Washington says it welcomes EU’s Karabakh efforts, while Moscow accuses Europe of interference

By Mark Dovich

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday that the United States welcomes the European Union’s efforts to mediate between Armenia and Azerbaijan, while Maria Zakharova, the Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, accused Brussels on the same day of interfering in the region.

In a tweet, Blinken said Washington “welcomes the first joint meeting of the Armenia-Azerbaijan bilateral border commissions,” which took place earlier this week, and “supports the EU-brokered conversations between Azerbaijan and Armenia.”

But just a few hours earlier, Zakharova accused the EU of making “persistent attempts to meddle in the process of implementing the trilateral agreements at the highest level,” a reference to several joint commitments with Armenia and Azerbaijan.

The EU should “not try to play geopolitical games,” she added.

The sharply contrasting statements out of Washington and Moscow come as Brussels seems to be seeking — and gaining — a bigger role in mediating between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

European Council President Charles Michel has brokered meetings between Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev twice in as many months, with the two leaders reportedly reaching some form of understanding on drafting a peace treaty and forming a joint border delimitation commission.

The Armenian and Azerbaijani deputy prime ministers, who are chairing the commission, met on the border for the first time this week and agreed to convene the commission next week in Moscow.

The conflicting reactions by the United States and Russia to the EU’s moves are likely a reflection of the starkly different roles the two countries play in Armenia: Moscow has boots on the ground in the region and has in recent years dominated mediation efforts, while Washington has no such leverage. But the United States is, importantly, a major donor and aid provider to Armenia.

Those differing positions were vividly on display in Armenia itself this week, when the two countries’ ambassadors paid separate visits on the same day to the southern Syunik region.

U.S. Ambassador Lynne Tracy met on Tuesday with governor Robert Ghukasyan to review USAID programs in rural communities in Syunik and discuss U.S. efforts to develop tourism in the region, while Russian Ambassador Sergei Kopyrkin visited several border positions guarded by Russian troops.

The EU’s greater involvement in Karabakh also comes as the collapse in relations between Russia and the West over Ukraine has thrown the future of the Minsk Group, which has spearheaded Karabakh mediation efforts for many years, in serious doubt.

The Minsk Group is a body under the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe that is co-chaired by France, Russia, and the United States and meant to encourage the peaceful settlement of the Karabakh conflict.

In recent months, Moscow has questioned the group’s ability to function moving forward, accusing its co-chairs of “canceling” Russia’s role. Azerbaijan has also repeatedly rejected the involvement of the Minsk Group, arguing that its victory in the 2020 war in and around Karabakh renders the group’s mandate moot.

In contrast, Paris, Washington, and Yerevan have all stressed that they remain committed to the organization.

The Armenian and U.S. governments both reiterated that position Thursday.

Meeting with Pashinyan, Tracy underscored that “the United States, also as co-chairman of the Minsk Group, was committed to engaging in a comprehensive resolution” of the Karabakh conflict.”

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan emphasized “the mediating role of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs” to Ambassador Andrzej Kasprzyk, the longtime Personal Representative of the OSCE to the Minsk Group.

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