The European Council President Charles Michel said that the European Union was “extremely disappointed” with Azerbaijan over its attack on Artsakh last month, but emphasized that Baku “still remained” a partner.
Michel made the statements during an interview on Monday with Euronews’ Global Conversation program, as criticism from members of the European Parliament mounted in recent week over his, and the EU’s, “total failure” in mediating a peace process between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
It becomes evident, however, that Michel’s main message was that Russia “betrayed” the Armenian people by standing idly in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Members of the European Parliament have accused the EU of failing to name the aggressor — Azerbaijan — 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.”
Currently, dozens of Armenian POWs still remain in captivity in Azerbaijan and during the past several days Azerbaijan has been arresting prominent Artsakh officials, among them the three former presidents of Artsakh whose arrest was confirmed on Tuesday by Baku.
“We also made progress on texts that aim to ensure a future peace deal between Armenia and Azerbaijan,” Michel said.
“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 was quick to point out that Azerbaijan still remained “a partner” for the EU, despite its deadly attack on Artsakh last month.
“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,” Michel 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.”
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 normalize 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 normalization 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 normalize 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 told Euronews that the EU played a critical role in ensuring the re-opening of the Lachin Corridor, which was being blockaded since December 12. While the EU urged Azerbaijan to lift the blockade, Michel was the first to continuously advance Azerbaijan’s positions, most recently the insistence to simultaneously open the Lachin Corridor and the Aghdam road to Stepanakert.
While such posturing was taking place by Michel and other EU officials, the people of Artsakh were facing life-threatening humanitarian conditions, with the European bloc not lifting a finger to address those issues.
The Lachin Corridor and the Aghdam road were finally opened to humanitarian supply deliveries on September 18, but Azerbaijan attacked Artsakh on September 19 setting off the events of the past weeks, which saw the almost total depopulation of Artsakh.
Michel, however, told Euronews the he and the EU played a crucial role in “re-opening” of the Lachin Corridor, which was used to facilitate the exodus of more than 100,000 Artsakh Armenians from their ancestral homes.
“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.”
It became evident that Michel used the interview with Euronews as a key opportunity to further vilify Russia and send a message to Armenia — and the rest of the world —that Russia solely is to blame for Azerbaijan’s most recent aggression.
Russia’s failure to ensure peace and security in Nagorno-Karabakh is a ‘betrayal’ of the Armenian people, Michel told Euronews.
“It is clear for everyone to see that Russia has betrayed the Armenian people,” Michel said.
“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.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has also turned up his and Yerevan’s criticism of Russia, accusing it of failing to protect the Artsakh Armenians. In turn, the Kremlin has accused Yerevan of kowtowing to the EU and the United States.