After the EU ramped up its engagement with conflict settlement in Georgia in 2008, it took well over 12 years before it became similarly engaged between Armenia and Azerbaijan. For decades, the EU formally deferred the settlement of the protracted Nagorno-Karabakh conflict to the three main mediators of the OSCE Minsk Group, co-chaired by the United States, the Russian Federation and France.[76] This is not to say that the EU was completely absent; successive EU Special Representatives (EUSRs) to the South Caucasus covered the conflict resolution process as part of their mandate and the EU supported conflict resolution efforts for many years through peace-building projects and various dialogue initiatives.[77] But it was not until the Second Karabakh War in 2020 and the subsequent hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan that the EU stepped in at a high political level to facilitate direct talks between Baku and Yerevan, with a view to negotiating a comprehensive peace agreement between both countries. The EU has therefore inserted itself in an extremely complex and rapidly changing conflict with a long and contentious history. It also does so in direct competition with the Russian Federation, which has put forward its own plan for the resolution of the conflict and is trying to retain and strengthen its grip both on a deeply disillusioned Armenia and on an increasingly assertive Azerbaijan. This chapter will briefly describe the changing dynamics of the conflict and Armenia’s deteriorating relationship with Russia. It will then assess the main opportunities and challenges facing the EU both in its role as a mediator and as a geopolitical alternative that would allow Armenia to reduce its dependence on Moscow and to determine its own democratic future.

The changed dynamics of the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan

For decades, the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan appeared to be a textbook ‘protracted conflict’, with a diplomatic solution to the conflict continuously out of reach.[78] Armenia, which had not only successfully defended the ethnic Armenians of the former Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast in their attempts to secede from Azerbaijan in the First Karabakh War from 1988-1994 but also occupied seven districts around it as a ‘buffer zone’, kept dragging its feet. Successive Armenian political leaders, most of whom hailed from Nagorno-Karabakh themselves, became entrenched in an uncompromising policy of staunch support for ‘Artsakh’ that was founded on two premises. The first, the ‘myth of invincibility’, was based on the assumption that the self-defence forces of Nagorno-Karabakh and the Armenian military would be able to defend successfully against any Azerbaijani attempt to settle the conflict by force. The second, the ‘myth of Russian support’, assumed that Russia as Armenia’s security provider and ally within the CSTO would come to its defence if the conflict would indeed escalate.[79] Both assumptions proved to be wrong.

Azerbaijan, in turn, had for years invested heavily in building the capacity of its military, using the windfall from its burgeoning oil exports to purchase advanced armaments, particularly from Israel and Turkey (see figure 10). While Armenia also invested a significant percentage of its GDP in military expenditure[80], the growing GDP of Azerbaijan nonetheless has given it a considerable edge that is only set to increase. The hike in oil and gas prices in 2022 more than doubled Azerbaijan’s revenue from energy exports in comparison to 2021, which only further disbalanced an already lopsided difference in military expenditure between Armenia and Azerbaijan (see figures 15-16).

Figures 15-16
Azerbaijani and Armenian military expenditure in Current US Dollars and as part of GDP
Azerbaijani and Armenian military expenditure in Current US Dollars and as part of GDP

Source: SIPRI Military Expenditure Database

The Azerbaijani President, Ilham Aliyev, eager to reverse the defeat inflicted upon his father Heydar, grew increasingly impatient with slow and fruitless negotiations. Parallel to the official diplomatic track he pursued a more hard-line course of ‘coercive diplomacy’ aimed at strengthening Azerbaijan’s negotiation position and, if necessary, resolving the conflict by military means. As an ominous warning of what was to come, in April 2016 an Azerbaijani military build-up was followed by a short but intense round of fighting around Nagorno-Karabakh. Despite sizable losses and limited territorial gains, Azerbaijan managed to capture a few strategically significant locations and was able to test the response of Armenia, the Russian Federation and the broader international community. Analysts such as Tom de Waal later noted that this round of fighting was not likely to be the last, as it only reinforced both sides’ maximalist positions and strengthened the polarizing dynamic of the security dilemma.[81]

The rise to power of Nikol Pashinyan, the first Prime Minister of Armenia without roots in Nagorno-Karabakh itself, at first appeared to offer a window of opportunity for a diplomatic settlement.[82] Direct talks between Pashinyan and Aliyev and a joint statement by both countries in January 2019 within the context of the OSCE Minsk Group about the need to ‘prepare populations for peace’ gave rise to hope that this long-standing dispute could finally be resolved.[83] These hopes were dashed when Pashinyan went to a rally in Stepanakert in 2019 and called for ‘miacum’ (unification), saying that “Artsakh is Armenia, and that’s it”.[84] In July 2020, President Aliyev sharply criticised both the Armenian Government and the international mediators, denounced the official OSCE-led process as ‘meaningless’ and openly hinted at a new conflict.[85] This open conflict followed soon afterwards; in July there were already brief clashes around Nagorno-Karabakh, and in September Azerbaijan launched a large-scale offensive that later became known as the ‘44-day war’ or the Second Karabakh War. Within the spate of barely 1½ months, Azerbaijan managed to inflict a staggering defeat on the Armenian military and the Nagorno-Karabakh self-defence forces that dispelled both of the aforementioned Armenian myths in one go.

Russia inserted itself very late in the conflict, after Azerbaijan had already captured the strategically and symbolically significant city of Shusha, but then wholly seized the initiative – at the expense of the other Minsk Group co-chairs, the EU and Turkey, which did not play as much of a role as they would have liked. Putin personally negotiated a trilateral ceasefire on 9 November 2020 that consolidated Azerbaijani gains in Nagorno-Karabakh itself and additionally obliged Armenia to withdraw from the seven districts it had occupied since 1994. Armenia also undertook to construct and provide security for transport connections between Azerbaijan and its exclave of Nakhchivan that Azerbaijan later began to refer to as the ‘Zangezur Corridor’.[86] Russia, in turn, undertook to guarantee the security of the Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh and the Lachin Corridor connecting it to Armenia by deploying 1,960 peacekeepers for a period of five years. Russian FSB border guards would be responsible for the oversight of the transport connection to Nakhchivan.

As is often the case with ceasefire agreements brokered by Russia, the implementation of the trilateral agreement was sketchy at best. Armenia complied with its obligations to withdraw troops from the remaining occupied regions around Nagorno-Karabakh, but skirmishes continued, resulting in dozens of deaths that the Russian peacekeepers were unable or unwilling to prevent. Azerbaijan quickly began making preparations for opening the transport corridor to Nakhchivan, but the sides could not agree on the exact location or the modalities of the road and rail connection through Armenian territory. Baku’s impatience with what it considered Armenia’s slow implementation of the concessions that the Azerbaijani military had imposed on the battlefield only increased. In 2022, while the world was distracted by Russia’s unprecedented aggression against Ukraine, Azerbaijan once again began leveraging its military advantage. In several rounds of fighting throughout 2022 the Azerbaijani military captured more strategic heights around Nagorno-Karabakh. In September the fighting escalated to an all-out interstate conflict when Azerbaijan shelled and invaded sovereign Armenian territory, occupying an estimated 140 square kilometres in central and southern Armenia – including near Jermuk.[87] President Aliyev also further escalated his bellicose rhetoric, leaving little doubt that Azerbaijan would resort to the use of force once again if Armenia would not ‘bend its neck’.[88]

The September attacks led to a marked change in the dynamics of the conflict. While Azerbaijan previously focused primarily on regaining territory in and around Nagorno-Karabakh that was internationally acknowledged as its own; it had now proceeded to attack and occupy territory in Armenia proper. This prompted Yerevan to formally request assistance from the CSTO to restore its territorial integrity. The fairly tepid response that followed – a fact-finding mission without consequences – further disillusioned Armenia. It was sharply criticised by Pashinyan and discussions began in Yerevan about Armenia’s possible withdrawal from the CSTO. Armenia is now imminently concerned about its own territorial integrity, fearing that Azerbaijani troops could cut off its vulnerable southern region altogether.[89] These fears were aggravated when a nationalist Azerbaijani MP openly began speculating about creating a ‘Goycha-Zangezur Republic’, which would effectively occupy nearly half of Armenia. Although attempts to create this republic were quickly suppressed by Baku[90], Aliyev’s statements sometimes hint at more territorial ambitions towards Armenia.[91]

Map 3
The Lachin Corridor and southern Armenia

Source: RFE/RL, U.S. Voices Concern After Military Movements Near Armenia-Azerbaijan Border, May 18, 2021.

© 2023 Clingendael Institute – edited by Textcetera, The Hague

Baku’s coercion did not end with the September attacks. On 12 December 2022 Azerbaijani activists began blocking the Lachin Corridor connecting Stepanakert to Armenia, allegedly for environmental reasons but clearly with support from the authorities. Aliyev denied imposing a blockade but called the activists ‘our pride’, described their demands as ‘legitimate’ and hinted that the protests could continue for a ‘long time’.[92] The corridor indeed remains blocked as of the time of writing this report, creating a humanitarian catastrophe in Nagorno-Karabakh as food, medicines and energy supplies are disrupted. Western Governments and international human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have sharply denounced the blockade.[93] Also, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague ruled on 22 February 2023 that Azerbaijan is to “take all measures at its disposal to ensure unimpeded movement of persons, vehicles and cargo along the Lachin Corridor in both directions”.[94] For Armenia, Russia’s inability or unwillingness to guarantee the functioning and security of the Lachin Corridor stands as a stark reminder of how little it can rely on Russia for both political support and the provision of security for the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh.

The EU’s and Russia’s competition over mediator status

Since 2020, Armenia’s growing disappointment with the Russian Federation as a mediator and security guarantor combined with Azerbaijan’s desire to abandon the static Minsk Group has opened opportunities for the EU to become more actively and directly involved. In line with its new geopolitical ambitions the EU was eager to do so – even if it struggled to cope with managing the parallel realities of a diplomatic and a military track while competing more and more with Moscow (see figure 17).[95]

Figure 17
Timeline of major developments in the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict, both on the ground and in diplomatic negotiations
Timeline of major developments in the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict, both on the ground and in diplomatic negotiations

Throughout 2021 high-level EU officials began visiting Yerevan and Baku, culminating in an agreement to restore a Cold War-style “hotline” direct military communication link between both countries brokered by EU Council President Charles Michel in November, followed by a summit between Aliyev and Pashinyan hosted in Brussels in December 2021. Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine both the pace of the mediation efforts and the competition between Moscow and Brussels intensified, as the Kremlin became increasingly jealous of the EU’s involvement. While Russia was originally relatively content to allow the EU some leeway of its own as long as it retained its overall grip on Armenia, throughout 2022 the competition between both mediators has become a zero-sum game. The EU initially appeared to have the upper hand, hosting several high-level meetings and preparing a peace deal that would normalise relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan and that was meant to be signed before the end of 2022.[96] Russia in effect put forward its own competing peace plan, in particular trying to leverage Nagorno-Karabakh as a means to keep Yerevan on board. This was not particularly successful, and in January 2023, the Russian Foreign Ministry even went as far as to blame Yerevan for abandoning the Russian-led peace talks.[97]

Pashinyan, frustrated with Moscow’s lack of support, continued to ostensibly defer to Russia as the guarantor of Nagorno-Karabakh but preferred to work with Brussels to secure a broader bilateral peace deal with Azerbaijan. To strengthen his negotiation position he tried to bring in France, Armenia’s staunchest supporter within the EU and one of the three co-Chairs of the Minsk Group. Upon Pashinyan’s insistence French President Macron joined both presidents and Charles Michel at the meeting in the margins of the meeting of the newly established European Political Community (EPC) in Prague in October 2022. This meeting succeeded in securing an agreement on an EU Monitoring Capacity in Armenia (EUMCAP), which was a major breakthrough for the EU that will be discussed further below. President Aliyev nonetheless remained deeply critical about the French involvement, which he considered a major obstacle to the EU’s impartiality.[98] This perception was aggravated when the French Senate, which is traditionally very pro-Armenian, passed another resolution in November 2022 with an overwhelming majority that called for the recognition of Nagorno-Karabakh, sanctions against Azerbaijan and the strengthening of Armenia’s defence capacities.[99] Together with the Azerbaijani blockade of Lachin this brought to an end the EU’s hopes to secure a peace deal before the end of 2022. EUMCAP, which had borrowed monitors from the EU’s Monitoring Mission in Georgia, closed in December without a direct agreement on a follow-up mission, although work continued behind the scenes and on 23 January the EU decided to deploy the civilian ‘EU Mission in Armenia’ (EUMA) with a broader mandate.[100] In 2023 the EU now faces four key sticking points in its mediation efforts and relations vis-à-vis Russia, each of which will be briefly discussed below.

Four points of contention

The first and most complex sticking point is the future of the ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh. The estimated 80,000-120,000 Armenians that remain are trapped in a nearly indefensible enclave that can be cut off by Azerbaijan from Armenia at any point – as the Lachin blockade of December painfully shows. Unlike Russia, the EU has formally shied away from including the status of Nagorno-Karabakh in its peace plan, deferring to Baku’s insistence that this issue has been resolved on the battlefield and is now solely an internal matter for Azerbaijan. The EU expects Azerbaijan to resolve this matter in a direct dialogue with representatives of the ethnic Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh, while remaining vague on who these representatives should be, what kind of rights the ethnic Armenians should be provided with and how these rights are to be guaranteed. Russia, instead, is playing for time and has put forward suggestions to delay a decision on the status of Nagorno-Karabakh ‘for future generations’ and to extend the mandate of its peacekeepers. While Russia’s offer would not actually resolve the problem, it is clearly more attractive for Pashinyan, who threw his support behind it ‘for 100%’ at the meeting mediated by Putin in Sochi on 31 October.[101] It was promptly rejected by Aliyev but continues to be advocated by Moscow as the only solution that would allow ethnic Armenians to remain in Nagorno-Karabakh.

For now, it appears that Pashinyan is keen to ‘hand over’ the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh to Russia or to engage in direct dialogue between the Karabakh Armenians and Baku, giving him a face-saving way out of a tragic conundrum where Armenia has no good options left.[102] Leaving the thorny issue of Nagorno-Karabakh for Russia to resolve might at first glance appear to be in the EU’s short-term interest, as it would remove one sticking point from the agenda of the EU-brokered peace deal. It nonetheless calls into question how the human rights of the vulnerable population of ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh are to be protected, especially if Baku indeed blocks any extension to the peacekeeping mission in 2025. Without any form of international human rights and security guarantees it is highly likely that the region would become depopulated. The legacies of decades of conflict and mutual hate speech and dehumanization, as well as Baku’s negative track record in protecting the rights of other national minorities in Azerbaijan[103], have given most ethnic Armenians valid reasons not to want to live under Azerbaijani rule.

The EU therefore faces a stark choice of whether or not to accept such a scenario, which directly contradicts its normative aims of promoting human rights and stability in the region. The alternative would be to reintroduce the status issue into the peace negotiations and to further internationalise the minority rights of the Karabakh Armenians. The EU could do so by ramping up pressure on Baku to offer a meaningful and credible set of provisions that would safeguard their identity and a degree of self-governance. This would undoubtedly be resented by Azerbaijan, which gives Brussels a fairly narrow tightrope to walk – especially in light of its broader strategic interests in securing oil and gas supplies from the Caspian and connectivity through the Middle Corridor. So far Brussels appears to have ‘chosen not to choose’, but the longer it waits, the more urgent the situation becomes.

The second point is the establishment of a transport connection between Azerbaijan and its exclave Nakhchivan. While Russia would de facto control the flows of transport along this route, the EU also has an interest therein ,as it would open up more transit links from the Caspian to Europe. Although the EU has so far denied being approached to fund projects linked to the ‘Zangezur Corridor’[104], it would have a role to play in this regard within the broader context of its support to connectivity in the broader South Caucasus. It would, however, create a complicated situation if the EU were to invest in transport links that are supervised by Russian FSB border guards. The situation is further complicated by Azerbaijani attempts to equate what it calls the ‘Zangezur Corridor’ with the Lachin Corridor, compounding Armenian fears that Azerbaijan wants to add an extraterritorial dimension to the connection that would compromise Armenia’s territorial integrity. Even though the transport connection is part of the Russian-brokered agreement, the EU should therefore still have a strategy on how to implement it within the context of its own peace deal.

The third point is the demarcation of the Armenian-Azerbaijani state border itself. Since 1991 both countries have disagreed on which maps to use and Armenia’s occupation of the seven districts around Nagorno-Karabakh made a resolution impossible. Now that Azerbaijan has regained control over these territories, the dispute over where the border lies exactly continues to pose risks for renewed escalation. Russia, which holds all historical maps in its Soviet-era archive, presents itself as the facilitator that is best suited to resolve this. It hosted a meeting in November 2021 that largely remained without results. The EU lacks these maps but instead has extensive technical expertise with border demarcation and has also facilitated several meetings between officials from both sides. The EU’s role here is modest at best, as Azerbaijan prefers to resolve it in a strictly bilateral format and sometimes even asks EU officials to leave the room. It nonetheless creates further opportunities for EU engagement, especially when paired with the deployment of an international mission.

A key concern remains the fact that Azerbaijani troops are currently occupying land inside Armenian territory, a violation that is defended by Azerbaijan – and tacitly condoned by some EU officials – with the argument that the border has not yet been demarcated. If it is to achieve a sustainable peace deal, the EU should pair its engagement in border demarcation with a clear vision of how it intends to convince Baku to withdraw its troops from Armenia’s sovereign territory without further military clashes.

This makes the final point of crucial importance: for any peace deal to be effective, it should include an international observer mission that would oversee its implementation. There are theoretically four options that could be considered: the CSTO, the OSCE, the United Nations or the EU. Armenia clearly no longer trusts the CSTO and would be reluctant to invite more Russian troops to its territory. France and the US initially mooted the idea of an OSCE mission, but Azerbaijan – with Turkish support – has made it abundantly clear that it would no longer accept any OSCE presence and even went as far as to block the 2023 Unified Budget as retaliation for an assessment mission sent in October.[105] Some speculation about a potential UN peacekeeping mission, including for the Lachin Corridor, was quickly dismissed by Russia as ‘hardly realistic’.[106] It is unlikely that the UN Security Council, deadlocked as it is over Ukraine, could agree to mandate an international peacekeeping mission that could count on the support of all UNSC members as well as Armenia and Azerbaijan.

This international diplomatic deadlock left the EU as the fourth and most suitable partner to step in, exactly as it did with its EU Monitoring Mission in Georgia in 2008. Such missions are of crucial importance both to deter further military escalation and to provide the EU with primary and credible information from the ground that it can use for its mediation efforts. If mandated to do so they can also play a role as local mediators, defusing tensions on the ground through platforms such as the Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism (IPRM) in Georgia. Following the quadrilateral meeting in Prague in October 2022, the EU swiftly moved to relocate 40 monitors of the EUMM from Georgia to Armenia to patrol a roughly 250-km section of the Armenian border for a period of two months. And exactly as with Georgia, where the EUMM never gained access to Russian-controlled Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the mission ended up being confined to only patrolling the territory of the ‘losing side’, due to Azerbaijan’s refusal to allow the mission on its side of its own territory.

While Azerbaijan officially has no way to veto an EU CSDP mission on Armenian territory, its tacit consent is in practice still required for several reasons. If Baku objects too actively it could jeopardize the impartiality the EU needs for its mediation efforts and could even compromise the safety of the monitors themselves. Azerbaijan could even work directly with EU member states that are sympathetic to its cause in order to block consensus within the European Council. The fact that the EU nonetheless managed to decide on a new mission to Armenia on 23 January 2023 is a major feat, although it remains to be seen to what extent Azerbaijan will cooperate with it and how this will impact the peace negotiations throughout 2023. Russia, in turn, responded negatively to the EU’s deployment and Pashinyan’s subsequent supportive remarks, noting that Baku had a critical attitude towards it and that “it is obvious that the goal of Brussels is to change the security system formed in the region.”[107] This raises a new question that the EU should consider in light of its fourth objective: how to respond to and possibly capitalise on the deteriorating Russian-Armenian relationship to increase its own influence in the region.

What the EU can – and can’t – do to reduce Russian influence in Armenia

As a result of Russia’s lack of support in its struggle against Azerbaijan, Armenia has become deeply disillusioned with Russia as a security partner. This has sharply intensified a pre-existing trend of a gradual ‘drifting apart’ of Russia and Armenia that was already ongoing since the last decade and further increased following Pashinyan’s rise to power through a popular revolution in 2018. Unlike in Belarus, the Kremlin did not actively obstruct this democratic change. It felt comfortable that it had enough leverage over any Armenian Government to keep it firmly under control – as it did in 2013, when it forced Armenia to abandon its plans for an Association Agreement with the EU in favour of membership of the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union. Russia has nonetheless been wary of Pashinyan’s efforts to democratise Armenia and to reach out to Brussels, Paris and Washington. Both the EU and Armenia are making active use of the provisions of the Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement (CEPA), the ‘light’ version of the Association Agreement that was signed in 2017 and upon full ratification by all parties it entered into force on 1 March 2021.[108]

The Kremlin, which in its great-power logic has always been much more paranoid about encroachment by the US than by the EU, became acutely worried about Armenia’s allegiances when Nancy Pelosi visited Yerevan on 19 September 2022, just days after Azerbaijan’s incursions. Although Pelosi’s visit was pre-planned, the coincidental timing and high level of the visit together with Pelosi’s strong condemnation of the Azerbaijani attacks and her rhetoric about the ‘battle between democracy and autocracy’ in the context of the war in Ukraine made it highly symbolic. Pelosi’s visit energized the increasingly anti-Russian sentiment in Armenia and sparked anti-Putin and anti-CSTO rallies.[109]

Armenian hopes that the US or even the EU could replace Russia as a security provider were short-lived and perhaps never realistic to begin with. Tentative Armenian attempts to source weapons from Western governments largely failed, as Western countries were preoccupied with their support for Ukraine, reluctant to alienate Azerbaijan and wary of providing military support to a country that formally remained an ally of the Russian Federation. Armenia is therefore caught in a conundrum: in the current zero-sum geopolitical climate it cannot obtain new security guarantees from Western actors without abandoning its current security guarantees from Russia. Despite their antipathy towards the CSTO, many Armenians are concerned that leaving it would turn Moscow from a reluctant and unreliable security provider into an imminent security threat, as it could spur on Baku to launch new offensives. This has changed the Armenian-Russian relationship from an uneven but nonetheless mutually beneficial partnership to a coercive straitjacket.[110] Others have argued that Russia has moved from ‘complacency to resolute confrontation’.[111] Pashinyan summed this up when he noted on 10 January 2023 that “Russia’s military presence in Armenia not only does not guarantee Armenia’s security but, on the contrary, creates threats to Armenia’s security.”[112]

Weakened and discredited as it might be, Russia could indeed still play a destructive role in Armenia, either directly or indirectly. Russia has a sizable military presence of approximately 4,000 troops in Armenia at the 102nd Military Base in Gyumri, which expanded its geographical reach to southern Armenia in 2021. Russia’s border guards directorate controls two of the four external borders of Armenia (those with Iran and Turkey) and will supervise the connection to Nakhchivan once it becomes operational. Armenia’s air defence is entirely integrated with Russia. Without its military partnership with Russia, Armenia would in effect not be able to safeguard neither its external borders nor its airspace. There is preciously little the EU can do in the short term to change this.

In addition to its preponderant security presence, Russia has increased its grip over the Armenian economy and key infrastructure such as railways through strategic investments over several decades to create what has been dubbed a ‘multi-sectoral dependency’.[113] Russia has also occasionally leveraged its sizable Armenian diaspora and Armenia’s dependency on labour migration and remittances from Russia.[114] But most importantly, Russia controls a large part of Armenia’s energy infrastructure and supply. Russia is the provider of approximately 85% of Armenia’s natural gas and Gazprom owns the gas distribution network. Since 2019 Russia has provided gas at a preferential price of $165 per m3 and agreed in November 2022 to continue doing so until 2033 – in exchange for $350m compensation that further binds Armenia to Gazprom for the next decade.[115] Although Armenia trades gas and electricity with Iran as part of an energy swap deal and recently pledged to double the volume, the Russian-owned transport infrastructure with Iran has insufficient capacity to fully replace Armenia’s reliance on Russian gas. Armenia’s sole and ageing nuclear power plant, the ANPP that produces approximately 30-40% of Armenia’s electricity needs, was built and is maintained and supplied by Russia. The International Energy Agency (IEA) noted in 2022 that Armenia ‘effectively relies on fuel imports from one country to produce nearly 70% of its electricity, raising concerns about the diversity of supply.’[116] Just like with security, this profound dependency on Russian energy is not something the EU can remedy quickly in the near term, although it can assist Armenia both with promoting energy efficiency and with its transition away from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

This leaves the third and last issue area traditionally dominated by Russia: Armenian politics and media. This should not be overstated: for the last decade Russian ‘soft power’ in Armenia has been ‘neither powerful, nor soft’, as many Armenians have felt that Russia has taken them for granted.[117] Whatever soft power Russia has left has been eroded further by its failure to support Armenia. This is not to say that Russia has no levers left: although Russian-language media consumption is relatively low, the country nonetheless remains vulnerable to Russian narratives that are propagated through Armenian-language media. Russian commentators of Armenian descent actively interfere in the country’s domestic politics, so far with relatively little success; some have even been banned from entering the country. But Armenia’s transition to democracy has been described by Canadian experts as “fragile, reversible and still far too insufficient to align the country with established democracies’ standards”, as the country is under intense pressure.[118] Armenia’s politics continue to be highly polarised, there is a legacy of widespread corruption and opposition forces are keen to undermine Pashinyan’s democratic reforms. Perhaps the most significant contribution the EU could make to reduce Armenia’s dependency on Russia would be to increase the resilience of Armenia’s democracy and governance.

The then Conference for Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE) requested the Chairman-in-Office to convene a conference in Minsk to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The conference never took place, but at the Budapest Summit in 1994 the United States, the Russian Federation and France jointly gained a formal mandate as the “Co-Chairmen of the Conference on Nagorno-Karabakh under the Auspices of the OSCE (“Minsk Conference”)”, as set out in OSCE Document 525/95, issued in Vienna on 23 March 1995.
This chapter will focus predominantly on official track-1 negotiations and the EU field mission, while it should be noted that the EU has also invested substantially in track-2 support to civil society over the last decade. EU support for peace building has been extensively documented in recent research. See for example Conciliation Resources, ‘European Union support to the Armenian-Azerbaijani peace process’, CR Discussion Paper, January 2023, as well as LINKS Europe, ‘The South Caucasus from war to peace: 30 measures between now and 2030 ’, Report of the Joint Armenian-Azerbaijani Liaison Group on confidence-building measures in support of lasting peace in the South Caucasus, April 2022.
This report does not aim to offer a comprehensive account of the long and complex history of the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. For a good overview, see Laurence Broers, Armenia and Azerbaijan: Anatomy of a Rivalry (Edinburgh University Press, 2019) and Thomas de Waal, Black Garden: Armenia and Azerbaijan through Peace and War, 10 th anniversary edition (New York University Press, 2013).
Clingendael interviews, Yerevan, November 2022.
Both countries consistently score highly in the Global Militarization Index, with Armenia ranking second in the world in 2020 and fifth in 2021 while Azerbaijan rose to the third-highest position in 2021. In 2020 Armenia invested 4.9% of its GDP in defence against 5.4% for Azerbaijan. For more details see Markus Bayer, Global Militarization Index 2021, Bonn International Center for Conflict Studies (BICC), December 2021, pp 7-8.
Thomas de Waal, ‘Prisoners of the Caucasus: resolving the Karabakh Security Dilemma ’, Carnegie Europe, June 2016.
For a good overview of Pashinyan’s evolving position on Nagorno-Karabakh as opposition MP and Prime Minister, see Eduard Abrahamyan, ‘ Pashinyan Stiffens Armenia’s Posture towards Karabakh ’, Eurasia Daily Monitor (vol. 15 issue 72, May 2018).
Press Statement by the Co-Chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group, 16 January 2019. Among others, the statement includes the sentence that “The Ministers discussed a wide range of issues related to the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and agreed upon the necessity of taking concrete measures to prepare the populations for peace.”
Joshua Kucera, ‘Pashinyan calls for unification between Armenia and Karabakh’, EurasiaNet, August 6, 2019.
‘Zangezur’ is a historical name used by Azerbaijan for the region that is now southern Armenia.
International Crisis Group, “Averting a New War between Armenia and Azerbaijan,” Crisis Group Europe Report no. 266, 30 January 2023, 9.
Website of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, ‘Speech by Ilham Aliyev at the event organized on the occasion of Victory Day in Shusha’, November 8, 2022.
Clingendael interviews, Yerevan, November 2022.
See for example the speech by Aliyev at the building of the ‘West Azerbaijan Community’, 24 December 2022, in which he reiterated that ‘present-day Armenia is our land’ and demanded a return of Azerbaijani refugees to Armenia.
Ismi Aghayev, “Aliyev denies that Nagorno-Karabakh is under blockade”, OC-media, January 11, 2023.
For a good overview of both tracks, see International Crisis Group, ‘Averting a New War between Armenia and Azerbaijan ’, Crisis Group Europe Report no. 266, 30 January 2023.
See for example Mikael Zolyan, ‘How the West Managed to Sideline Russia in Mediating the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict’, Carnegie Politika, 9 November 2022.
Clingendael interviews, Baku, November 2022.
Motion No. 3 in the French Senatevisant à appliquer des sanctions à l’encontre de l’Azerbaïdjan et exiger son retrait immédiat du territoire arménien, à faire respecter l’accord de cessez-le-feu du 9 novembre 2020, et favoriser toute initiative visant à établir une paix durable entre les deux pays”, registered 3 October 2022 and voted on 15 November 2022, adopted by 295 votes to 1.
Council Decision (CFSP) 2023/162 of 23 January 2023 on a European Union mission in Armenia (EUMA), ST/16342/2022/INIT, available on link. The Mission’s ‘strategic objective shall be to contribute to decreasing the number of incidents in conflict-affected and border areas in Armenia, to reduce the level of risks for the population living in such areas and thereby to contribute to the normalisation of relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan on the ground.’
Ruzanna Stepanian, “Pashinian Reaffirms Support For Russian Plan On Karabakh,” azatutyun, November 2, 2022.
Clingendael interviews, Yerevan, November 2022.
See for example the Fourth Opinion of the Advisory Committee of the Framework Convention on the Protection of National Minorities (4 February 2019), which states that “the general restrictions on democracy, human rights and the rule of law in the country create an adverse effect on civil society, including for persons belonging to national minorities wishing to set up non-governmental organisations to represent their interests in the public sphere. Persons belonging to national minorities expressing critical views with regard to the authorities experience intimidation, arrest and some even imprisonment.”
Answer given by High Representative/Vice-President Borrell on behalf of the European Commission to a question by Lars Patrick Berg, E-002245/2021, 26 July 2021.
International Crisis Group, “Averting a New War between Armenia and Azerbaijan,” Crisis Group Europe Report no. 266, 30 January 2023, 12-17.
Zakharova considers Pashinyan’s comment not successful,” Media Max, February 10, 2023.
‘Comprehensive and enhanced Partnership Agreement between the European Union and the European Atomic Energy Community and their Member States, of the one part, and the Republic of Armenia, of the other part’, Document 22018A0126(01), accessible on link.
Gabriel Gavin, “Pelosi’s visit fires debate in Armenia over alliance with Russia ,” Politico, February 19, 2022.
Armenia’s 2020 National Security Strategy, adopted in July 2020, had considerably less references to Russia than the previous strategy from 2007, but still noted that “Armenia’s foreign policy priorities include deepening and expanding its strategic alliance with the Russian Federation in the spheres of politics, trade and economy, defense, security, culture, and humanitarian assistance based on the historical friendship between the two nations.”
Richard Giragosian, ‘Assessing Russian power and influence in Armenia’, Free Russia, 6 April 2022.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, “press conference at the Government,” January 10, 2023.
Marie Lorgeaux, ‘Armenia: What Degree of Dependency on Russia?’, Regard Sur l’Est, 17 January 2022.
Hranoush Dermoyan, ‘American and Russian Soft Power in Armenia’, EVN Report, 30 November 2022.
Robert Zargarian, ‘Russia to keep gas price low for Armenia’, (RFE/RL), 25 November 2022.
International Energy Agency, Armenia Energy Policy Review 2022, p. 12.
Richard Giragosian, “Soft Power in Armenia: Neither Soft nor Powerful,” ECFR Wider Europe, 12 August 2015.
Report provided to the Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs by special envoy Stéphane Dion, Supporting Armenian Democracy, April 6, 2022.