Baku has condemned the European Union Mission in Armenia after its head cited Armenian reports of a potential renewed Azerbaijani offensive.
The head of the EU Mission in Armenia, Markus Ritter, told Germany’s DW that ‘many Armenians believe there’ll be a spring offensive by Azerbaijan’.
‘If this doesn’t happen, our mission is already a success’, said Ritter.
However, he added that the observers cannot ‘detect, for instance, troop movements in preparation of another attack’ and that the function of the mission was limited as they had no access to Azerbaijani territories.
Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry quickly condemned Ritter’s comments, accusing the head of the EU Mission of bias towards Armenia.
‘We strongly condemn the fact that the head of the EU Mission […] presented the main task of the EU Mission as “protecting Armenia from Azerbaijan” ’, read the ministry’s response.
‘We have repeatedly emphasised the need to prevent this mission from being misused to undermine the normalisation process between Azerbaijan and Armenia’, continued the statement.
The 100-strong EU Mission in Armenia includes 50 unarmed observers, who, according to Ritter, only have ‘binoculars and cameras at [their] disposal’ and cannot interfere in case of an escalation between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
[Read more on OC Media: EU approves 2-year monitoring mission to Armenia–Azerbaijan border]
The monitoring mission was agreed upon late last year, and was deployed in Armenia early in 2023 for a two-year term. It does not operate in Nagorno-Karabakh, where 2,000 Russian peacekeepers have been stationed since the end of the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War.
Yerevan and Baku agreed to a short-term European monitoring mission after last year’s two-day war in September. The short-lived mission was also based inside Armenian borders.
However, the EU’s special representative to the South Caucasus, Toivo Klaar, stated that the long-term mission was deployed without prior Azerbaijani agreement.
‘We have not agreed on this with the Azerbaijani authorities because it is, after all, on the territory of Armenia, but we have been absolutely transparent about what it is that we are doing, what the purpose of this mission is, and about the activities of the mission’, said Klaar earlier in March in an interview with Azerbaijani media.
Azerbaijan reluctantly accepted the mission on the condition that it would ‘take into account the legitimate interests of Azerbaijan’.
Moscow directly criticised the mission, with the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov dismissing it as ‘counterproductive’. The top diplomat accused Armenia of favouring the West over Russia and its proposed CSTO monitoring mission.
On Wednesday, Moscow reaffirmed its readiness to deploy CSTO monitors to Armenia.
[Read more: Russia slams EU monitoring mission in Armenia]