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Russia has ‘betrayed’ Armenian people by standing aside in Nagorno-Karabakh - Charles Michel

Euronews sits down with European Council President Charles Michel
Euronews sits down with European Council President Charles Michel Copyright Euronews
Copyright Euronews
By Gregoire LoryMared Gwyn Jones
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Russia's failure to ensure peace and security in the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh is a 'betrayal' of the Armenian people, Charles Michel told Euronews on Monday.

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The European Council President condemned Russia's peacekeeping forces, present in Nagorno-Karabakh since a peace deal was brokered by Moscow in 2020, for standing aside as Baku launched its military action.

"It is clear for everyone to see that Russia has betrayed the Armenian people," Michel told Euronews' Global Conversation.

"Russia wanted to have soldiers on the ground to guarantee this peace and security agreement. But we see that the military operation was launched without the slightest reaction from the Russian peacekeeping forces in the territory. The European Union, on the other hand, had no force or military presence on the ground," he added.

Baku recently regained control of Nagorno-Karabakh from Armenian separatists after launching a military offensive. An estimated 100,000 ethnic Armenians have since fled in fear of persecution as Azerbaijani forces tighten their grip on the region. 

Experts say Baku's actions amount to a war crime, and Armenia has accused its neighbour of pursuing ethnic cleansing. 

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has also condemned Russia for ignoring signs of Baku’s escalation and failing to protect Armenians residing in the isolated, mountainous region. The Kremlin responded by accusing Pashinyan of “succumbing to Western influence.”

'Extremely disappointed' by Azerbaijan

Michel has played a leading role in recent EU attempts to de-escalate the decades-old conflict, convening both sides for talks in Brussels as Pashinyan looked to the West for support. 

But the bloc has come under fire for its unfruitful mediation efforts and for refraining from sanctioning Azerbaijan. Members of the European Parliament hailed Michel's mediation attempts a "total failure", accusing EU leaders of failing to name the aggressor and ignoring Armenia’s pleas.

Michel rejected this criticism, telling Euronews that "European mediation, which was conducted in parallel with others such as that of the US, enabled us to advance, for example with prisoner exchanges, and to better understand how to improve the connectivity of this region to ensure better future stability." 

"We also made progress on texts that aim to ensure a future peace deal between Armenia and Azerbaijan."

"But having said that, I am extremely disappointed by the decision that was taken by Azerbaijan and I have expressed that very firmly to President Aliyev," he added.

Michel said EU intervention was critical in ensuring the re-opening of the Lachin corridor - which had been blockaded by Azerbaijani forces for months, preventing essential supplies from reaching the Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh - and assured the bloc would continue to provide humanitarian support.

"We are very committed to supporting Armenia, which is receiving a high number of refugees who have left their home region in Nagorno-Karabakh," Michel explained. "We also need to remain engaged at a political and diplomatic level to make sure that there’s a very clear reaffirmation of the respect for the territorial integrity of Armenia."

"We will not give up," he affirmed.

Peace depends on 'will of both sides'

Michel is expected to sit down with the two countries' leaders as well as French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on the sidelines of a summit of the European Political Community on Thursday in Granada, Spain. Similar talks were held at the previous two EPC summits in October 2022 and June 2023. 

Peace, he said, will require "a negotiation that can pin down commitments from both sides" although "there is a great responsibility on the side of Azerbaijan, which launched this military operation."

"It’s now up to Azerbaijan to show goodwill by engaging while respecting international law to protect the rights and security of the entire population that lives in Azerbaijan, including the Armenian population," he added.

He refrained from labelling the forced exodus of the Nagorno-Karabakh population as an attempt at ethnic cleansing.

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"It’s true that the immense majority of the Armenian population has left the region and probably in fear of how they will be considered by the Azerbaijani authorities. A large part is now in Armenia, and that’s why the EU must deliver humanitarian aid," he said.

Azerbaijan still 'a partner' for the EU

He also said that Baku remains an EU partner despite its brazen attack.

"Azerbaijan is a partner today, yes, it’s a partner. That doesn’t mean the relationship is simple. No, it’s not simple. Are there difficulties? Yes, and these difficulties are real and should be understood," he explained.

He denied that the EU had turned a blind eye to signs of hostilities when EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen hailed Baku a “trustworthy” partner in 2022, striking a deal to double EU imports of Azerbaijani gas by 2027 in a bid to wean off Russian fossil fuel imports.

"I understand the argument, but it’s not correct," Michel said. "We showed Europe's ability to very quickly diversify energy supplies following the Russian invasion of Ukraine and therefore we now have many options in terms of energy supplies."

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When asked if the EU should reconsider its gas deal with Baku, Michel said: "Of course. What we now need to look at is how to normalise the relationship between Armenia and Azerbaijan so that we can firmly and incontestably ensure the mutual recognition of the territorial integrity of both countries."

"We will encourage a normalisation process that can lead to commitments on both sides to respect the promises they have made. And the absolute priority is to ensure that there are negotiations on territorial borders," he explained.

"It is the European mediation process that secured progress in this regard, on a peace treaty to normalise the relationship and also on what we call connectivity, that is, the possibility both for the populations of both Armenia and Azerbaijan to be able to move in the region."

Michel also told Euronews he is confident EU and Western support to Ukraine remains unwavering, despite the Polish government and Slovak election winner Robert Fico vowing to veto the bloc's future supply of weapons. Cracks have also recently appeared in Washington's support to Kyiv, with senior officials questioning the Ukrainian armed forces' counter-offensive strategy.

"There are risks of fissures and breakdowns, but that does not mean we are not vigilant," he explained.

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"We are vigilant, because EU unity requires effort, political work, collaboration and diplomacy," he added.

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