A new war between Azerbaijan and Armenia would mean trouble for Brussels and its effort to wean itself off Russian fossil fuels.
Gas and oil from Azerbaijan are crucial to the EU’s effort to replace Russian fossil fuels — but that’s in danger of becoming entangled in the bloc’s bid to become a power player in the war-torn South Caucasus.
The EU has sent a civilian mission to help police the Armenian side of the tense mountainous border between the two countries, which has Azerbaijan warning of foreign interference in its affairs.
At the same time, a European Parliament report condemning Azerbaijan’s human rights record is sparking howls of outrage from the country.
All of that is casting a shadow over the EU’s high-profile deal with Azerbaijan to double its annual gas deliveries to the bloc to 20 billion cubic meters by 2027.
Speaking to POLITICO on condition of anonymity, a senior official in the EU’s diplomatic service bemoaned the fact that the monitoring mission seems to have soured relations. “We were hoping for a different scenario with Baku. We are sharing all relevant information on patrols and so on with Azerbaijan because we don’t want any issues.”
With Russia distracted by its catastrophic war against Ukraine, Brussels hoped to boost its presence in the South Caucasus, building economic ties with Azerbaijan while offering political support to neighboring Armenia in an effort to keep a balance between the two rival states.
In a speech last month, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev blastedoutside interference in his country’s standoff with Armenia over the contested region of Nagorno-Karabakh. “The mediators involved in the Karabakh conflict [try] not to solve the issue but to freeze it,” he declared, arguing Baku rejected efforts to “tire us out with meaningless negotiations.”
In 2020, Aliyev launched a successful military offensive retaking swathes of Nagorno-Karabakh, a breakaway region inside Azerbaijan’s internationally recognized borders but controled since the fall of the USSR by its ethnic Armenian population. That conflict ended with a Russian-brokered ceasefire, but tensions are rising and there’s fear of a return to full-blown fighting.
“Many Armenians believe there’ll be a spring offensive by Azerbaijan,” Markus Ritter, head of the EU mission, told Deutsche Welle. “If this doesn’t happen, our mission is already a success.”
Days before, the country’s state media alleged the EU mission is actually helping “provoke Azerbaijan into a new war,” leaving the “EU to bear the blame” for any new conflict.
“Azerbaijan and Russia are basically saying the same thing — that the EU mission is a military-intelligence operation under the cover of monitoring,” the EU official added. “They’ve been trying to discredit the mission, which is exclusively civilian and unarmed, from the beginning and there’s not much we can do about it.
Vaqif Sadıqov, the head of Azerbaijan’s mission to the EU, told POLITICO that the presence of the monitors near the border with Azerbaijan is worrying Baku.
“This is a bilateral issue between Armenia and the EU, but it is happening a few hundred meters from our own border posts and in a heavily militarized environment where we have Russian border guards, Armenian border guards, Russian regular units, Armenian regular units and, closer to the Iranian border, Iran’s military. Now we also have EU peacekeepers. So we have legitimate security questions,” he said.
Sadıqov warned the mission could be seen as an effort by Brussels to bolster its presence in the region.