French politicians have taken aim at EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell’s reaction to Azerbaijan’s military operations against the Armenian people of Nagorno-Karabakh, saying his remarks were inadequate amid fears that economic and energy interests are taking precedence.
Three years after the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War of 2020, Azerbaijan launched a military operation earlier this week that the regime in Baku has described as an ‘anti-terrorist operation’. Baku is now demanding the “total and unconditional” withdrawal of Armenians from the region, which has been disputed with Armenia for decades.
Azerbaijan wants to “restore constitutional order” but also “disarm and ensure the withdrawal of Armenian armed forces formations from our territories, [and] neutralise their military infrastructure”, Azerbaijan’s Defence Minister, Zakir Asker Oghlu Hasanov, has said.
Armenia, meanwhile, denounces the “large-scale aggression” by Azerbaijan, accusing it of bombing towns and villages, causing the deaths of civilians.
The EU has also commented on the situation, with EU High Representative Josep Borrell condemning the military offensive in Karabakh and calling on Azerbaijan to stop it.
“It is urgent to resume dialogue between Baku and the Karabakh Armenians. This military escalation must not be used as a pretext to force the exodus of the local population”, he declared, adding that the EU remained committed, as a mediator, to facilitating dialogue between Azerbaijani and Armenian authorities.
‘The same mistakes as with Ukraine’
In France, however, the EU’s reaction provoked strong reactions, with politicians criticising the weakness of Borrell’s remarks.
“The press release from the head of European diplomacy is not up to scratch,” said Renew President Stéphane Séjourné, secretary general of Emmanuel Macron’s Renaissance party and an unofficial adviser to the French president.
“We have been warning about this for months in the European Parliament. It was written that Russia would let go of the powers that be,” Séjourné told France Inter on Thursday.
“I fear that we will make exactly the same mistakes as with Ukraine, with a mixture of geopolitics and economic interests [and that] for Europeans, economic interests will take precedence over territorial interests,” he added.
In July 2022, the EU signed an agreement with Azerbaijan as part of a strategy to diversify gas supplies after the bloc decided to phase out energy imports from Russia. Baku pledged to double its supplies to the bloc between 2022 and 2027, aiming to export 20 billion cubic metres annually to the EU by 2027.
Azerbaijan has immense natural gas reserves on its territory, with a potential estimated at 2,600 billion cubic metres. By comparison, the EU consumes around 400 billion cubic metres of gas per year and currently imports about eight billion cubic metres.
In his interview with France Inter, Séjournée also regretted that its EU partners did not sufficiently support France’s commitment to this issue. “We are trying to build a coalition,” he said.
Criticism of the EU’s response was echoed by party colleague and chairwoman of the European Parliament’s defence sub-committee, Nathalie Loiseau (Renew).
“In reality, the Commission, the High Representative and the Council have tacitly given the green light to Ilham Aliyev, the President of Azerbaijan, to bring the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh to their knees,” Loiseau said on Wednesday, adding that Azerbaijan’s bombardments in Nagorno-Karabakh were aimed at “ethnic cleansing” of the Armenian population.
Criticism of the EU’s reaction to the fallout also came from the left.
In an interview with the magazine Telerama, for example, Communist Senator Pierre Ouzoulias accused “Europe of turning a blind eye to the Azeri dictatorship”.
Meanwhile, MEP Raphaël Glucksmann (S&D) wondered whether the EU would “continue to pour euros into the tyranny of Baku, backed by its gas and our weakness, and thus make us accomplices in ethnic cleansing”.
With the EU and France being Armenia’s “last allies”, “abandoning them”would be a moral AND geopolitical disaster, he added on X.
Right-wing MEP François-Xavier Bellamy (Les Républicains/EPP) also denounced “the silence of Europe and the Western world has only encouraged [Azeri President] Aliyev to go further”.
He also called on the EU to take action because, under the pretext of an ‘anti-terrorist operation’, Azerbaijan was ‘killing children, women and innocent civilians’.
Like Renew’s French leaders, Bellamy is calling for sanctions.
“Not in a week, now”, he said, calling on the EU to “denounce the gas contract that links us to Azerbaijan”.
“Those who are attacking Karabakh […] are attacking a people that they want to wipe out […] because it is linked to European civilisation through its heritage and culture”, Bellamy added.
While “the EU was born out of the experience of genocide, […] we will be accountable to history for what we have allowed to happen, and this will be the greatest betrayal that Europe can make against itself”, he concluded.
In a written question to Borrell, a group of 60 MEPs from the EPP, S&D, Renew, Greens and ECR have asked what sanctions would be taken against the Baku regime “responsible for the violation of the ceasefire”.
(Davide Basso | Euractiv.fr)
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