Neighborhood in Flames (II)

EU with no influence on the war over Nagorno-Karabakh. Cooperation with Russia hardly possible following recent decisions on sanctions.

BERLIN/BRUSSELS (Own report) - With clumsy pleas, the EU is urging Armenia and Azerbaijan to agree to a ceasefire. The hostilities over Nagorno-Karabakh must be ended immediately, was the call sent out by the EU foreign ministers at their meeting yesterday, albeit without any mention of concrete measures. According to German experts in foreign policy, Germany's lack of influence on the parties to the conflict must be compensated for through coordinated EU activities and agreements with Russia. In a similar situation earlier this year, Berlin had been able to make progress in its efforts to reach a ceasefire in Libya with Moscow's help. This option is nowhere in sight in the current case. On Franco-German insistence, EU foreign ministers agreed to impose sanctions on Russia yesterday. Experts estimate that now, Moscow will no longer "expect anything from Europe," and feels "no longer obliged to take its opinion or interests into account." The EU is unable to exert influence on Turkey, which supports Azerbaijan: Ankara is playing off Berlin and Paris against one another.

Fist Brandishing in Parliament

Already before yesterday's EU foreign ministers meeting, the German government had sought to intervene in the international mediation efforts in the Armenian-Azerbaijani war over Nagorno-Karabakh. In late September, just after the hostilities began, German Chancellor Angela Merkel made her first telephone call to Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev and Armenia's Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, urging them to agree to a ceasefire and enter into negotiations.[1] On Sunday she spoke again with Pashinyan, to advocate a cessation of hostilities.[2] Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas has repeatedly conferred with his Turkish counterpart Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu to seek solutions to the conflict. So far, no success has been achieved. The same applies to the EU's efforts to seek ways to exert influence. Last week numerous MEPs called for the immediate cessation of hostilities. Rapporteurs spoke of a "collective fist brandishing in the parliament."[3] At the end of the debate, EU Foreign Affairs Commissioner Josep Borrell reiterated that he was going to do what he can "in the diplomatic arena." His options for action, however, were limited, because the EU's heads of states and governments had just agreed to postpone the debate on imposing sanctions on Turkey to December. "We have to stick to that," Borrell said.

Influential Powers

The EU foreign ministers, likewise, were unable to make any progress on this issue at their meeting yesterday. EU Foreign Affairs Commissioner Josep Borrell expressed "concern" about the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The meeting's host, Luxemburg's Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn called for a permanent ceasefire to be reached "as soon as possible" [4] - nothing but ineffectual appeals. Currently, Russia and Turkey are the only two countries that have any real influence on Baku and Yerevan. Whereas Ankara is giving comprehensive support to its ally Azerbaijan ( reported [5]), Moscow is maintaining close relations with Armenia, which is a member of the Eurasian Economic Union and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). It has, however, also delivered arms to Azerbaijan and maintains stable relations with the country. Last Saturday, the Russian government succeeded in achieving a humanitarian ceasefire - at least temporarily. Moscow has, thus, achieved a first breakthrough in international mediation efforts, even though both sides have already violated it.

"A Treasure"

Because of foreign policy decisions the German government has taken has taken over the past few weeks and months, proposals made by experts in Berlin for overcoming the lack of options for having influence, through joint EU diplomatic efforts being led by France and Germany and also with Russia, to the extent necessary,[6] have proven futile. At the beginning of the year, agreements with Moscow allowed a certain amount of progress in a very different conflict: the preparations for the Berlin Libya Conference. During preparations for the conference, Chancellor Merkel - here also due to a lack of levers for influence - held talks with President Putin in Moscow, in an attempt to assure Russian backing for the mediation attempts in the Libyan war. In this context the Foreign Policy Spokesperson for the FDP Bundestag Group, Bijan Djir-Sarai was quoted saying "earlier" to solve conflicts, one would "usually" call Washington; "today, one calls Moscow." ( reported.[7]) In reference to Russia's support, Vice Chair of the FDP Bundestag Group Alexander Graf Lambsdorff - also a high-ranking foreign policy maker - described German-Russian relations as "a treasure." In fact, with Moscow's assistance, Berlin was able to, at least, prevent an open scandal in its mediation efforts for Libya.

No More Expectations

Today, similar agreements with Russia are no longer a prospect. This is due to the way the German government has handled the Navalny case. Dmitri Trenin, an expert at Carnegie Moscow, had warned in mid-September that the case "has become a turning point in Russo-German relations."[8] It’s unlikely, Trenin supposes, that Russian President Vladimir Putin envisaged the German government's subsequent accusations, when he gave permission for Navalny to be flown to Berlin for treatment. This was like "a stab in the back." Moscow is embarking on "a new chapter" in its relations with Berlin, and will from now on view the German government as "being controlled by the United States." The situation is accordingly becoming "both simpler and more risky:" "Russia no longer expects anything from Europe, and therefore does not feel obliged to take into account its opinion or interests." This is all the more the case, given the fact that, last week, Berlin and Paris had called for new sanctions to be imposed on Russia,[9] and that yesterday, Monday, the EU foreign ministers approved, in principle, those sanctions. This will make any form of cooperation more difficult - even in areas where Berlin could benefit. Prior to yesterday's sanctions decision, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had openly warned: "relations between Russia and the EU are rapidly degrading."[10]

Internal Dissentions

Even the option of developing a robust EU policy towards Armenia and Azerbaijan with France is unforeseeable, due to persisting differences between Berlin and Paris in their respective policies toward Turkey. Paris seeks to strengthen its influence in the eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East - for example in Lebanon - and is thereby colliding with Turkey, which is also pursuing its own expansive strategy ("neo-Ottomanism," "Blue Homeland" - reported.[11]) Berlin, on the other hand, - for geostrategic reasons and to ward off migrants - is banking on a modicum of Ankara's cooperation. At the last EU summit, Chancellor Merkel had prevented new sanctions against Turkey and subsequently reiterated, because there is an interest in "structural good relations with Turkey," it is vital that we "patch things up on substantial issues."[12] On October 6, she suggested to President Erdoğan the possibility of "a further development of EU-Turkey relations."[13] Ankara, on the other hand - far from reducing its assistance to Baku due to any eventual EU pressure - again used the dissentions between Berlin and Paris, by announcing yesterday that it was resending the research ship Oruç Reis into the waters claimed by Greece off the coast of the Greek island of Kastellorizo. This is a deception for Berlin and a provocation for Paris to renew demands for sanctions, and to stand in opposition to Germany.


[1] Merkel fordert Armenien und Aserbaidschan zu Waffenstillstand auf. 29.09.2020.

[2] Bundeskanzlerin Merkel telefoniert mit dem armenischen Ministerpräsidenten Nikol Paschinjan. 11.10.2020.

[3] Barbara Wesel: EU machtlos in Berg-Karabach. 07.10.2020.

[4] Angriffe in Bergkarabach trotz Waffenruhe, EU-Außenminister beraten. 12.10.2020.

[5] See also Kämpfe im Südkaukasus.

[6] András Rácz: War in Nagorno-Karabakh. A Two-Track Strategy for the EU. DGAP Commentary No. 30. Berlin, October 2020.

[7] See also The German-Russian Treasure.

[8] Dmitri Trenin: Russian-German Relations: Back to the Future. 16.09.2020.

[9] See also The New Strategy toward Russia.

[10] Antwort von Außenminister Lawrow auf die Frage nach EU-Russland-Beziehungen und Fall Nawalny während der Pressekonferenz mit dem dänischen Amtskollegen Kofod. 12.10.2020.

[11] See also Dispute Over Policy Towards Turkey.

[12] Merkel: Mit Türkei "in Sachpunkten zusammenraufen". 02.10.2020.

[13] Videokonferenz von Bundeskanzlerin Merkel mit dem türkischen Staatspräsidenten Erdoğan. 06.10.2020.