EU must be 'more engaged' in Nagorno-Karabakh conflict

MEP Richard Howitt says EU must become part of the Minsk process, or risk all-out war in Nagorno-Karabakh region. 

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

19 Apr 2016

The EU has been urged to become "more actively engaged" in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

Speaking in Brussels on Monday, British Socialist MEP Richard Howitt said, "If Europe wants to avoid all-out war in Nagorno-Karabakh, the EU must become part of the Minsk process.

"This is an area that is crucial for Europe and has a huge potential for growth, yet has long been regarded as a flashpoint in the heart of the South Caucasus, representing the biggest threat to security and stability in the region," he said.


Howitt, a member of the foreign affairs committee, was one of the speakers at a debate on the conflict which has witnessed a recent eruption in violence with the loss of scores of lives.

Earlier this month, fighting between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the mountainous enclave of Nagorno Karabakh left more than 100 dead and plunged a two-decade-old multinational peace process into crisis.

Nagorno-Karabakh - a mountainous region roughly the size of Luxembourg - lies within the borders of Azerbaijan but is populated by ethnic Armenians. 

The conflict began in the dying days of the Soviet Union, and expanded into a bloody war that left more than 20,000 dead and one million displaced. The region has run its own affairs with support from Armenia since a ceasefire in 1994.

Moscow's recent diplomacy to defuse tensions has overshadowed the work of the OSCE Minsk group. This is a multilateral body, co-chaired by the US, France and Russia, that since 1994 has been working to find a peaceful solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

Nagorno-Karabakh, located at the seam of Europe, Russia, Iran and Turkey, has the potential to destabilise the entire Caucasus region. This was what attendees of a debate organised by the European policy centre (EPC) were told.

The EU has tried to forge closer ties with former Soviet states in the region, which is also strategically vital to the bloc as an energy supplier. The main oil pipeline from Azerbaijan to Turkey at one point runs less than 30 miles from Nagorno-Karabakh.

Howitt said, "The South Caucus is a crucial region for Europe and has a huge potential for growth.

"Therefore we must put EU political capital into these negotiations and show there is the political will for sustained peace talks."

Further contribution came from Dennis Sammut, of the EPC, who questioned whether the political will exists within the EU to help resolve the conflict.

He said, "The problem here is that while the EU says it supports the efforts of the Minsk Group some member states are just not interested in the conflict.

"What is needed is for the EU to intensify its role not just in Nagorno-Karabakh but in the Caucasus."

He added, "The EU cannot continue avoiding becoming directly involved in the process of resolving the conflict."

His comments were partly echoed by Neil Melvin, head of conflict, violence and peacebuilding in the Caucasus Project at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, who said he was "surprised" by the "lack of an EU response" to the recent renewed hostilities between the two sides.

Melvin said, "This is a very serious military confrontation and what we have seen is the worst violence in Nagorno-Karabakh for over two decades."

He pointed out that Russia had provided arms worth millions worth of euros to Azerbaijan which had been recently used against the armed forces of Armenia, whose regime is backed by Moscow.

Russian arm sales had helped "fuel" the conflict and one solution, he said, would be an arms embargo on the whole region.

Jacques Faure, the former French diplomat, defended the work of the Minsk group, which he used to co-chair, against accusations that it was merely a "bureaucratic" exercise.

He also pointed out that "very modern" warfare, including drones, had been deployed during the recent outbreak in hostilities.


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