TODAY.AZ / Politics

EU steps in to soothe wrangling: subtle notes

02 June 2022 [18:00] - TODAY.AZ

By Azernews

By Orkhan Amashov

Nine days after the Brussels-mediated meeting that took place on 22 May, the EU issued another statement, this time by Barend Leyts, Spokesperson of European Council President Charles Michel, reaffirming commitment to the Azerbaijani-Armenian peace process.

Far from being a routine written communication penned for the sake of duty-bound formality, the document issued on 31 May seems to have been designed to serve a specific purpose, which could be properly understood against the backdrop of the past week's tensions between Baku and Yerevan.

In addition to reinforcing the EU’s increasingly pivotal role, using the conciliatory tone befitting a peacemaker, it clarifies some of the points in the European Council President’s original post-meeting statement, placing a particularly subtle emphasis on some of the issues that have assumed heightened importance in the context of the internal volatility permeating Armenia.

The third trilateral meeting mediated by Charles Michel was a profoundly plausible development within the peace negotiations for myriad reasons, amongst which the most critical was reinforcing the slackened momentum, providing a sufficient degree of clarity as to the interstate normalisation agenda.

The immediate impact of the 22 May convocation was a long overdue meeting of the border commissions. To this effect, the 31 May statement refers to “the paramount importance of ensuring stability and security along the state border between Armenia and Azerbaijan, as delimitation will be pursued”.

The rest of the statement seems to be replete with subtle formulations aimed at a certain degree of perceived “inclusivity” and pervasiveness. It states that in order for a “lasting and equitable peace” to be attained “all outstanding issues at hand”, including those pertinent to discussions on the future peace treaty and those addressing the “root causes of the conflict” must be addressed. It specifies that both the factors leading to the First Karabakh War (referred to as the First Nagorno-Karabakh War) and that the renewed hostilities in 2020 are to be looked at by “all stakeholders”.

If one is tasked to consider all sound probabilities and ascertain the reasonable scope of "interpretational meaning" emanating from the language employed, it is obligatory to adopt an approach inclusive of a wide range of theoretical eventualities.

Such an observer cannot help but discern that the document in question avoids terms or nomenclatures that Baku would have found unacceptable, but there are undercurrents expressed via seemingly innocuous expressions, which on close inspection may give rise to some degree of “pervasiveness”, from which the Armenian side might taken have ill-conceived solace.

It has not been lost on an incisive observer that, with some stretching of the imagination, the point on “addressing the root causes of the original conflict” might entail the resurrection of archaic issues, and the concept of “all stakeholders” is not exactly unambiguous.

On a different note, the statement emphasises the importance of “terminology”. It is specifically mentioned that the post-meeting statement should not be interpreted as favouring a “pre-determined outcome of discussions either way” and all matters, including the “rights and security of all populations” must be addressed. This is a clear allusion to the “ethnic Armenian population of Karabakh” expression used and its implications in the context of the negotiations.

In the context of connectivity, the statement clarifies that “no extraterritorial claims with regard to future transport infrastructure” exist and “any speculation to the contrary is regrettable”. Here, the focus is undoubtedly on Baku’s “Zangazur Corridor” project, and the aim is to judiciously soothe Armenia’s sovereignty concerns.

The regime that will govern the future passage remains a point of disputation. There is no question of any territorial claim expressed by Baku in relation to the "corridor", but some of the terms propounded seem to have caused exceeding perturbation for the Armenian side.

The statement specifically refers to the need to "prepare populations for peace" and the paramount role that public rhetoric plays in this regard, welcoming the leadership demonstrated by both Baku and Yerevan.

Neil Watson, a British journalist who has written on the region extensively over the past decade, believes that the statement is “carefully worded” and “notably even-handed”, yet it enhances the key purpose of achieving the normalisation of the relations and striking a peace deal.

When it comes to the point on “placating Armenian concerns”, the view tentatively maintained by the author of this article, Watson begs to differ, and seems to be of the opinion that the pivotal thing is not to fall into the trap of over-thinking perceived subtleties and ascribing disproportionately large importance to these at the expense of far more consequential considerations.

What is clear, beyond any reasonable doubt, is that the EU’s importance has significantly increased over the past couple of months and Brussels is increasingly conscious of the criticality of cultivating an image of a trustworthy and fair honest broker.

As the statement suggests, Tovi Klaar, the EU’s Special Representative for the South Caucasus, will visit both countries soon to follow up on the progress. At this historic juncture, Brussels appears to be uniquely primed to play a historic role in helping the parties towards striking a monumental peace treaty. The crucial aspect is to ensure that the wheels are continuously in motion.


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