Josep Borrell (High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, EEAS)  © European Union

Josep Borrell (High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, EEAS)  © European Union

The European Union gave the green light on 23 January to the long-term mission in Armenia (EUMA). It is a monitoring mission on the border with Azerbaijan, it will employ about a hundred people and will be temporarily led by Stefano Tomat, senior official with the EU External Action Service

25/01/2023 -  Onnik James Krikorian

On 23 January, the European Union’s Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) gave the final green light for the deployment of a dedicated long-term European Union Mission in Armenia (EUMA) that will monitor the country’s border with Azerbaijan. It will follow the temporary two-month temporary European Union Monitoring Capacity (EUMCAP) in Armenia that ended on 19 December last year.

"In response to Armenia's request, EUMA […] will conduct routine patrolling and report on the situation, which will strengthen the EU's understanding of the situation on the ground," the EU said in a statement following the decision. It had already been preliminarily decided by the EU’s Political and Security Committee (PSC) on 10 January.

Calls for EUMCAP to be extended or transformed had also been heard during its short lifespan late last year.

On 19 December, the same day the mission ended, for example, an EU statement also announced that a Transitional Planning Assistance Team would be despatched to Armenia to contribute to the creation of another Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) civilian monitoring mission to Armenia. That is, for EUMA.

“In order to maintain the EU’s credibility as a facilitator of dialogue between Armenia and Azerbaijan, a team will be deployed to Armenia as of 20 December to contribute to the planning of a possible civilian mission to be launched, in case of agreement, in 2023,” the statement read.

Moreover, just as EUMCAP came out of the Macron-initiated European Political Community meeting between the Armenian, Azerbaijani, French and European Council leaders held in October last year in Prague, France again appeared to be cheerleading the way in terms of lobbying for such a mission.

“Through the monitoring of the border, this mission has really limited the danger of escalation,” France’s Foreign Minister, Catherine Colonna, told the French Parliament on 6 December. “This presence should continue as long as it is needed. This is our belief. This is also […] the desire of the Armenians,” she said.

But though the original EUMCAP had been agreed with Azerbaijan, even if it would only informally cooperate with the mission when necessary, Baku was not of the same opinion when it came to EUMA. Instead, Azerbaijan especially raised concerns that the EU had not consulted it on any future deployment.

“It will not increase security,” Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said earlier this month. “On the contrary, it will undermine the format of negotiation [with Armenia]. France has in fact completely isolated itself from the process.”

Likewise, Moscow is also irked, especially as Yerevan failed to respond to its offer to send a CSTO mission to the border, with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warning that EUMA could instead “produce opposite results and create additional problems instead of boosting confidence.”

Such criticism was predictable, of course. In a 20 December interview by Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty with the then Ambassador Designate, now Ambassador, of the Czech Republic to Armenia, Petre Piruncik acknowledged that such concerns were known in European capitals.

"I can just hint that not all parties involved were as happy with the mission, with the small observation mission as Armenia […],” he said. “Let’s work with those who were not that positive about the EU mission and let’s try to prove that it can be helpful.”

Judging from Baku and Moscow’s responses since, such attempts, if they were made, do not appear to have succeeded.

Following the FAC’s decision on 23 January, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan again raised its concern that the two-year-presence of EUMA might be used to instead delay a long anticipated peace treaty with Azerbaijan, a strategy that some analysts in Yerevan have actually proposed as policy.

“Some circles in Armenia believe that the EU sent observers to Armenia only to deter future possible Azerbaijani aggression, to play the role of a buffer, and to provide Armenia with the necessary time to increase its military capabilities and be able to repel future Azerbaijani aggression on its own,” Yerevan-based regional analyst Benyamin Poghosyan wrote for Civilnet on 19 January.

Rightly or wrongly, Azerbaijan appears to suspect the same.

“In a series of consultations held at various levels with EU representatives, it has been communicated by Azerbaijan that engagement of the EU in Armenia through a mission must not serve as pretext for Armenia to evade from fulfilment of undertaken commitments,” the statement from the Azerbaijani Ministry of Foreign Affairs read a day after the FAC decision.

Speaking to Jam-News on 19 January, Azerbaijani Political Scientist Farhad Mammadov was even more blunt.
“[…] if Baku feels a threat from Armenia, it will not stop and will launch another preemptive strike on the territory of Armenia,” he told the Tbilisi-based online news outlet. “And no EU missions with flags will be an obstacle.”

Despite these concerns, however, Josep Borrell, the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, had already stressed that EUMA’s main objective will be to “contribute to the mediation efforts in the framework of the [peace] process led by President of the European Council, Charles Michel.” Given the fragile and often volatile nature of Armenia-Azerbaijan relations, such a clear statement of intent was both important and necessary.

Regardless, the 23 January FAC decision anyway appeared to be simply a matter a formality. On 4 January, the European External Action Service (EEAS) had already started to recruit staff from EU member countries for EUMA with a deadline of 19 January. The mission will last two years and will employ up to 100 personnel.

The European Union Monitoring Mission (EUMM) in neighbouring Georgia, incidentally, employs 200 and has been operating on renewable two-year cycles since late 2008.

More interestingly, until an EUMA Head of Mission is selected, the mission will be led by Stefano Tomat, a senior official with the European Union External Action Service (EEAS). In a piece published by EEAS earlier this month, Tomat also alluded to the EU’s interest in CSDP missions as a geopolitical strategy.

“New missions on our Eastern flank are already under consideration,” Tomat wrote, in what some insiders believe refers to Armenia and Moldova. “We can also expect that EU civilian missions will increase cooperation with their military counterparts in EU military missions and operations as well as with EU justice and […] the EU Border and Coastguard Force.”

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