January 31, 2023 - 15:15 AMT
Crisis Group: Third war between Armenia and Azerbaijan is very real

The threat of a third war between Armenia and Azerbaijan is very real, the International Crisis Group said in a report on Monday, January 30.

“In three bursts of major fighting over the course of 2022, Azerbaijan gained ground in and around Nagorno-Karabakh and also challenged Armenia along its own border, moving troops into Armenian territory,” the ICG said.

“Recently, a weeks-long blockade by Baku-backed Azerbaijani activists of the Lachin corridor, the only road to Nagorno-Karabakh from Armenia, has left as many as 120,000 people there without medical and food supplies. Meanwhile, diplomatic efforts have stalled, and the EU has approved the deployment of a two-year monitoring mission to try to keep war from breaking out along the neighbours’ increasingly contentious border.”

According to the organization, the EU and its member states should do the following in order to avert another war and get peace talks back on track:

— Most urgently, and via high-level diplomacy, the EU, in close collaboration with member states, should seek to persuade Azerbaijan to ensure free movement through the Lachin corridor so as to stave off a humanitarian crisis in Armenian-populated Nagorno-Karabakh.

— The EU, as the best-positioned candidate to mediate between Azerbaijan and Armenia under present conditions, should redouble its efforts to set the goals and pace of negotiations – with the active engagement of member states. In particular, Brussels should encourage a direct dialogue between Baku and de facto authorities in Stepanakert. All should avoid framing mediation efforts as part of the Russian-Western standoff over the war in Ukraine.

— As Brussels prepares to deploy the new two-year civilian monitoring mission to the region, it should prepare a flexible mission mandate that permits monitors to play essential roles in fostering communication and coordination between the two sides, as well as with Russia’s presence in the area. While Armenia has made clear it will cooperate, Brussels should also seek Azerbaijan’s buy-in so that EU monitors can have necessary access on both sides of the border.

— Both for humanitarian reasons and as a signal to all parties of its good faith, Brussels (already the largest donor to South Caucasus countries) should provide additional funding to assist persons from both sides who have been displaced by fighting, including through vocational training, and support demining efforts. In developing an assistance package for displaced persons, it should include support for projects that promote inclusion of women and challenge stereotypes about their roles.

Since December 12, the sole road connecting Nagorno Karabakh to Armenia - the Lachin Corridor - has been blocked by self-described Azerbaijani environmentalists. Karabakh residents have reported food and fuel shortages, while hospital patients don't have access to essential medicines, with only a handful allowed transfer to facilities in Armenia proper.