Author: Natig NAZIMOGHLU
President of the European Council Charles Michel has recently made a tour to the South Caucasus, which confirmed the ambitions of the key European body regarding one of the strategically important regions. This concerns, in particular, Michel's visits to Azerbaijan and Armenia, which took place amid the escalation of tension provoked by Yerevan in the border regions.
The first stop of Mr. Michel was Yerevan, where he confirmed Brussel’s decision to provide 2.6 billion euros as a financial assistance to Armenia. This amount is significantly different than that provided to Azerbaijan (only 150 million euros), although the EU is well aware of the difficult condition of the Azerbaijani territories liberated during the 44-day war, which have been almost ruined after 30 years of Armenian occupation. The brutal plunder and unprecedented vandalism of the Armenian aggressors on these territories left nothing there except ruins and minefields. And now Azerbaijan has to spend huge funds to restore and demine the liberated lands in order to revive life and return hundreds of thousands of residents expelled by the Armenian occupiers.
Disproportionate distribution of "aid packages" by the European Union proves that the union is by no means concerned with the large-scale reconstruction problems that Azerbaijan must solve. The EU and, in general, the West now have only one priority in South Caucasus – to isolate Armenia from Russia seizing the shock of defeat in the 44-day war and the growth of anti-Russian sentiments in the country. Moreover, the Armenian government led by Nikol Pashinyan, who openly invites the EU and NATO to the region, is trying to assist in the implementation of this task as much as possible.
After the victory of Pashinyan's "revolutionary" party Civil Contract in the early elections in Armenia, the EU subtly captured the pro-European signals emitted from Yerevan and now is encouraging the country in every possible way. So, is there any reason to be surprised at such an impressive amount that Brussels decided to transfer to Armenia as financial assistance? Certainly not. We should not be surprised at the comparatively small amount allocated to Azerbaijan ‘just for the record’ either. After all, Azerbaijan, one of the “eastern partners” of the EU, is a truly independent, self-sufficient state that has never been and will never be a bargaining chip in the geopolitical battles of global power centres. And the West, in particular the EU, is well aware that it will not be possible to turn Azerbaijan off the path of sovereign development however impressive the amount of "aid packages" are.
Unlike Armenia, which has actually lost its subjectivity in the system of international relations after the 44-day war, Azerbaijan acts as a victorious state, the undisputed leader of the South Caucasus. During his visits to these countries, Charles Michel was personally convinced of the difference between the potential of Armenia begging for salvation and Azerbaijan, which has established itself as a regional power.
While in Azerbaijan, Mr. Michel has been presented a number of promising and ongoing projects. One of them is Azerbaijan’s contribution to the so-called club of space powers as a member state and cooperation between Baku and the EU in this area. Mr. Michel visited the Main Ground Control Centre for satellites of the Azerbaijan Space Agency (Azerkosmos) and visited the teleport station hosting the antennas of the European Geostationary Navigation Service. Minister of Transport, Communications and High Technologies of Azerbaijan Rashad Nabiyev reminded him of the launch of telecommunication satellites Azerspace-1 and Azerspace-2 by the French company ArianeSpace, as well as the acquisition of the Azersky satellite from Airbus Defense and Space. Mr. Michel received an invitation to take part in the 2023 International Astronautics Congress in Baku.
It is not surprising that, assessing the partnership between Azerbaijan and the EU, Mr. Michel underlined that it was based "on the desire to work together in the areas of innovation, technological exchange and economic cooperation." This is in line with "two priorities recognised by the EU in terms of economic development – climate change and the digital revolution."
Charles Michel's visit to the city of Shamakhi, where he visited one of the oldest mosques in the world – the Juma Mosque built in 743 – aroused great public interest. In this ancient Azerbaijani city, President of the European Council took part in the presentation of the EU-funded Community-based Value Chain Enhancement in the Greater Caucasus Mountains Area (COVCHEG) project. The goal is to increase the income of local farmers. Mr. Michel also visited Shirvan Vines LLC in the village of Meyseri. It is also worth mentioning the presentations specially prepared for the President of the European Council on the potential of the Baku International Sea Trade Port, which plays an instrumental role as an important transportation hub between Europe and Asia, as well as along the Silk Road and in the Alat Free Economic Zone.
During Michel's visit to Azerbaijan, the key factor of cooperation in the energy sector was confirmed as a priority area of bilateral partnership. At a joint press conference with the head of the European Council, President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev noted major historical successes, in particular, the completion of the Southern Gas Corridor project, the Consultative Council of which was co-chaired both by Baku and the EU. Michel, in turn, expressed the interest of the EU in further efforts to expand regional cooperation – "it’s a message to all countries ready to mobilise on this issue."
Thus, as President Aliyev put it, Charles Michel's visit to Azerbaijan confirmed the close partnership between both sides. But it is particularly noteworthy that this partnership is based on the principle of equality, mainly as a result of Baku's independent foreign policy strategy.
Baku sets the agenda
Meanwhile, the EU admits that in the context of further strengthening its influence in the South Caucasus, it is willing to contribute to the revival of the Daghlig Garabagh platform as an instrument of influencing regional processes. It is no coincidence that Charles Michel stated in Yerevan about the need to resume negotiations on the ‘status’ of Daghlig Garabagh. Apparently, a pretext for the "resumption of negotiations" under the OSCE Minsk Group is Armenia's never-ending ranting about the ‘status’ of Daghlig Garabagh sent "to hell" by Azerbaijan, and saboteurs and terrorists detained in Azerbaijan ruefully presented to the world community as POWs by the patrons of Armenia. This also includes the "problem" of demarcation of the Armenian-Azerbaijani border, which the Armenians want the Western powers get involved in as well.
However, it is obvious that the EU's demand for negotiations has a pronounced geopolitical background. Brussels is dissatisfied with the realities emerged in the region after Baku's military victory, including, first of all, the fact of Russian-Turkish peacekeeping on the "Daghlig-Garabagh platform".
Nevertheless, in Baku, Charles Michel refrained from talking about such "subtle matters", primarily regarding the status of Daghlig Garabagh. It is understandable why: President Ilham Aliyev has repeatedly stated after the end of the war that the issue of status has been closed completely and irrevocably. On the eve of Michel’s visit to Azerbaijan, Mr. Aliyev once again stated: “The Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict was solved... As to the status of Daghlig Garabagh, I have already said that Azerbaijan did not have such a territorial unit. Therefore, this expression should not be used. There is no Daghlig Garabagh; there is Garabagh.”
At the meeting with Mr. Michel, Mr. Aliyev clearly outlined the essence of the post-war situation: “Azerbaijan put an end to the long-term occupation of our territories by Armenia in line with the resolutions of the UN Security Council. The conflict is over, so now is the time to think about peace. We are ready for this."
Thus, Azerbaijan makes it clear that since the occupation of Azerbaijani lands is not an issue anymore and the territorial integrity of the country has been restored, there is no reason for negotiations with Armenia on the alleged Daglig Garabagh problem. Azerbaijan is ready to start negotiations with Armenia only to sign a comprehensive peace treaty, which will reflect a number of important issues that pave the way for the establishment of bilateral interstate relations, the first of them being the mutual recognition of each other's territorial integrity.
Another message from Baku to the world community is that negotiations between Azerbaijan and Armenia, which are possible only for the purpose of concluding a peace treaty, will not be held to satisfy the interests of external power centres. During Mr. Michel's tour, this was reflected in Ilham Aliyev's proposal to the EU to take part in the development of the post-conflict region, "to lay the foundation for broad regional cooperation." President Aliyev expressed his confidence that "the EU plays and will play a very important role in this process."
Mr. Aliyev also underlined the significance of opening the all communication lines in the South Caucasus in line with the trilateral statement signed of November 10, 2020 as an extremely important factor in the post-conflict period. “We need a positive response from Armenia,” Mr. Aliyev said. He added that "after that, stability and security in the region will become a reality, and this is what we want."
Ilham Aliyev's statements were refuted by another pack of false statements by the acting Prime Minister of Armenia Pashinyan, who earlier tried to convince the President of the European Council that Baku allegedly refused to provide Yerevan with "a corridor for using the Armenia-Georgia-Azerbaijan railway." The refutation of this nonsense by Ilham Aliyev is another signal both to Yerevan and, in this case, the EU trying to patronise the Armenian side. This signal proves that the construction of the Zangezur corridor, which will link the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic with the mainland Azerbaijan is inevitable in the context of implementing one of the key elements of peace and cooperation in the post-conflict region.
Finally, it is in the interests of the EU to realise that to preserve its geopolitical positions in the South Caucasus, it should only take into account the post-war realities in the region after the ended Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict. In the course of Mr. Michel’s tour, the parties confirmed the strategic interests of the EU in the South Caucasus, in particular during Mr. Michel’s visit to Georgia. He joined there the international conference The Gravity of the European Union and the Transformation of the Region held in Batumi. On the sidelines of the conference, Mr. Michel promised an "unprecedented financial assistance" to the troika of countries – Georgia, Ukraine, and Moldova. But unlike the other countries participating in the EU-backed Eastern Partnership programme, the EU is developing a full-fledged equal cooperation, which, as Michel underlined, "is not cooperation based mainly on financial support", only with Azerbaijan, with all its consequences regarding the true prospects of the EU presence in South Caucasus.