The human tragedy continues in Nagorno-Karabakh

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

A girl, a refugees from the Nagorno-Karabakh, sits on bales as she waits for a bus heading to Stepanakert, the main city of the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (also known as Artsakh), at the southern bus station in Yerevan, Armenia, 18 November 2020. [EPA-EFE/MELIK BAGHDASARYAN /PHOTOLURE]

We’ve recently witnessed the end to six weeks of fighting and bloodshed in Nagorno-Karabakh. Urmas Paet calls for serious reform of the Eastern Partnership.

Urmas Paet is a Member of the European Parliament for Renew Europe and Vice-Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee.

We saw how both sides, Armenia and Azerbaijan, were exchanging claims and counterclaims of territories won and lost, accusations of use of banned cluster munitions and foreign mercenaries and deliberate targeting of civilian areas.

Repeated attempts at establishing a humanitarian ceasefire failed and calls to protect the civilian population went unheeded.

Human tragedy was happening in front of our eyes and the international community seemed unable to stop it.

However, the hostilities were finally halted after the signing of the ceasefire agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan on 9 November.

This agreement will have far-reaching consequences and will define the security environment in the region for years to come.

The de facto borders of Nagorno-Karabakh region will be redrawn and Azerbaijan will regain control of the surrounding territories it had lost in the 1990s.

The line of contact will be controlled by Russian peacekeepers, who have already started arriving to their new place of deployment.

Certain important aspects remain unclear, such as the status of Nagorno-Karabakh and its Armenian population.

Formally, the agreement does not include Turkey, which actively supported Azerbaijan and emerged as an important player in the balance of power in the South Caucasus.

However, Turkey seems to be keen on expanding the scope of its involvement by means of bilateral agreements, particularly with Russia. Hence the role it will play in the future is not yet entirely clear.

It also remains to be seen what effect the ceasefire agreement will have on Armenia, which is coming to terms with a painful loss and is being rocked by mass protests.

This ceasefire agreement brings hope that perhaps after three decades of bloody clashes and ever harsher hate-filled rhetoric on both sides, the military phase of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has ended and that diplomatic efforts to achieve a lasting peace can resume.

This is also likely to be challenging, as the relevance of the process led by the Minsk Group Co-Chairs and its Basic Principles has been increasingly called into question.

As mentioned, the developments in Nagorno-Karabakh can have far-reaching consequences and will define the security environment in the region for years.

We must not forget that there are many other conflict zones in the territories of the former Soviet Union. In Georgia, there is South Ossetia and Abkhazia. In Moldova, there is Transnistria, in Ukraine, there is Crimea and Donbas. All the aforementioned are new potential sources of instability.

In essence, the European Union had no influence whatsoever over halting the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh even though the fighting was happening in our immediate neighbourhood between two Eastern partner countries.

The even bigger picture is that out of six Eastern Partnership countries, two decided to resort to fighting and killing each other and the third one, the Belarusian dictator Lukashenko, is harassing, demeaning and using violence against its people.

Therefore, we have to do some soul searching and ask ourselves, how we should move on from here and how in the future can we play a more active role in finding solutions to such situations.

We need a serious Eastern Partnership reform.

So we have to consider where all these developments leave the European Union relations with Armenia and Azerbaijan and our cooperation within the Eastern Partnership.

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