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Macron’s meddling between Baku and Yerevan risks EU peace efforts

18 October 2022 17:59 (UTC+04:00)
Macron’s meddling between Baku and Yerevan risks EU peace efforts

By Orkhan Amashov

France yearns for a greater role in the South Caucasus and despises the idea of being reduced to politely cheering on those who are actually of consequence in the region. What it fails to comprehend is that its favours are no longer of any importance, but it must learn to acquiesce in fashion.

If, before the Second Karabakh War, France, as one of the Co-Chairs of the inert OSCE Minsk Group, had some influence over Azerbaijani-Armenian negotiations and tried to assume an appearance of neutrality, however farcical, since 2020, it has chosen the path of firmly backing Armenian interests openly, without any pretence of even-handedness.

Macron’s words of support for Yerevan promise more than they can possibly deliver, misleading the latter into thinking that there is an escape clause from the inevitable - an impending peace treaty with Azerbaijan with the terms established subsequent to the 10 November 2020 trilateral declaration.

The French president’s opposition to Russia’s role in the negotiations is understandable and may have its own reasons within a wider geopolitical conjecture. Nevertheless, his tactical machinations aimed at hijacking the EU-led negotiations between Azerbaijan and Armenia risks undermining Brussels’ cultivated image of an honest and humanitarian post-conflict mediator, thereby, perhaps unwittingly, enhancing Moscow’s standing.

And what about Armenia? Firmly under Russia’s radar, it may feel that the best course of action now is to while away the next couple of months without committing itself to anything, with the expectation that circumstances will change in a way to miraculously absolve it from today’s compulsion. This is short-sighted and erroneous. Macron’s ill-fated attempts to flex his muscles on behalf of Armenia only whip up such thoughts, for the Armenian leadership and diaspora are like drowning men grasping for any straw.

What Yerevan needs to do now is to take a deep breath and reflect upon the folly of repeating the mistakes of bygone days. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan may find it instructive to recall that the 10 November 2020 trilateral declaration that ended the Second Karabakh War was not something that he was willing to sign. Yet he did, somewhere behind closed doors, in a hopelessly clandestine way, unable to endure a few minutes of public exposure at the moment of sullying the ink.

Macron remained supportive of Yerevan during the 2020 campaign, claiming that Paris “would not allow the Azerbaijani conquest of the Upper Karabakh”, thereby revealing his "comprehénsion tres crétineuse" (poor grasp) of the conflict. Back then, his rhetoric did not save Yerevan from a capitulation, in the practical sense of the word. Then, he "welcomed" the trilateral declaration, urging Azerbaijan to abide by its provisions and reiterating his support for Yerevan, whilst keeping his fingers firmly crossed.

Urge for a greater role in the region

The French President is driven by a desire to increase his nation's influence in the South Caucasus and, in a globalised world, there is nothing remotely unacceptable in such a policy. However, the question is about the means employed to achieve this.

In an interview with France 2 TV on 12 October, Macron accused Russia of “playing Azerbaijan’s game with Turkish complicity” and weakening Armenia. This could be his perspective, and he is entitled to such a view, provided he is happy to face the consequences of such a shambolic statement, as far as Azerbaijan is concerned.

His evaluation of the situation contains basic errors, caused either by an insufficiently accurate briefing, deliberate carelessness, or a confected mix of both. For instance, regarding Macron’s criticism of the Russian “peacekeepers” for failing to “guarantee the border”, one has to interject on the basis of a factual mistake, as the contingent temporarily stationed in the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan has nothing to do with the state border. The French President's inaccurate observations were not limited to this instance, but let us reflect on more practical issues.

The Prague meeting of the Azerbaijani and Armenian leaders, held on the sidelines of the European Union Political Community Summit on 6 October, did not take place on the initiative of the French President, but via the mediation of EU Council President Charles Michel. Macron’s desire to look important and decisive is perhaps understandable, yet has little to do with reality. His presence in the quadripartite meeting was not a sign of the French President’s special role, but a goodwill dispensation issued with the acquiescence of Baku, which is fully aware that it is onto a winner, despite the mendacious machinations of Paris.

In the aftermath of the 2020 war, France effectively ceased to be a mediator and was later replaced by the EU, which has earned some credibility, to date, and could be even more influential over the post-conflict normalisation.

The now-defunct OSCE Minsk Group, within which Paris assumed the role of a Co-Chair, failed spectacularly, rendering the French record on the mediation between Azerbaijan and Armenia a tasteless charade, amounting to nothing but creative inertia. In the period succeeding November 2020, Paris has continued to be a thorn in the side of all those aiming to achieve a breakthrough.

When, two weeks after the end of the hostilities in November 2020, the misinformed French Senate adopted a resolution on “recognising the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic”, it was downplayed as an advisory document, with no bearing on the official position of Paris.

That was only partially true, of course, as irrespective of the nature of the resolution adopted, it was still a verdict passed by the legislative body of France, a nation hoping to have a say on the state of affairs between Baku and Yerevan. Macron's subsequent approaches have represented continuity.

Leaving the fundamentals of foreign policy choices aside, France did not even take the minimum degree of precautions to ensure the safety of the Azerbaijani Embassy in Paris at a time of documented heightened tensions. In a meeting of the Council of Heads of State of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) on 14 October, President Ilham Aliyev reiterated that, despite assurances given by Macron after the first attack, the second took place after the security of the building was strangely removed. So much for French diplomatic delicacy in fulfilling its basic duties under the 1961 Vienna Convention.

EU civilian mission

In Prague, Azerbaijan and Armenia agreed on an EU civilian mission, to be sent to Armenia along its border with Azerbaijan. Baku will cooperate with this initiative, as far as it is concerned. In his Astana speech on 14 October, President Aliyev revealed that the original EU concept was for the mission to be present on Azerbaijani territory, but Baku issued a firm rejection. “The mission will only be on the territory of Armenia, in the zone of the responsibility of the Collective Security Organisation Treaty (CSTO)", said President Aliyev, sending a message in his own subtle and uniquely penetrative manner.

This will be limited to a two-month period, and could perhaps reduce the instances of escalations on the state border, contributing to an atmosphere conducive to peace, in the context of which irregular snags derailing peace negotiations could be minimised. The arrangement was made via the mediation of Charles Michel. It is not improbable that Macron might have tried to exercise his clout, suggesting the mission should also be present in Azerbaijan.

In Astana, President Aliyev employed the same logic to which he adhered prior to the Second Karabakh War, that is, “Azerbaijan is patient, but there is a limit to its patience”. This effectively means that if Articles 4 and 9 of the 10 November trilateral declaration are not fulfilled by Yerevan, Azerbaijan’s reaction will be “adequate”, as President Aliyev appositely reiterated in Astana. This signals one truism: the EU mission should serve a stabilising purpose, and cannot militate against Azerbaijan's ability to defend what it considers its legal interests emanating from international law and the 10 November deal.

France vs Russia

France has its own agenda of undermining Russia globally in different regions. This is unsurprising in the context of a clash of interests. But when this becomes a tool to be used as a brickbat against Azerbaijan for defending its territorial integrity and other sovereign rights, then real problems start to emerge.

In the South Caucasus, France desires to be a broker between Baku and Yerevan, capitalising on the latter’s growing frustration with the Kremlin and the CSTO over its refusal to send troops to support its ally in the Second Karabakh War. The major downside of this scheme is that it alienates Azerbaijan, weakening the perception of France even as an evenhanded bystander, who, on occasion, may be allowed to give his view.

All in all, Macron’s backing for Armenia undermines his already meagre chances of being involved in any form and shape in the Baku-Yerevan post-conflict normalisation process. British journalist Neil Watson commented: "The French role in determining the groundwork for peace is non-existent. Its South Caucasus policy is driven by self-interest and bigotry, fuelled by the powerful Franco-Armenian diaspora, who played an integral role in supporting the Armenian occupation of Azerbaijani lands."

What will be the import of this? A brief gallop through the sorry story of the past two years of Armenia’s dithering and teetering shows its folly of obstinacy and utter hopelessness. Macron’s words of support are largely misleading and are inconsequential. They were of little use during the Second Karabakh War and the present state is no different.

However, this has led to even more lethal poison being injected into the bloodstream of Armenia, encouraging the maintenance of the nation’s intoxicated state. Yerevan does not need a new dose of a potent substance, contributing to an unnatural dopamine rush to keep afloat, but a cold shower to begin sobering up. Political “highs” of this kind have a tendency to be guided by the principle of a progressively lesser return, prolonging an inevitable finality and rendering the ultimate pain even more debilitating.

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