The European Union deployed Monday an expanded monitoring mission to Armenia’s volatile border with Azerbaijan as Western engagement grows in the region seen by the Kremlin as its sphere of influence.
The risk of a fresh escalation remains high despite recent progress in peace talks between arch-foes Armenia and Azerbaijan, which have fought two wars for control of the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.
The EU said it was deploying Monday a civilian mission (EUMA) for two years to the Armenian side of their shared border where the “total — exclusively civilian — staff of the EUMA will be approximately 100, including around 50 unarmed observers.”
“The objectives are to contribute to stability in the border areas,” the bloc said in a statement.
The initiative was requested by Armenia and expands a 40-strong mission that was deployed for two months late last year.
“Deeply thankful to EU and Member States for manifestation of strong solidarity with Armenia,” Armenian President Vahagn Khachaturyan said on Twitter.
The mission “is to play a role in de-escalation and establishing stability and ultimately bringing peace to region.”
In January, Russia’s foreign ministry accused the EU of seeking to fuel “geopolitical confrontation” by sending the mission to Armenia.
The deployment came after Yerevan accused Baku of conducting a “policy of ethnic cleansing” and forcing ethnic Armenians to leave the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Since mid-December, a group of self-styled Azerbaijani environmental activists has barred the only road linking Karabakh to Armenia to protest what they say is illegal mining.
According to Yerevan, the blockade has led to a “full-blown humanitarian crisis” in the mountainous region which faces shortages of food, medicines, and fuel.
On Thursday, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said Yerevan has presented Baku with a project for a full peace treaty to end the Caucasus neighbors’ decades-long dispute over Karabakh.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said Saturday — after what he called a “constructive” meeting with Pashinyan in Munich — that Baku was “studying” the Armenian proposals.
When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, ethnic Armenian separatists in Karabakh broke away from Azerbaijan. The ensuing conflict claimed around 30,000 lives.
Another flare-up in violence in 2020 left more than 6,500 dead and ended with a Russian-brokered truce that saw Armenia cede territories it had controlled for decades.