The Brief, powered by CEN-CENELEC – Sleepwalking into a Caucasus war?

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter. [Handout image released 04 October 2020 by the Defence Ministry of Azerbaijan]

War is disastrous. Even for the big nations. The US feels nothing but terrible regret for having embarked onto the Vietnam War, the former Soviet Union for its Afghanistan disaster.

On European territory, we suffered the Yugoslav wars in the 1990s. It seemed then that lessons had been learned, but as we stand, there is a risk of a fully-fledged Karabakh war. And that is not far away: the Caucasus is European territory.

Almost thirty years ago, Armenia occupied Nagorno-Karabakh, a territory which belongs to Azerbaijan, and created an ethnic Armenian statelet that is not recognised by anyone in the international community.

All ethnic Azeris were expelled, in a clear case of ethnic cleansing even before the term came to wider use.

The UN adopted four resolutions (in 1993) demanding the withdrawal of Armenian troops from the occupied territories, but nothing has happened since.

To handle the hotbed of tension, an international body was created, called the OSCE Minsk Group, comprising three big powers: France, Russia, and the United States. But all that the three big powers have achieved, it seems, is preserving the status quo while keeping their eyes wide shut on developments that would change it.

Meanwhile, Azerbaijan became more powerful, while Armenia compensated its economic and military weakness through alliances with Russia. All along, one country or the other believed that they would get a competitive edge each time they obtain a new weapons system.

At the same time, Turkey became more assertive under President Erdogan and, perhaps worse, the whole world became vulnerable to civilizational zero-sum rhetoric.

If the issue was not a conflict between Christians and Muslims in 1993, this time around, external meddling could well transform the two once peaceful ex-Soviet republics into a territory for holy war.

A Middle-East type of conflict, another Syria, on the territory of Europe: isn’t this the dream of Jihadists, many of them home-grown in Western societies? For them, it really doesn’t matter if, in fact, modern Azerbaijan is largely a secular country, despite its Muslim roots.

The European Union has so far conveniently distanced itself from the Karabakh crisis management, with the excuse that the right format to address such issues is the OSCE Minsk Group.

But this format has not only been ineffective, it has also been somewhat discredited since Baku started denouncing French President Emmanuel Macron’s perceived pro-Armenia bias.

Yes, Macron can sometimes win the hearts and minds abroad – Lebanon is a fresh example – but he is not the saviour everywhere.

That’s why we have the EU.

It is high time that the EU stepped in to play a bigger role in its immediate neighbourhood, where it has a good standing.

Although Armenia and Azerbaijan are technically at war, both are members of the EU Eastern Partnership initiative, and both seek strong economic relations with our union. Moreover, the Southern Gas Corridor, a landmark project supported by the EU, is almost ready to deliver the first gas from the Caspian Sea to EU countries.

A full-fledged military conflict would certainly cast a dark shadow over such a mega-project.

We can only deplore that public opinion in EU countries cares little about Karabakh. Similarly, it cared little about Bosnia. Today many agree that with Bosnia, the EU lived through one of its most shameful moments.

Yes, the European Union has a thousand reasons to engage, and not a single one to sit on the fence.


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The Roundup

Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is in self-isolation after she was informed having been in contact with a person who tested COVID-19 positive.

While the unemployment rate in the eurozone reached 8.1% in August, it rose to 7.4% for the bloc as a whole, according to Eurostat. In a year marked by the COVID-19 health crisis, unemployment in the EU and the eurozone has been rising for the fifth consecutive month.

Boris Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen tasked their negotiators with working “intensively” over the coming weeks to see if a post-Brexit EU-UK trade agreement can be obtained by the end of the month.

The UN refugee chief lambasted countries which close their doors to desperate migrants and Europe’s “shameful” refusal to allow migrants stranded at sea to disembark quickly.

The head of NATO he expected Turkey — a key ally of Azerbaijan — to use its “considerable” influence to calm the conflict in the Armenian separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Thousands of people marched through the Bulgarian capital Sofia over the weekend calling for the government to quit, the latest in a series of such protests.

While impacting all parts of the economy, COVID-19 has hit young people particularly hard. Commissioner Nicolas Schmit spoke with EURACTIV about the EU executive’s efforts to address these challenges and avert the prospect of another ‘lost generation.’

Medical curriculums should be reformed if we want to eliminate systemic racial bias, according to students and teachers at the University of Bristol, who stressed that medical education should explore and reflect upon unconscious biases and how these may impact clinical judgement.

Racist harassment, violence, and discriminatory ethnic profiling are commonplace in Europe, which increases the importance of the role of the media in exposing discrimination based on ethnic origin.

The European Commission announced in March 2020 that it will launch a five-year gender equality strategy. The question now remains how to unlock the benefits of diversity in the workplace.

Look out for…

  • Enlargement Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi presenting the Commission’s Enlargement Package and Investment Plan for the Western Balkans
  • European Parliament’s plenary session in Brussels

Views are the author’s

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