It was also noted that the EU mission's deployment in Armenia should be ensured considering the legitimate interests of Azerbaijan.
Armenia's invitation of the EU monitoring mission to the area of responsibility of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) further increases the tension between the West and Russia. The Russian Foreign Ministry, speaking on this issue, emphasized that the deployment of EU representatives in the Armenian border districts may result in a geopolitical regional conflict and further worsen the existing contradictions. Even if Yerevan is trying to attribute the reason for the civilian mission's deployment to the inaction of the CSTO, the real reason is the Armenian government's shift toward a Western-oriented foreign policy.
No doubt, each country has the right to make its own decisions regarding its international relations and foreign affairs. However, Armenia, which is now seeking closer ties with the West in security matters, borders on the Islamic Republic of Iran and has become its de facto strategic ally. Iran, which has always stated that the emerging issues in the South Caucasus should be resolved by the countries of the region and considered the involvement of third-party forces its “red line”, remains silent against the events taking place in Armenia. The “3+3” cooperation format (the three South Caucasus countries of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia plus their three big neighbors, namely Russia, Türkiye and Iran), included in the regional agenda after the second Karabakh war, was supported by Tehran.
According to the statement of the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, during the first phone conversation between the Azerbaijani and Iranian foreign ministers (October 16, 2022), right after the leaders' meeting in Prague, Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said that the presence of foreign forces in the Caucasus is of concern to the regional countries and Iran opposes the deployment of any foreign forces there.
"Iran stands against the presence of foreign forces in the region. It's necessary to use intra-regional opportunities, including the “3+3” mechanism, and the countries of the region should solve regional problems themselves," said Amir-Abdollahian during the meeting with Armenian PM Nikol Pashinyan in October of 2022.
Tehran has repeatedly stated that the interference of external forces with the region doesn't correspond to its strategic interests. However, it was not Azerbaijan but Armenia that invited the EU civil mission to the region, and there has been no negative reaction from the Iranian government to either the EU or Armenia, from the announcement of the decision.
The official website of the Council of the Europe provides information on the mission in Armenia in the decision of January 23, 2023 No. 2023/162. The document noted that the EU mission in Armenia was being established within the Common Security and Defense Policy. Furthermore, two other highlighted points in the document – the activities to be carried out by the mission and the possible involvement of third countries in the process – remain unclear to the public. According to the document, the mission's mandate is to conduct regular patrols to obtain information on the security status of these areas, as well as collect and report daily data to the center.
However, it's wrong to expect that this type of routine activity will be limited only to the Azerbaijan-Armenia border. It's possible that the two-year EU monitoring mission will also monitor the "actions" of Azerbaijan's southern neighbor across the Armenia-Iran border and deliver intelligence information to Brussels. Iran's destructive intervention in the Ukraine-Russia conflict, the termination of discussions on the Iranian nuclear program (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action), the smuggling of drugs to Europe through Armenia and other activities force the civilian mission to focus on Iran.
Paragraph 9 of the document "On the EU Mission in Armenia" about the involvement of third countries in the mission's activities stated that third states were allowed partake in the mission, provided that they pay the expenses of the seconded by them personnel, including salaries, all-risk insurance, daily expenses, etc., as well as don't prejudice to the EU's autonomy in making decisions and its single institutional framework.
Quoting Paragraph 6: “If the required functions cannot be carried out by personnel seconded by Member States, international and local staff may be hired by the mission under contract."
Obviously, the European Union's monitoring mission, which has begun to operate in Armenia, will include intelligence officers of Western states under the guise of "representatives of third countries" who have acted in the past or are currently operating. It's also clear that the main activity of these forces will be to obtain information about Iran, located in areas bordering with this country. Considering that third countries mean states located outside the European continent and their citizens, the whole picture must have been obvious to everyone.
The other day, the official website of the Council of the Europe posted information on the launch of the new EU civil mission in Armenia. Following the information, the civilian European Union Mission in Armenia (EUMA) will include 100 members, with nearly 50 unarmed observers. Markus Ritter, who held high positions in the missions of Germany, the EU, including the UN in Georgia, Kosovo, South Sudan, Iraq and Afghanistan, was appointed head of the mission. It has recently become known that France and Germany would be represented in a civilian mission.
It's surprising that Tehran, which has been accusing Azerbaijan, without any evidence, of gathering "Zionists", "Takfiri terrorists", and other forces on the border with the Islamic Republic, for some reason remains silent against latest incidents occurring on its own borders.
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