EU Passes Resolution to Consider Armenian Membership

Sébastien Gray
Sébastien Gray
Sébastien is a published journalist and historicist with over six years of experience in freelance journalism and research. His primary expertise is in African conflict and politics, with additional specialization in Israeli/Palestinian and Armenia/Azerbaijan conflicts. Sébastien serves as the deputy desk chief for Africa.

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A Potential Reality

Armenia’s potential bid to apply to become a member of the European Union seems to have gotten distinctly more likely, after the EU passed a resolution calling for a distinct increase to cooperation between Armenia and the EU.

The resolution also offered a series of condemnations towards Azerbaijan, as well as made a number of different calls. The notable portions of the resolution will be gone over in detail.

Also of note is that the resolution makes a number of attacks against Russia, who the EU has previously accused of abandoning Armenia.

The resolution passed 504-4, with 32 abstentions.

A Blooming Friendship

The EU’s resolution begins by noting common values between Armenia and the EU, stating their “relations are based on common values such as democracy, the rule of law, human rights and fundamental freedoms”, as well as “regional cooperation.”

Over the past several years, as Russia’s influence in Armenia has been waning, the EU’s has been increasing. While the general EU has been increasing both cooperation and general relations with Armenia, two particular EU nations stand out. France, and Greece.

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan pictured with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis (Photo from primeminister.am).

France has asserted itself as perhaps Armenia’s strongest ally within the west, providing a number of different defence contracts and training opportunities for Armenia’s military, political and diplomatic support against Azerbaijan and also at times Russia, and economic aid, including millions of euros for Armenian refugees from Artsakh.

Greece has appeared as a second military partner within the EU. Greece and Armenia have held a number of military drills, and have signalled they will further increase military cooperation, however the exact details of this increased cooperation is unknown thus far.

France, and more widely the EU, have been pushing for various political reforms within Armenia. Several of these reforms have come to fruition, likening a number of Armenia’s democratic institutions to that of the EU and its member states. The EU’s resolution calls for these reforms to be furthered as a method of the increased cooperation between Armenia and the EU.

Two of the most notable parts of the resolution is where the EU notes that Armenian leadership has expressed aspirations to join the EU, and calls for the EU to support this initiative, as well as where it calls for other member states to take similar initiatives to France and Greece, to increase military cooperation.

pursuant to Article 49 of the Treaty of European Union, any European state may apply to become a member of the European Union provided that it adheres to the Copenhagen criteria and the principles of democracy, respects fundamental freedoms and human and minority rights and upholds the rule of law; considers that, should Armenia be interested in applying for candidate status and continuing on its path of sustained reforms consolidating its democracy, this could set the stage for a transformative phase in EU-Armenia relations; calls on the Commission and the Council to actively support Armenia’s desire for increased cooperation with the EU, not only in the area of economic partnership but also in political dialogue, people-to-people contacts, sectoral integration and security cooperation” -Excerpt from the resolution

In order to apply to the EU, aspiring nations must carry out a series of internal reforms. Such reforms being carried out have allowed Georgia to be granted candidate status for the EU, as well as for membership negotiations to be opened for both Ukraine and Moldova.

The fact that the EU has been pushing for these reforms in Armenia suggests that the eventual application of Armenia to the union has been a plan for awhile. The reforms that the EU is further pushing for are necessary if Armenia wishes to apply to the EU.

The resolution “welcomes the actions undertaken by several Member States to provide defensive military support to Armenia and urges the Member States to consider similar initiatives.”

The French and Armenian Defence Ministers, Sebastien Lecornu and Suren Papikyan, amidst talks in Armenia on February 23rd, 2024 (Photo from AFP/Karen Minasyan).

As things stand, Russia is Armenia’s primary military provider. As Russian exports to Armenia have declined, both France and India have stepped up in order to provide Armenia with various kinds of military equipment. Despite this, Russia remains Armenia’s top provider as French and Indian military exports fail to fill the same volume as Russia’s previous exports.

However, the EU’s resolution notes this, and further notes that Armenia has been making moves away from dependence on Russia for defence needs, in particular with Armenia’s freezing of cooperation with the CSTO. It mentions the actions taken by both France and Greece to assist with Armenia’s defence needs, and calls for other member states to take similar actions.

If other nations within the EU follow suit, this would mark a significant shift in the region. Not only would it be to the dissatisfaction of Russia, but also Iran, who has engaged in a number of conversations with Armenia recently in which they have cautioned against extensive arms purchases from the west, as well as general western involvement.

Iran has cautioned Azerbaijan against seeking border changes, having previously vowed to counter with “special resistance” any attempt to do so. The business relationship between Iran and Armenia has increased drastically over the years, however the defence relationship has failed to increase with it, making Iran an unlikely defence ally for Armenia’s needs, which the west is seeking to, in part, fulfill.

Islamic Revolution Guard Corps troops participating in military drills close to the border with Azerbaijan on October 17th, 2022 (Photo from IRNA News Agency)

Azerbaijan: Condemnations and Peace

While the resolution supports peace efforts between Armenia and Azerbaijan, it also issues a series of condemnations and accusations against them. The EU and France have been two of the primary driving forces in attempted peace negotiations between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Both French President Emmanuel Macron and European Council President Charles Michel have hosted meetings between Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Azeri President Ilham Aliyev.

The resolution reiterates calls for commitment to peace processes, and addresses a number of the different efforts which Armenia has taken to bring about such a deal.

Notably, the sides involved expressed hopes both in 2022 and 2023 that a final peace deal could be signed “by the end of the year.” Evidently, this has yet to happen.

While calling for peace, the resolution issues a number of condemnations against Azerbaijan. Namely, it condemns the Azeri blockade of the former self-declared Republic of Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh). Beginning in December of 2022, Azerbaijan blocked the Lachin Corridor, the sole road which connected Artsakh and Armenia, which Artsakh was largely dependent on economically and militarily. The blockade, which the resolution refers to as illegal, ran for approximately 9 months until Azerbaijan launched a military operation in order to capitulate Artsakh in September of 2023.

A photo of the Artsakh Checkpoint set up by Azerbaijan on the Lachin Corridor.

The result of the Azeri military operation was the almost complete exodus of the regions Armenian population of 120,000. The resolution at first claims the Azeri actions “may amount to ethnic cleansing”, but later directly speaks of “the ethnic cleansing in Nagorno-Karabakh by Azerbaijan”, leaving out the “may.” France has previously explicitly referred to the action as ethnic cleansing, as has Armenia.

Further regarding Artsakh, the resolution speaks of actions taken by Azerbaijan in order to damage Armenian cultural sites in the region, both during the 2020 44-Day war, and after.

“during recent weeks, Azerbaijani authorities have removed monuments and demolished iconic buildings related to the Armenian cultural heritage in Nagorno-Karabakh including the local parliament building” -Excerpt from the EU’s Resolution

The resolution also notes that Azeri damage to Armenian cultural sites is in defiance of a court order by the International Court of Justice (ICJ), which ordered Azerbaijan to “take all necessary measures to prevent and punish acts of vandalism and desecration affecting Armenian cultural heritage, including but not limited to churches and other places of worship, monuments, landmarks, cemeteries and artefacts.”

A screencap of a video shown by Azeri TV of Stepanakert, the former capital of Artsakh, which shows the Cathedral without crosses on top after they had been removed by Azeri authorities.

The blockade was also in defiance of an ICJ court order, which ordered Azerbaijan to open the corridor as per its obligations under the peace deal which ended the 44-Day war.

Lastly pertaining to Artsakh, the resolution calls upon Azerbaijan to “genuinely engage in a comprehensive and transparent dialogue with the Karabakh Armenians to ensure respect for their rights and guarantee their security, including their right to return to and live in their homes in dignity and safety under international presence, to access their land and property rights, to maintain their distinct identity and fully enjoy their civic, cultural, social and religious rights.” It further calls for Azerbaijan to release Artsakhi political leaders which it had arrested after the September military offensive.

Additionally, the resolution speaks of the present Azeri occupation of significant portions of Armenian territory, as well as Azeri aspirations for the Zangezur corridor, the Azeri plans for which the EU says would be in disrespect to Armenia’s sovereignty.

The figure the resolution gives for Armenian territory occupied by Azerbaijan is approximately 170km2, however some estimates for the amount of occupied territory as high as 250km2. It notes the Azeri refusal of Armenian suggestions for border demarcation, one of the primary issues in the way of signing a final peace deal.

An Armenian Soldier (Photo by David Ghahramanyan)

Armenia has accused Azerbaijan of attempting to demarcate the borders as they presently sit, with Azerbaijan effectively laying claim to the occupied territories. PM Pashinyan has said that Azeri resistance to demarcation efforts is meant as a way for them to open up the possibility of a “full scale war” against Armenia.

The resolution does not agree nor disagree with PM Pashinyan’s statement, however it does make note of it.

The Zangezur corridor is a corridor sought by Azerbaijan in order to connect the Azeri mainland with its exclave of Nakhchivan. The corridor would have to go through Armenia in order to do so. Azerbaijan’s vision of the corridor is one it maintains control over, and is not subject to any Armenian checkpoints or customs checks. While initially resistant to the idea in any capacity, Armenia has relented a small bit and has offered the existence of the corridor, however they maintain control over it and can establish checkpoints and customs/security checks along the road. Azerbaijan has refused this option. The EU states that the Azeri vision of the corridor would be in violation of Armenia’s sovereignty, and has called for negotiations to be in respect of their sovereignty.

The EU supports border demarcation based upon the 1991 Alma Ata declaration, which was supposed to have set the borders between the two nations. They also call for the withdrawal of Azeri troops from occupied territories.

Notably, the resolution also issues a condemnation to EU politicians. The resolution states that it “disagrees” with statements made by EU Commission and European Council politicians which congratulated President Aliyev on his victory in Azerbaijan’s February elections, as well as statements referring to Azerbaijan as a “reliable partner.”

“these statements do not reflect the position of the European Union and should never have been made in the light of the ethnic cleansing in Nagorno-Karabakh by Azerbaijan” -Excerpt from the EU Resolution

In turn, Azerbaijan has issued its own condemnations towards the EU and its resolution, which it says “is not only unfounded and biased, but it also serves as a clear example of a recurrent double-standards approach against Azerbaijan.”

This resolution, sponsored by a number of groups in the European Parliament that are influenced by Armenia and the Armenian Lobby, is an integral part of the smear campaign against Azerbaijan, in which every fact is falsified, despite being presented as “promoting peace” and purportedly dedicated to the European Union-Armenia relationship. The resolution contains ludicrous and offensive statements that go beyond political ethics contradicting the essence of international relations, as well as statements that are in clear violation of Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, revealing the true nature of the MEPs who proposed the resolution. The European Parliament may prove a more useful institution if it addresses more serious issues plaguing Europe, such as racial discrimination, Islamophobia, xenophobia, extremism, and inhumane treatment of migrants, instead of interfering with the normalization process between Azerbaijan and Armenia” -The Azeri Statement in Response

Of particular note regarding the entire situation is that relations between Azerbaijan and the EU have increased in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. As Europe seeks alternatives to Russian gas, Azerbaijan, which has an oil based economy, has stepped forward and signed a number of supply deals with the EU.

Russia and Armenia’s Falling Out

On several occasions, the resolution speaks on Armenia’s strong relationship with Russia. As time has gone on, this relationship has declined dramatically, largely resultant from Armenia’s frustration at what they claim is Russia’s (and the CSTO’s) failure to properly support them during conflicts, both militaristic and political, against Azerbaijan, including recently during the Azeri seizure of Artsakh.

A Russian Peacekeeper patrolling the Lachin/Berdzor Corridor (Photo from Andrey Borodulin/AFP via Getty Images).

The EU, and specifically France, have made several efforts in order to assert themselves as possible alternatives for Russia. Particularly in the field of defence, which the EU states Russia has shown their “alleged readiness to guarantee the security of Armenia has proven to be non-existent.”

As the EU pushes for political reforms within Armenia, they claim that in turn the “Russian Federation is seeking to undermine Armenian democratic credentials, and is spreading chaos and destabilisation through continuous attempts at interference, including disinformation campaigns.”

Despite various other groups moving in to fill the vacuum slowly being left by Russia, economically and militarily, Armenia remains dependent on Russia in both aspects. The resolution notes this, and also notes that Armenia is one of the nations being used by Russia in order to escape western sanctions. After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began, the west input a number of different sanctions upon Russia. Russia, in turn, has managed to escape some of these sanctions by filtering products through third countries, of which Armenia is one. Exports from Armenia to Russia in 2022 tripled, and doubled between January and August of 2023.

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Russian President Vladimir Putin pictured together in 2018 (Photo from kremlin.ru).

The EU is seeking, if cooperation is to be increased, potential ways of ensuring that Russia does not escape sanctions through Armenia. This will become particularly important if Armenia applies to the EU.

Of particular note is where the EU recognizes the Russian influence on Armenia’s economy, and the ramifications that a concentrated and strong move away from them could have on Armenia. The resolution states it “believes that the EU needs to be ready to provide rapid assistance to Armenia to mitigate the negative consequences of any such unfriendly steps.” The exact support which would potentially be undertaken is not directly stated.

Some of the “unfriendly steps” have already been taken. In February, Armenia officially became a member of the International Criminal Court. Due to the ratification of the Rome Statute, they are legally bound to it. This means that Armenia is obligated to arrest Russian President Vladimir Putin if he ever were to step foot in Armenia. This is due to an ICC arrest warrant issued for Putin for actions taken in Ukraine.

Russia referred to the Armenian ratification as an “unfriendly step”, however Armenia has insisted that the action was taken in order to pursue potential charges against Azerbaijan and was unrelated to their relational issues with Russia.

The EU has also accused Russia of obstructing the operability of their civilian monitoring mission which has been operating on Armenia’s border with Azerbaijan since 2022. They accuse Russian troops stationed within Armenia of blocking their movement on several different occasions, including recently in February when the EU Mission was attempting to travel to the location of small clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan which resulted in the deaths of four Armenian soldiers.

A photo of a vehicle convoy of the EU observer mission in Armenia (Photo from Josep Borrell/Twitter).

The EU mission only operates on the Armenian side of the border, after Azerbaijan refused to allow them to operate on their side of the border. The mission was deployed largely in order to report on border and ceasefire violations.

What’s Next

As things are lining up, it certainly appears Armenia is vying to become a member of the EU, akin to their northern neighbour. The move would represent significant economic opportunities, and provide significant ability for Armenia to diversify its defence equipment providers. However, still missing from enhanced cooperation, is a security guarantee which matches that which is technically guaranteed by the CSTO, one which states that other nations will come to Armenia’s defence in the event of an attack.

The economic opportunities and increased defence relationships will allow Armenia the chance to increase its own capabilities, however continue to fall short of acting in the same capacity Russia is supposed to.

The necessity for finding such a partner is increasing as Azeri rhetoric grows continually more aggressive and extensive towards Armenia.

The entire EU resolution may be read here.