Conflicts of Artsakh, Ukraine and Georgia in EU Documents

16 m.   |  2020-06-24

Azerbaijani state propaganda’s manipulation of the term “territorial integrity” has been used inappropriately for internal consumption. The international response to the March-April elections in Artsakh, had a totally unique picture presented within Azerbaijan, partially distorting the reality. The European Union, the OSCE Minsk Group and the Co-Chairs, China as well as the Foreign Ministry of Iran did not mention Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan’s “territorial integrity”. Despite this fact, the President of Azerbaijan in his speeches on March 19th and June 3rd, including the Foreign Ministry and  state-run press made a concerted effort to downplay the reality and made additional manipulations to ensure state policy of maintaining Karabagh as an integral part of Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity in media within the principles of  the UN, OSCE and EU’s charters.

The main platform for EU cooperation with Armenia and Azerbaijan is the Eastern Partnership (EaP) within the framework of the European Neighborhood Policy. The phrase “The European Union supports the territorial integrity, independence and sovereignty of all partners' ' is a statement that we often hear and read regarding the EU’s position in the settlement of conflicts that are within this formal framework. It is this statement that Azerbaijan takes out of context to reaffirm to its people the EU's position of the territorial integrity of Karabakh to Azerbaijan.

The European Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs Petras Austrevicius (Lithuania) was presented with an advisory resolution on Karabakh. This resolution was adopted by the European Parliament’s Committee on May 19. For the final approval, a vote must be taken at the plenary sitting of the European Parliament, which should take place before the upcoming summit of June 18. The draft resolution by the European Parliament was published on their website before the June 9 plenary sitting.

The June 18 summit is the forthcoming key event within the Eastern Partnership which will be attended by European Union representatives and by the leaders of 6 member states, including that of Armenia and Azerbaijan. The goal is adopting a joint declaration to set the framework for future negotiations.

“․․․Reaffirms its support for the efforts of the co-Chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and for their 2009 Basic Principles, with a view to achieving a solution based on the norms and principles of international law, the UN Charter and the OSCE 1975 Helsinki Final Act. To encourage all sides to intensify dialogue and to refrain from inflammatory rhetoric that would further jeopardise any prospects for settlement”.There are three basic principles which are the basis of the settlement process within the framework of the OSCE Minsk Group, territorial integrity, equal rights and self-determination of peoples, non-use of force or threat of force are not separately mentioned in this paragraph.However, the UN Charter and the Helsinki Final Act include the above mentioned principles about the self-determination fixed in  Article 55 of Chapter 2 and Chapter 9 of the UN Charter, as well as in paragraph 8 of the Helsinki Final Act.

The above-mentioned principles were also included in the 2009 report referred to in the 2009 Council of Europe document. On the European Parliament’s website, we can also see the procedure for submitting a resolution and its amendments, which allows us to compare the final version with the original draft as well as with the versions of the proposed amendments. Thus, there was no separate mention of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in the initial version, published on February 4, 2020. In the first version of the draft, we note 2 major references to conflicts in the territories of EaP member states:

  1. “․․․the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of the EU’s Eastern European Partners are still imperiled by unresolved regional conflicts”;
  2. “․․․the European Parliament rejects the use of force or the threat of force in the resolution of conflicts and shares the EU’s commitment to supporting the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of all EaP countries within their internationally recognized borders, in accordance with international law, norms and principles”.

As we see, the wordings in the initial version of the resolution can refer to all the conflicts related to the EaP member states, including that of Nagorno-Karabakh, which could be quite problematic, given the fact that the principle of self-determination is not included at all.

Later, however, other members of the committee proposed the 532 Amendment, part of which also refers to other conflicts. Based on the presented proposals and discussions, a number of amendments were made, including the above-mentioned part, with a separate position on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Amendments were applied to the above-mentioned next two parts as well. In the version published on June 9, thus, the following wordings were used:

  • “The independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of the EU’s Eastern European Partners are still violated by unresolved regional conflicts, external aggression and ongoing occupation of the territories of some of the EaP countries; which in turn violate human rights and are an obstacle to the prosperity, stability and growth of the European Cooperation, they jeopardize the EU activity, thus endangering the whole project of European Cooperation. In most of these conflicts, Russia plays an active role as an aggressor (emphasized by the author) through its hybrid warfare, illegal occupation and annexation policy, cyber-attacks and disinformation, which threatens European Security as a whole”.
  • The European Parliament condemns the cases of violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of some of the EaP countries, does not recognize forceful changes of their borders and attempted annexation of their territories and rejects the use of force or the threat of force in the resolution of conflicts and shares the EU’s commitment to supporting the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of all EaP countries within their internationally recognised borders, in accordance with international law, norms and principles, particularly, in the case of conflicts, in which Russia is in favor (emphasized by the author).

Adding a separate paragraph on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in the amended version, the European Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs emphasized Russia as the key aggressor in the related Ukraine and Georgia conflicts. Therefore, the territorial integrity highlighted in those paragraphs does not apply to the Artsakh conflict without the application of the self-determination principle. This is quite clear in the documentation but is manipulated in Azerbaijan by the media as a state policy to assert the fact that Europe supports Azerbaijan with its territorial integrity.

Besides the above-mentioned paragraphs another two have been added to the amendments, which could be deemed problematic at first glance for the Republic of Armenia and Artsakh. There is no separate mention of Russia in either of these paragraphs, however, these texts immediately follow and precede the paragraph on the Ukraine and Georgia conflicts. Let’s consider the mentioned texts separately:

“․․․reaffirms the EU’s commitment to supporting the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of the EaP member states within its internationally recognized borders and supports their efforts to fully ensure (enforce) these principles. The importance of unity and solidarity of the European Union countries in this issue is highly emphasized”.

This paragraph is immediately followed by a critical paragraph “Violation of the basic principles and norms of international law in the EaP territory, illegal occupation and annexation policy towards some of the EaP member states by the Russian Federation…” Another point, where there is no direct reference to Russia, follows this paragraph.

“․․․call for an immediate withdrawal of foreign troops from all occupied territories and an end to military hostilities, which unnecessarily claim the lives of civilians and soldiers whilst hampering socioeconomic development, and enable hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons to return to their homelands”.

The issue of “internally displaced persons” (IDP) which is also present in the official rhetoric of official Baku, can be considered quite problematic. However as we see there is a criticizing statement “Occupation of the territories of Ukraine and Georgia by the Russian Federation” placed between the two paragraphs, which shows that these points also refer to the aforementioned issues not related to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

Below you can see the three paragraphs mentioned in the same sequence as in the document and the Armenian translations.

Thus, it can be concluded that in the document prepared by the EU, only the one paragraph refers to the Artsakh conflict. The other two are in direct reference to Russia in the same text, and the other two that precede and follow that paragraph on Russia are related to the settlement of the conflict with Ukraine and Georgia.

It’s obvious that there is a differentiated approach to the settlement of conflicts. In the first case, the problem is due to the EU’s relations with the Russian Federation, as well as due to the West-Russia controversy in general, in case of which Georgia and Ukraine are among the main sources of conflict of interest.

The above-mentioned separate paragraph on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict there is no mention of the three principles, however there is a reference to the main documents where these principles are fixed. Thus, this document cannot be considered pro-Armenian or proposing the position of the Armenian side clearly, but similarly it cannot be considered as supporting the Azerbaijani position. The separate paragraph on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is actually quite a neutral formulation, where neither side is given an advantage.

Comparison with the previous formulations

T he previous summit of EaP member states was held on November 24, 2017. The previous advisory document was adopted by the European Parliament before the EaP November 2017 summit. On the issues of territorial integrity of EaP member states in  point K, the European Parliament mentions only Ukraine and Georgia.

“The independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of the EU’s eastern partners remains under threat from unresolved regional conflicts, including some that were initiated and are still actively sustained by the Russian Federation in contradiction with its international commitments to uphold the international legal order. The EU should play a more active role in the peaceful resolution of all ongoing conflicts in its neighborhood; whereas Russian aggression towards Ukraine, the annexation of the Crimean peninsula and the continued occupation of two Georgian regions, as well as Russian hybrid threats including destabilization activities and propaganda, threaten European security as a whole”.

In point O, the reference to “territorial integrity” is without mentioning Russia.

“To ensure that the outcomes of the November 2017 Summit also address the security threats and conflicts that affect the independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity (emphasized by T.H.), as well as fundamental human rights, and political, social and economic stability and development of the partners and of the region as a whole”.

This paragraph can also be interpreted as contradictory to the Armenian side’s position, however, as in the case of the 2020 resolution, this text should be considered with the following paragraph, which already speaks directly about the Russian conflicts with Georgia and Ukraine.

In the previous resolution, a separate paragraph on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict was also included in the final version: “…reaffirm support to the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs’ efforts to solve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and to their 2009 Basic Principles (better known as “Madrid”), which includes non-use of force, territorial integrity, and the equal rights and self-determination of peoples”.

The main difference between the previous and 2020 resolutions is that the three principles are not mentioned separately. Unlike the new resolution, there was no reference to the UN Charter and the provisions of the Helsinki Final Act, which include these principles. It should also be noted that in the draft of 2017 it initially included a separate note on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, however only with reference to the principle of territorial integrity and only expressing the Azerbaijani viewpoint. Thus, in 2017, it was possible to make an amendment, by adding the principle of self-determination, and in 2020, they managed to add a new paragraph on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, where there is no separate reference to the principles, but the importance to resolve the conflict is emphasized based on the Basic Principles. This includes the UN Charter and the Helsinki Final Act, for the right for self-determination.

In the paragraph of 2017 the following phrase “stop military hostilities between the [armed] forces of Armenia and Azerbaijan” can be deemed problematic.  Theoretically it could be interpreted as an action by the Council of Europe to recognize Armenia as the sole part of the Armenian side of the conflict.

The mentioned European Parliament’s documents are advisory and the inclusion of these provisions in the joint declaration of the summit is not obligatory. We can be sure by observing the joint declaration of 2017 that the separate part on Nagorno-Karabakh conflict was already missing.

The 2nd point of the joint declaration notes:

“The Summit participants recommit themselves to strengthening democracy, rule of law, human rights and fundamental freedoms, as well as principles and norms of international law, which are at the heart of the Eastern Partnership. The European Union remains committed in its support to the territorial integrity, independence and sovereignty of all its partners (emphasized by the author). Full commitment, respect for and adherence to the purposes and principles enshrined in the UN Charter, the 1975 Helsinki Final Act and the 1990 OSCE Charter of Paris are fundamental to our shared vision for a peaceful and undivided Europe”.

The Azerbaijani side stresses the phrase in the 2nd point “supports territorial integrity of all partners”. The phrases “by the UN Charter, the 1975 Helsinki Final Act” mentioned in the 2nd line, however, also include the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, which is bypassed. It can be considered problematic that in contrast to the principle of self-determination, territorial integrity is mentioned separately. If the wording of the 2020 draft should be considered neutral it’s difficult to ascertain this point of view, though it doesn't give Azerbaijani free reign to interpret the text as a full support of its territorial integrity as there is no separate mention of Nagorno-Karabakh or Azerbaijan in that part of the sentence.

Thus, the general statements can be interpreted differently, used to serve and strengthen the position of each of the sides. It’s necessary to consider the statements, where the position of the structure on the settlement of a specific conflict is specified on the “principle of territorial integrity” in order to understand the position of any state, structure and of the EU.

On June 4, 2020, the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic

published the announcement of the joint remote session of the North-Baltic Eight (NB8) and the Visegrad Group countries (10 out of the 12 member states of the two structures are EU members). The cooperation with the EaP countries emphasized support for the territorial integrity of Ukraine and Georgia. There was no reference to Azerbaijan and to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and a further study of different statements and documents of the European Union reveals the same picture. The text of the European Union Global Strategy report in June 14, 2019 emphasizes only the EU’s support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity in resolving marked current conflicts.

The observation of this and other documents is important in the light of the fact that the EU expresses its position on the settlement of the conflict with the country based on the principle of territorial integrity separately and clearly. In other cases, when referring to all partners, the mention of this principle may not automatically imply the EU's position on the settlement of all conflicts.

The statement of Leyla Abdullayeva, Spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan on May 30 is an attempt to promote distorted statements of the European Union and EU officials. Leyla Abdullayeva commented on the statement by Josep Borrell, Vice President of the European Commission and High Representative for European Union’s Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. The comment was presented in such a way that Josep Borrell “once again expressed his full support for the territorial integrity of [Azerbaijan] and its sovereignty in the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict”.

UN Security Council, J. Borrell noted ,” I have to mention Ukraine, where the illegal annexation by Russia of the Crimean peninsula and the unfulfilled commitments of Minsk have brought a major disruption – I am sorry to say that - in European Union-Russia relation.

Support for national sovereignty and territorial integrity will remain key elements of the relationship between the European Union and its Eastern partners. The principles enshrined in Helsinki cannot be forgotten while working for a cooperative, more secure and cohesive European continent”.

As we can see the paragraph mentioned by the Azerbaijani MFA was used directly when talking about Russia and Ukraine and can be interpreted correctly only in that context. The cut comment distorts the meaning of J. Borrell’s words.

Additional clarification on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is provided by the “basic references” on bilateral cooperation with EaP countries, published in the European Neighbourhood Policy’s website. Describing the main direction of the Ukraine-EU and Georgia-EU relations within the framework of EaP, the need to resolve the conflicts related to these countries on the bases of territorial integrity is emphasized. With Georgia it is clearly mentioned that “Abkhazia and South Ossetia are part of Georgia’s territorial integrity” and the same is mentioned in case of Ukraine with Crimea, Sevastopol, Donetsk and Lugansk.

As for the Armenia-EU և Azerbaijan-EU relations within the framework of the EaP, the text on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is the same in both references. It is noted that the EU supports the efforts of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs to resolve the conflict.

Thus, we can conclude that as a structure the EU maintains a balanced and neutral approach to the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict without giving a priority to any of the side’s position. The EU considers the issue’s settlement within the framework of the OSCE MG mediation mission based on all the international principles. In bilateral or multilateral statements and documents, notes on “territorial integrity of all countries” derive mostly or if not completely from the problems with Russia as well as with some EU member states related to their own territorial integrity. However, there is no specific mention to the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Instead, in parts, where there is a separate reference to the Artsakh conflict, including the “Comprehensive and Extended Partnership Agreement”, the position of any of the sides doesn’t prevail.