The European Union has officially launched a monitoring mission in Armenia to ensure stability in areas bordering Azerbaijan. It has a staff of 100, with 50 unarmed observers on the ground.
Armenia's strategic ally Russia, whose relations with the West are at a nadir due to its invasion of Ukraine, resents what it calls a “clear geopolitical move.”
The objectives of the mission are “to contribute to stability in the border areas of Armenia, build confidence and human security in conflict-affected areas, and ensure an environment conducive to the normalization efforts between Armenia and Azerbaijan supported by the EU.”
EU monitoring was first proposed after the escalation on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border in mid-September, which led to more than 300 deaths on both sides.
A previous, limited, iteration of the EU mission consisted of 40 monitors and operated for a term of two months, from October 20 to December 19, 2022.
The longer-term mission was announced on January 23. It drew an angry reaction from Russia, which went so far as to allude to a possible confrontation between the unarmed EU observers in Armenia and Russia’s peacekeepers in Nagorno-Karabakh.
The EU mission’s operational headquarters will be in Yeghegnadzor, in south-eastern Armenia, near the resort town of Jermuk, which was attacked by Azerbaijani drones and missiles during the escalation in September.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan expressed hope that the mission would help strengthen peace and stability at a February 21 meeting with Civilian Operations Commander Stefano Tomat and Head of Mission Markus Ritter.
EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell welcomed the news in a tweet on the same day. “We launched the EU Mission in Armenia #EUMA, which is now operational and conducted its first patrol today. #EUMA will contribute to human security, build confidence on the ground and support EU efforts in the peace process between Armenia and Azerbaijan,” Borrell wrote.
Despite EU and Armenian assurances that the mission is not directed “against” anyone, the news of the official launch drew further angry reaction from Moscow. “This is not the first time we have seen the European Union and the West as a whole seeking to gain a foothold in our ally Armenia by whatever means. We see in these attempts an exclusively geopolitical background, far from the interests of a real normalization of relations in the Transcaucasus,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told a briefing on February 20.
Later, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Galuzin told EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus Toivo Klaar by phone that Moscow views the mission as a bid to “squeeze Russia out of the region and weaken its historical role as the main guarantor of security.”
Another of Russia’s objections is that it “ignores” Baku’s negative position towards the mission’s deployment.
Arsen Kharatyan, a former advisor to Prime Minister Pashinyan, said the mission was a great opportunity for Armenia. “Official Yerevan must make every effort to ensure the successful work of the mission. This is a serious opportunity to improve the security situation in our country, it would be unforgivable to miss it,” Kharatyan wrote on his Facebook page.
Arshaluis Mgdesyan is a journalist based in Yerevan.