La résolution des conflits dans le sud Caucase: Le rôle de l’UE
La résolution des conflits dans le sud Caucase: Le rôle de l’UE
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Rare Summit Meeting on Nagorno-Karabakh Peace
Rare Summit Meeting on Nagorno-Karabakh Peace
Report 173 / Europe & Central Asia

La résolution des conflits dans le sud Caucase: Le rôle de l’UE

L’instabilité qui frappe le Sud Caucase est une menace pour la sécurité de l’Union européenne (UE). Étant donné sa proximité géographique, ses ressources énergétiques, le tracé des pipelines et les défis que posent le trafic et le crime international à partir de cette région, il est dans l’intérêt de l’UE d’en assurer la stabilité. Les conflits non résolus qui affectent le Haut-Karabagh, l’Abkhazie et l’Ossétie du Sud pourraient évoluer en des guerres ouvertes dans le voisinage de l’Europe.

Synthèse

L’instabilité qui frappe le Sud Caucase est une menace pour la sécurité de l’Union européenne (UE). Étant donné sa proximité géographique, ses ressources énergétiques, le tracé des pipelines et les défis que posent le trafic et le crime international à partir de cette région, il est dans l’intérêt de l’UE d’en assurer la stabilité. Les conflits non résolus qui affectent le Haut-Karabagh, l’Abkhazie et l’Ossétie du Sud pourraient évoluer en des guerres ouvertes dans le voisinage de l’Europe. L’UE devrait s’engager dans la résolution de ces conflits car il en va de sa propre sécurité. Elle pourrait le faire en renforçant l’aspect résolution des conflits des instruments dont elle dispose. Puisqu’il est improbable que l’UE propose le statut de membres à la Géorgie, l’Arménie et l’Azerbaïdjan, elle doit imaginer d’autres moyens d’imposer une conditionnalité à son aide et d’utiliser son influence. Un défi auquel Bruxelles commence à faire face.

Depuis 2003, l’UE étoffe son rôle en matière de sécurité dans le Sud Caucase, particulièrement en Géorgie. Elle a nommé un Représentant spécial pour le Sud Caucase, lancé une mission de la PESD (Politique européenne de sécurité et de défense) et utilisé le Mécanisme de réaction rapide de la Commission pour appuyer le  processus de démocratisation après la « révolution rose » géorgienne. L’UE a inclus l’Arménie, l’Azerbaïdjan et la Géorgie dans sa Politique européenne de voisinage (PEV) et initié des négociations sur un Plan d’action qui devraient se conclure à la mi-2006. La Commission a alloué quelque 32 millions d’euros à des programmes de développement économique en Géorgie et travaille en étroite coopération avec l’ONU et l’Organisation pour la sécurité et la coopération en Europe (OSCE). 

Cependant, l’UE pourrait accroître ses efforts pour aider à la résolution des conflits dans la région, notamment par le biais des Plans d’action en cours de négociation avec chacun des trois pays en question. Pour l’UE, ces Plans d’action sont une chance de se repositionner et de se mettre en valeur dans le Sud Caucase. Pour ce faire, ils doivent impliquer la résolution des conflits et prévoir des niveaux de référence en matière de démocratisation, gouvernance et droits de l’homme. Pour la région, ils pourraient être l’occasion de dessiner les grandes lignes de leurs réformes. Mais le chemin est encore long. Les relations de l’UE avec l’Arménie ne sont pas solides et elles le sont encore moins avec l’Azerbaïdjan. Elle ne participe pas directement aux négociations sur le Haut-Karabagh, l’Abkhazie ou l’Ossétie du Sud. Que ce soit au Haut-Karabagh ou dans la région avoisinante, l’UE n’a pas fait beaucoup d’efforts en matière de résolution des conflits. Elle n’a que rarement évoqué les conflits du Sud Caucase lors des discussions de haut niveau avec ses partenaires et a rarement utilisé sanctions et incitations pour faire progresser la paix.

Si elle souhaite devenir plus efficace, l’UE doit améliorer sa visibilité politique. Comparé à celui de la Russie, des États-Unis ou de l’OSCE, son engagement financier et politique dans la région semble minimal. Toutefois, à mesure qu’elle apporte son aide par des instruments anciens et nouveaux, la capacité de l’UE à proposer des incitations et appliquer une conditionnalité devrait augmenter. À la différence d’autres acteurs, l’UE a une valeur ajoutée à offrir grâce à son image de « partenaire honnête » et non soumis aux traditionnelles rivalités États-Unis/Russie, à la gamme d’outils dont elle dispose, de la diplomatie (soft power) aux sanctions/incitations (hard power), et à l’attrait d’une plus grande intégration européenne.

L’arrivée d’un nouveau Représentant spécial (RSUE) offre une bonne occasion à l’UE de renforcer sa présence politique dans le Sud Caucase. Le RSUE devrait chercher à devenir un observateur dans les forums relatifs aux trois conflits de la région. En Ossétie du Sud et en Abkhazie, auxquelles la Commission a déjà attribué un financement considérable, une assistance efficace et bien ciblée peut donner du poids et de la crédibilité aux efforts diplomatiques et politiques de l’UE.

En ce qui concerne le Haut-Karabagh, plutôt que d’attendre un accord sur les principes d’une résolution grâce à la médiation du groupe de Minsk de l’OSCE, l’UE devrait d’urgence planifier son assistance à la paix. L’envoi de missions d’évaluation civile et militaire dans la région pourrait donner un nouvel élan au processus de négociation, qui semble ralentir dangereusement. Qu’un accord de paix soit finalement signé ou non, l’UE devrait se préparer à mettre en œuvre des programmes visant à instaurer la confiance ou, dans le pire des cas, envisager une gamme d’options dans l’éventualité d’un regain de violence. Autrement, que la guerre ou la paix l’emporte, il sera difficile à l’UE de rattraper son retard envers les pays de son voisinage alors qu’elle est restée en dehors du Haut-Karabagh et des districts occupés voisins pendant plus d’une décennie.

Tbilissi/Bruxelles, 20 mars 2006

Executive Summary

Instability in the South Caucasus is a threat to European Union (EU) security. Geographic proximity, energy resources, pipelines and the challenges of international crime and trafficking make stability in the region a clear EU interest. Yet, the unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh, Abkhazian and South Ossetian conflicts have the potential to ignite into full-fledged wars in Europe’s neighbourhood. To guarantee its own security, the EU should become more engaged in efforts to resolve the three disputes. It can do so by strengthening the conflict resolution dimension of the instruments it applies. As the EU is unlikely to offer membership to Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan even in the medium term, it must identify innovative means to impose conditionality on its aid and demonstrate influence. This is a challenge that Brussels has only begun to address.

Since 2003 the EU has become more of a security actor in the South Caucasus, particularly in Georgia. It has appointed a Special Representative for the South Caucasus, launched a European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) mission, and employed the Commission’s Rapid Reaction Mechanism to support post “Rose Revolution” democratisation processes. It has included Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia in the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) and started Action Plan negotiations due to end mid-2006. The Commission has allocated some €32 million for economic development confidence building programs in Georgia, and it has cooperated closely with the UN and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

Nevertheless, the EU can do more to help resolve conflict in the region, in particular through the Action Plans currently being negotiated with each country. For the EU, these are a chance to enhance and reposition itself in the South Caucasus if they can be tied to conflict resolution and include specific democratisation, governance and human rights benchmarks. For the region they may be an opportunity to map out the reform process concretely. But there is a long way to go. The EU’s relations are not strong with either Azerbaijan or, to a lesser extent, Armenia. It does not participate directly in negotiations on Nagorno-Karabakh, Abkhazia or South Ossetia. In and around Nagorno-Karabakh, it has done little for conflict resolution. It has rarely raised the South Caucasus conflicts in its high-level discussions with partners and has employed few sanctions or incentives to advance peace.

To become more effective, the EU must increase its political visibility. Compared with Russia, the U.S., the UN and the OSCE, its financial and political engagement in the region has been minimal. However, as it gives more aid through new and old instruments, its ability to provide incentives and apply conditionality should grow. Compared with other actors, the EU can offer added value, with its image as an “honest broker” free from traditional US/Russia rivalries; access to a range of soft and hard-power tools; and the lure of greater integration into Europe.

The arrival of a new Special Representative (EUSR) is an opportune moment for the EU to strengthen its political presence. The EUSR should try to become an observer in the three conflict negotiation forums. In South Ossetia and Abkhazia, where the Commission has already allocated significant funding, efficient and well-targeted assistance can give weight and credibility to the EU’s diplomatic and political efforts.

In Nagorno-Karabakh, rather then wait for an agreement on the principles of resolution mediated by the OSCE Minsk Group, the EU should begin contingency planning to assist peace implementation now. Sending military and civilian assessment missions to the region could give new impetus to a negotiation process which seems to be dangerously running out of steam. Whether or not a peace agreement is eventually signed, the EU should be prepared to implement confidence building programs or – in a worst case – to consider a range of options in case of an outbreak of fighting. Otherwise, having remained out of Nagorno-Karabakh and the adjacent occupied districts for over a decade, either war or peace will find it struggling to catch up in its own neighbourhood.

Tbilisi/Brussels, 20 March 2006

Op-Ed / Europe & Central Asia

Rare Summit Meeting on Nagorno-Karabakh Peace

A rare meeting between the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan on 16 October 2017 could lead to a breakthrough. But the two countries have very different ideas on how to reconcile their competing narratives and goals in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

For almost three months now, there has been an astonishing lull along the Karabakh frontline. Instead of grenade launchers, guided missiles, drones, and guns, the sound of relatively less harmful small arms has been heard. For the first time since the clash of April 2016, both sides have put their weapons aside to take a breather before the long-awaited meeting of the Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders.

There have been no negotiations at the presidential level for more than a year. All prior requests to resume meetings by international mediators yielded no results. Instead of conversing at the negotiation table, the leaders occasionally donned military uniforms, and set out with binoculars to examine each other’s military positions.

Preparations for the current meeting of the Presidents began early this summer. International mediators have made many efforts to persuade leaders to end continuous tensions in the conflict zone. The Russian leader has played a special role in this. He invited the Azerbaijani, and then the Armenian president to visit him this summer, in order to discuss the Nagorno-Karabakh problem, among other issues.

The Azerbaijani side’s understanding of peace: returning land

The ceasefire initiative most likely came from Azerbaijan. Baku has openly declared that it wants to make it clear to the opposite side that once they agree to resume talks about the future of Karabakh, tranquility will reign over the region.

“There will be peace and prosperity”a high-ranking Azerbaijani official told me at the end of spring. He described an attractive perspective: all borders will be opened, land will be cleared of mines, houses will be restored, infrastructure put in order, and “the region will begin to live again”.

According to him, all that was required from the Armenian side was to agree to make concessions.

It has been 25 years since the end of the war in Karabakh, and it is increasingly difficult for Azerbaijani leadership to explain to its society why the richest country in the region continues to tolerate the fact that the main national problem, the restoration of the territorial integrity of the country, has remained unresolved.

The demand for a “quick solution” of the Karabakh issue, even by military means, only began to grow after a successful operation by the Azerbaijani military in April 2016. Although their military suffered losses, the operation succeeded in regaining control over two strategic heights in the conflict zone at the northern and southern ends of the frontline.

In Baku’s understanding, the beginning of the peace process consists of concrete steps towards liberating parts of the territories currently under Armenian control.

In Baku’s understanding, the beginning of the peace process consists of concrete steps towards liberating parts of the territories currently under Armenian control, which Azerbaijan considers occupied, referring to the UN Security Council resolutions during the time of the 1992-93 Karabakh war. And these are exactly the parameters that should be the starting point for the promised restoration of land to the Azerbaijani population and their return to it.

During the war, Armenian troops managed to occupy not only the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh within its Soviet borders, but also several surrounding districts: five entirely, and two partially. Armenians consider this territory to be part of today’s Nagorno-Karabakh de facto republic, which they call Artsakh. The combination is more than double the size of the Nagorno-Karabakh district that was an autonomous region of the Azerbaijan SSR.

Nearly 40 percent of Azerbaijani refugees come from Agdam and Fizuli, two such adjacent parts of the conflict zone that lie to the east and southeast of Soviet-era Nagorno-Karabakh. The largest settlement of the region, Agdam, has remained a ghost town all these years. During my last trip there, my Karabakh driver managed to get lost among the remains of walls and houses without roofs. After prolonged wandering through the deserted streets, we eventually had to search for the road from the ruins of Agdam using Google Maps.

On the Armenian side, the prospect of returning land is an extremely painful topic.

On the Armenian side, the prospect of returning land is an extremely painful topic. This is primarily related the security of the local civilian population, but also to the explicit refusal of many veterans to return “trophy” territories that they were able to capture in the 1990s.

Once, in his first presidential term, the current Armenian leader stated that “Agdam was never Armenian land”. Serzh Sargsyan, a local and participant in the Karabakh war, is still reproached for using that phrase.

The issue of adjacent territories has gained a number of important nuances over the past 25 years. Now, settlements have appeared in many of those areas. There are roads linking Armenian settlements throughout the territories. Some of the land already has new title deeds issued by the de-facto republic for local residents, who have been paying taxes for it, and developing agriculture.

A long mountain gorge along the Armenian border in the west of the Karabakh conflict zone leads to a town with unique architecture from the late Soviet period, bearing two names, Kelbajar in Azerbaijani, and Karvachar in Armenian. There’s a large welcome sign by the entrance, with the inscription “Armenian Fortress”.

In the years following the war, about 7% of local buildings were turned into new homes, mostly for Armenian refugees from Azerbaijan. Skeletons of houses still stand throughout most of the town, but every year a few people arrive who are prepared, using their own funds, to live among the bare walls and Azerbaijani inscriptions.

“No Armenian president is going to decide to give up even one centimeter of this land”, a local girl told me, with an air of certainty.

Like other representatives of the generation that grew up after the war, my young interlocutor was confident that any attempt to place even part of the disputed territories under direct control of Baku would lead to rallies in the Armenian capital, or possibly to civil confrontation in the country.

The Armenian side’s understanding of peace: ruling out use of force

In all my trips to Karabakh, I have been unable to find at least one person willing to agree to the return of the surrounding territories. This topic is directly related to the main issue: security.

In the post-war years, the surrounding territories turned into a “safety belt”. Local field commanders cannot imagine a voluntary “surrender” of strategic heights and territories, which have helped them to keep frontline skirmishes well away from Armenian settlements over the years.

The Karabakh war was the bloodiest of any of the internal conflicts triggered by the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The Karabakh war was the bloodiest of any of the internal conflicts triggered by the collapse of the Soviet Union. People who had lived side by side for centuries, who had very similar traditions and ways of life, found themselves on the opposite sides of the barricades. In the two years of fighting in Karabakh, more than 18,000 people died on both sides.

Unlike other European conflict zones, there have never been peacekeepers or international observers in Karabakh, which could have created another security guarantee in the region. There is only a buffer zone with a complex web of frontline fortifications and filled with a variety of weapons.

The April 2016 confrontation only added fuel to the fire. Many Karabakh residents personally felt the reality of the chance for an outbreak of war. This increased their desire to protect themselves even more. As seen from the Armenian side, one of the ways to accomplish this is to obtain status for the de-facto republic.

They are trying to accomplish this with the neg, which is unacceptable for Azerbaijan, which wants to keep Karabakh as a part of its state, thus returning this rebellious region into its control.

A couple of weeks ago, the Azerbaijani leader said he would not allow the creation of a “second Armenian state” in the region. This statement wasn’t the first from the Azerbaijani side in reaction to the increasingly frequent and louder demands by the Armenian side to recognize the claim of independent status. After the April confrontation, the Armenian side stopped even considering the return of Karabakh into the Azerbaijani fold.

It’s possible to encounter people in Yerevan, including senior officials, who say that the issue of the adjacent lands, as well as the entire conflict, can be resolved.

Despite this, unlike in Karabakh itself, it’s possible to encounter people in Yerevan, including senior officials, who say that the issue of the adjacent lands, as well as the entire conflict, can be resolved. However, this can only happen in one case: if Baku agrees to recognise the sovereign rights of the Armenian population of Karabakh. Simply put, recognition (of the prospect of) of self-determination of the de-facto republic outside the borders of Azerbaijan.

“How can they not understand in Baku that nothing can be accomplished without trust?!”, said one of my high-ranking interlocutors in Armenia.

He said that trust could have had the chance to emerge if Azerbaijan had voluntarily declared that war was excluded from the list of ways to resolve the Karabakh issue.

Otherwise, my interlocutor continues, the parties will continue to speak to each other in the “language of power”: accumulation of weapons, threats to destroy the civilian population, and continued regular exchanges of fire that threaten to turn into a major war.

The Armenian leader’s initiatives are linked to preventing the threat of war: increasing the number of OSCE observers, and launching an international investigation mechanism in the conflict zone.

Authorities in Baku have said that they would be happy to abandon military plans, but are tired of waiting for the moment when the Armenian side will be ready to resume the negotiation process and make concessions.

“War is the only tool we have left to force them to do something”, a young Azerbaijani official said. He sincerely didn’t want to start a war that would take the lives of his relatives and acquaintances.

How to end a vicious cycle?

There is no simple answer to the Nagorno-Karabakh question. One should not expect a breakthrough or immediate solution to this long-term problem from the meeting of two presidents, which only worsened during the April confrontation and the subsequent growth of militaristic sentiments on both sides. The presidents will not be able to resolve the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh’s status, something that has been argued about for almost 30 years, in just one meeting.

The meeting of the two leaders can, however, give hope that the Karabakh issue will be returned from the frontline to the negotiating table. This would best be aided by effective relations among field commanders from both sides, in order to avoid further incidents on the frontline. If the presidents can manage to do this, their meeting on 16 October 2017 in Geneva will be considered the most serious breakthrough in the past few years.

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