The agitprop drama of the European Parliament: The thin end of the wedge for Brussels’ mediatory efforts?
The wrath and opinionated condemnation of partisan Europe is upon Azerbaijan. Armenia is recumbent in cognac-soaked reverie and the Russians are chortling with vodka-enhanced glee, with Baku dutifully downplaying the significance of the recent resolution adopted by the European Parliament which criticised Azerbaijan for what it believes to be the ‘blockade’ of the Lachin-Khankandi Road.
As sure as the Pope is Catholic, there is a realm beyond the externally visible, which we may fail to unearth and return to what is rudimentarily detectable, leaving us consequently feeling unduly malcontent, due to our comprehensive understanding that such a gloomy perspective is insufficiently substantiated. Enough of suppositions. Let us dig deep into what the document says and what could be its real impact.
The 19 January resolution of the European Parliament is a non-binding, yet still authoritative, soft power instrument, purported to influence the Council’s decision-making powers, instructing its President to forward all to the relevant parties, including the governments and parliaments of Azerbaijan and Armenia.
The document is not entirely unimportant. It is also not categorically critical in any principal sense. It should not be viewed with mere dismay as a catalogue of worthless ill-digested admonitions, despite the probability that it may actually be such a document. What is certain, nevertheless, is that its content should not excessively sully the cluttered minds of those trying to understand the EU’s approach to Baku-Yerevan dynamics. In other words, a judiciously apt sense of proportion should be assigned to it, with no hard feelings or slants of any sort, which should be alien to any fair-minded observer contemptuous of all forms of bias that could have any bearing upon one’s assessment.
For practical reasons, there is no need to recite the resolution’s paragraphs here, for it would only suffice to say that it is in full conformity with the Armenian position over the Lachin-Khankendi Road standoff situation. The resolution relates to what it refers to as “the humanitarian consequences of the blockade of Nagorno-Karabakh”. It “deplores”, “urges”, “underlines”, “strongly condemns”, “calls for” and contains other ill-informed clauses of similar ilk, centred around the logic that Baku is responsible for “the tragic state of affairs” in what the European legislators believe to be “the Nagorno-Karabakh”.
It says nothing about Baku’s admonitions over the ongoing illegal exploitation of Karabakh’s natural resources and the misuse of the Lachin-Khankendi Road under the aegis of the so-called Russian ‘peacekeepers’ and the non-fulfilment by Armenia of Article 4 and 9 of the 10 November 2020 declaration.
For those deluded personages who voted for the resolution, Baku is an audacious culprit which has been regrettably beastly to the population of the region. The only aspect which may be deemed as falling within the realms of the acceptable for Baku is that, amidst its manifest criticisms, the European Parliament is calling on it to protect the rights of the Armenian population of Karabakh, inadvertently and vaguely showing its inherent acknowledgement of Azerbaijan’s territoriality integrity.
The question hanging in the air like the Sword of Damocles is if this lackadaisically thought agitprop drama of the European Parliament is the deadly axe-blow to Brussels’ mediatory efforts in the eyes of Azerbaijan and whether we should look upon it as “the nail in the coffin’ of the largely laudable efforts of the Council’s President, Charles Michel. Perhaps not. It is a blow from a blunted axe, wielded by an inexpert axeman; a serious one, but not ultimately capital. It is probably a significant setback that is reversible, albeit not easily. In May 2021 and 2022, the European Parliament adopted resolutions replete with unsympathetic lines towards Azerbaijan, yet their impact on the Council’s peace mediation efforts was negligible.
What happen to be the factors of greater consequentiality are the mendacious French design to transform the trilateral Brussels format into a quadrilateral one and the obscure intentions of the EU’s new civil mission to Armenia which is set to begin on 20 February. It could be seen as a fairly realistic probability that, if Charles Michel uses his influence and initiates a new trilateral meeting devoid of meddling French involvement, Azerbaijan will be close to being receptive.
On the other hand, for Moscow, this resolution has been, in a way, a godsend, its short-sightedness helping the Kremlin at a time when its reputation is at an unprecedented low, now being regarded as more authoritative vis-a-vis Brussels. On 18 January, reanimated Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stated, amongst other clauses, that it was a part of the understanding by the signatories of the 10 November 2020 declaration that the Lachin-Khankendi Road would not be used for non-humanitarian and non-civilian purposes. He also added that the so-called Russian ‘peacekeeping’ contingent could fulfil the task of inspecting the transport devices to ensure this, deviating from Moscow’s earlier position, and that there had been meetings between Baku and the Armenians in Karabakh on the subject.
What Lavrov has suggested is driven by self-interest, as the Kremlin wants any new arrangement to be agreed upon via its self-interested mediation and, if the contingent is explicitly acknowledged to be entitled to this function as part of its control over the ceasefire regime, Russia will see itself even more in charge, re-entrenching itself in the region. Baku, in all probability, will push for a new arrangement with its own permanent control over the route which, at this stage, could be shared with the temporarily stationed ‘peacekeepers’.
Baku-Brussels relations are too complex and multidimensional to be viewed purely from the prism of the European Parliament's partisan resolution. The damage is serious but revocable. Within the tug-of-war over the influence in relation to the Azerbaijani-Armenian peace process between Russia and the EU, it is now incumbent upon the latter to show it is capable to rise above trivialities.
As Neil Watson, British Journalist, remarked: “This move is contrary to the best interests of the EU and favours the expansionist stance of the Big Bad Wolf of the World - Russia. MEPs need to helicopter up and see that an EU-mandated Armenian-Azerbaijani peace is preferable for both parties and the world at large.”
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