Europe’s expanding interests in the South Caucasus while meddling in the relations between two former Soviet Union countries has Moscow justifiably perturbed as the new so-called “Peace Agreement” being pushed by Brussels is intended to undermine the 2020 Russia-brokered peace deal between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
As Europe’s energy crisis becomes increasingly severe with the approaching winter, the EU is ramping up its efforts to secure energy deals with Azerbaijan by concocting a superfluous peace treaty as a Trojan horse.
Brokering Peace or Securing Energy?
Europe has its eyes set on Azerbaijan’s oil and gas supplies as an alternative to Russian supplies for maintaining an uninterrupted supply of gas to meet its energy needs. Therefore, stability in the South Caucasus is the need of the hour for Europe.
Until 2020, Armenia and Azerbaijan had been locked in a frozen conflict over the Nagorno-Karabakh region for almost three decades. Both countries fought a 44-day long war during from September to November 2020, resulting in Azerbaijan liberating its territories in Nagorno-Karabakh from Armenian control. Both countries then signed a trilateral ceasefire agreement that was mediated by Russia.
After almost two years of peace, the recent European intervention in the South Caucasus is motivated more by its energy strategy rather than regional peace. Under the looming shadow of a widening energy gap, European leaders are being pushed to explore new energy hubs while compromising on many positions that Europe has traditionally taken.
Undermining the Russian Peace Deal
On August 31, Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan met in Brussels with the President of the European Council. The EC is eager to engage both states to sign a peace agreement that will aim to address, among other things, the humanitarian crisis, border issues, and connectivity issues. Most likely, a new peace deal will be signed between Azerbaijan and Armenia in Brussels.
This new deal apparently seems to be an attempt to undermine the current Russia-brokered peace deal that was been successful in maintaining peace between the two states. Thus, a fresh debate has been triggered over what is being offered in the new peace deal that was not included in the Russian-mediated peace agreement.
As the debate is likely to become louder, Europe’s move to use energy politics to counter Russia in the South Caucasus, by engaging two post-Soviet countries will become much more challenging.
Making Inroads into the Russian Backyard
Tension rose between Azerbaijan and Armenia in the first week of August 2022 as both nations traded ceasefire accusations after fresh clashes that broke out as a result of Azerbaijan’s strikes. Russia has accused Azerbaijan of violating the ceasefire agreement.
Soon after these skirmishes, the head of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen visited Azerbaijan to sign several agreements.
The Lachin Corridor and the Russia Factor
The Lachin Corridor is the bone of contention in the recent escalation between Azerbaijan and Armenia. This 3-mile-wide strip connects Armenia with Nagorno-Karabakh by land, where Russian peacekeepers have been deployed under the 2020 ceasefire agreement. Therefore, Russia holds control over an strategic location between two important countries in the South Caucasus.
Azerbaijan reportedly demanded closure of this narrow strip for landlocked Armenia.
Awaiting the Russian Response
Since February 2022, Russia has been deeply engaged in its war with Ukraine, and developments in the South Caucasus do not rank highly on the Kremlin’s priorities for now. But indeed, Russia remains a leading player in the politics of the former Soviet states. Where Russia’s red line lies in terms of Europe’s growing involvement in the South Caucasus will become clearer with the passage of time.
In any case, for Russia to accept European hegemony in this region would be very hard, especially when it means that Europeans could sneak in and pump out energy resources from its neighborhood at will.
A Fragile Peace
The situation in the South Caucasus is becoming increasingly complex and sensitive as the interests of regional players increases. With many new regional and global actors focusing their attention on this region, the political situation could become even more fragile and any kind of misadventure would lead to major confrontation in an already violate territory.