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Europe and the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict

Violence cannot be ignored as both sides have heavily funded and weaponized military, and a sustained struggle could have dire consequences for Europe's energy security and geopolitical stability

Photo by Tamara Gak / Unsplash

The Armenia-Azerbaijan tug over the Nagorno-Karabakh region has been a periodic occurrence, yet it had never turned as grave as in the past few days. The small enclave between Armenia and Azerbaijan has become a geopolitical battleground not just for these countries, but also for Turkey and Russia. We cannot undermine the violence because each warring side has a heavily funded and weaponized military. What we’re seeing unfold now is not one in a series of earlier violent eruptions that lasted for a shorter period. Both Armenia and Azerbaijan are ready to persist through a long fight. The ruins of the Soviet collapse cannot be called a dying ember just as yet. That the present surge has come at a time that’s plagued economies and held some countries gnawing at the edges of political order, cannot be a coincidence.

For the EU, the rising tension is of particular worry owing to security concerns – this includes geopolitical and energy security issues. Any escalation to the extent of an all-out expanded war could cause disruptions in supply from the South Caucasus and beyond. Europe’s energy security is dependent on stability in the Southern Gas corridor. Vulnerability near the borders can transform into a threat worse than precedented and sustained struggle could mean geopolitical troubles as well for Europe. Turkey is leaving no stone unturned at the moment to reach out to its long-standing ally, Azerbaijan. There have been rumours, though not confirmed, that the country has even been equipping Syrian mercenaries for the task.

The Minsk Group (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe) – chaired by France, Russia, and the US – given the responsibility of mediation in the South Caucasus, has requested a ceasefire. Ankara has scorned at this. It believes the group has neglected the conflict for thirty-odd years and that it ought to call for the ousting of trespassers. Turkey’s shift in not asking for a peaceful resolution also adds to the country’s age-old denial of the Armenian cause – it has also refused to acknowledge the 1915 Armenian genocide that it carried out. Turkey has no plans to de-escalate any time soon. As the French President, Emmanuel Macron termed it, Erdogan’s approach to the issue is “reckless.” There could be dire consequences for Turkey as it’s already facing a possibility of EU-led sanctions for surpassing maritime limits in the Cypriot.

The search for a permanent solution here has been endless. The answer can never be easy – but it can only be arrived at if there’s a status quo established for the time-being until negotiations bear fruit. Turning away from diplomatic engagements and taking up arms instead would not give the desired results to either side. The transition will be slow - you cannot speed up a process that involves gradual entanglement. Along with border rearrangements, issues like the rights of minorities and refugees will also need discussion. But, when a foreign ally of those directly engaged in the conflict resolves to keep peace at bay, the entire process turns counterproductive. Vested interests cannot be allowed to play spoilsport in a path towards possible resolution.

As for the EU’s role, it should develop a more robust mechanism as a successor to the EPNK – meagre investments without actual action on the ground will not help realize objectives. It cannot continue to be a passive on-looker who issues statements once in a while. We do not need an uncontrollable war spreading on our watch.

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