In a three-way call on Wednesday (22 July) with the foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia, the EU’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell called for an end to armed confrontations following a flare-up of tensions last week along the international state border between the two countries.
After bilateral conversations early last week, in the first such call that brought together the Spaniard and Jeyhun Bayramov, the newly-appointed Azerbaijani foreign affairs minister and his Armenian counterpart, Zohrab Mnatsakanyan, the EU’s High Representative urged both sides “to refrain from action and rhetoric that provoke tension, in particular from any further threats to critical infrastructure in the region.”
Last Thursday (16 July), Baku reminded of its capability to strike the Armenian Metsamor Nuclear Power Plan after Yerevan allegedly signalled it could target Azerbaijan’s Mingachevir Dam. Armenia later denied making such threats.
A high-level official from Azerbaijan wrote that Armenia was creating obstacles for the normal functioning of the energy and transport lines such as the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway called the “Iron Silk Road” connecting Asia and Europe, the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline, and Azerbaijan’s South Caucasus Pipeline channelling natural gas to the TAP and TANAP supplying Europe with alternative energy resources.
The flare-up in fighting erupted on 12 July between the ex-Soviet republics, which have been locked for decades in a conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, a region internationally recognised as being part of Azerbaijan but occupied by Armenia.
In recent days, the situation has been relatively calm, with both sides reporting fewer ceasefire violations compared to last week.
Unlike the “usual” clashes, this time the incidents were taking place on a northern section of the state border between the two countries, rather than at the border with Nagorno-Karabakh.
This detail is important because, at least in theory, Armenia could invoke Russia’s help under the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) of which it is a member. Azerbaijan is not a party to the CSTO.
Russia, however, has shown little interest in escalating the conflict and Moscow’s long-serving foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, met the envoys of Azerbaijan and Armenia on Tuesday (22 July) to discuss the stabilisation of the situation on the border as well as restarting the Nagorno-Karabakh talks.
Borrell encouraged both sides to “reaffirm their commitment to a ceasefire and undertake immediate measures to prevent further escalation.”
The EU’s special representative for the region and the Georgian territories under de facto Russian control, Toivo Klaar, tweeted on Wednesday that the bloc “has an important stake in a peaceful resolution of the conflicts in the South Caucasus.”
Following a Russia-brokered fragile truce in 1994, the Nagorno-Karabakh region has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces that Azerbaijan says include troops supplied by Armenia. The region’s claim to independence has not been recognised by any country.
The ethnic Azerbaijani population of Nagorno-Karabakh has been expelled from their homelands and lives as internationally displaced persons (IDPs) in Azerbaijan.
Russia, the United States, and France are the co-chairs of the Minsk Group of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which acts as a mediator in resolving the crisis. The group has been struggling for years to mediate a solution to the situation.