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Russian border guards obstructed EU mission in Armenia

22 February 2024
EUMA monitors in Armenia. Photo: EU Mission in Armenia

The head of the European Union Mission in Armenia (EUMA) announced on Wednesday that Russian border guards had blocked European observers from entering Nerkin Hand, in Armenia’s southern Syunik Province. 

The mission’s head, Markus Ritter’s announcement came on the one-year anniversary of the mission’s deployment in Armenia. 

Recent clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan took place around Nerkin Hand, where four Armenians were killed on 13 February. 

Ritter added that the EU had anticipated that they would face issues accessing the village, and that it was the only location along the border blocked by Russian troops.

The Secretary of Armenia’s Security Council, Armen Grigoryan, had earlier stated that the EUMA did not have access to the area. While avoiding responding to questions as to why this was the case, he added that Armenia would attempt to address issues regarding the EU mission’s access to the region. 

Griogryan also confirmed that Russian forces were present in the area and had been ‘unable to prevent’ the February escalation. 

Russian border guards man a number of road, air, and rail checkpoints on Armenia’s border with Turkey and Iran. 

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Grigoryan went on to praise the EU mission’s contributions to the stability of the region, as well as ensuring ‘transparency regarding current events’, while declaring criticism from ‘various countries’ to be ‘unjustified’ and ‘unacceptable’. 

The mission was deployed in February 2023 at Armenia’s request, with a two-year mandate to ‘contribute to stability in border areas’. Both Russia and Azerbaijan have criticised the mission since its deployment. 

While Baku agreed to cooperate with the mission, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov dismissed the EU mission as ‘counterproductive’, arguing that it could create additional tension, as well as claiming that Armenia was showing preference to the EU mission over peacekeepers from the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO). 

Armenia has expressed increasing dissatisfaction with Russia and the CSTO over their failure to honour security guarantees when Azerbaijani forces entered Armenian territory in September 2022. 

In 2023, Armenia pulled out of hosting or taking part in CSTO drills and other events, stating that it was ‘diversifying’ its security alliances. 

The EUMA operates exclusively on the Armenian side of the border, with its unarmed civilian observers conducting patrols along the entire border with Azerbaijan, including its exclave of Nakhchivan, and sending classified reports to the EU.

While 138 observers were initially deployed, the mission announced in late 2023 that those numbers would increase to 209. 

In August 2023, Armenia said the mission had come under fire from Azerbaijan. While the EUMA initially denied Armenia’s claim, they later confirmed that there had been a ‘shooting incident in our area of responsibility’ where their patrol was present, after a video of the incident was leaked. 

The video showed monitors hiding in an Armenian bunker, and pointing out the Azerbaijani military position from where their car had been targeted. 

Read in Georgian on On.ge.
Read in Russian on Jnews.